My recent forays into the world of BBQ, both American and Chinese, has been delicious but rather meat-heavy. I noticed how brown the photography on the last few posts has been. Delicious looking, I grant you, but not so colourful. So I wanted to make something vibrant and this being me, when my thinking goes in the bright, colourful direction, it often comes up with Southeast Asian salads as the answer. The siren song of the spicy salad is never too far away from my ears…

This time, my starting point was a bag of wing beans I’d bought in the Chinese supermarket in London’s Chinatown. Wing beans (aka winged beans, or dragon beans, đậu rồng in Vietnam) are a fantastic vegetable that I wish I’d discovered sooner. They look like a combination of a runner bean and a bitter melon, but they don’t taste like either. Instead, they’re more like asparagus crossed with sugar snap peas – milder than those, but with a really lovely flavour. The beautiful pale green pods turn brown quickly, so use them up as soon as possible after purchase.

Photo by Zufanc, used under CC Attribution Share-alike 3.0 licence.

Wing beans are used to make a Thai salad with coconut cream and shrimp: I was planning more of a Vietnamese meal and I didn’t want the richness of coconut but I did decide to keep the shrimp. After that, it was just a case of putting together a gingery Vietnamese salad dressing and prepping some vegetables, herbs, and nuts to mix into the dish. We ate this alongside beef in la lot leaves, which I’ll post about next. The combination was fab, with the crisp, light, brightly spicy salad balancing the milder, aromatic beef.

If you wanted a vegetarian version of this dish, it would be easy simply to leave out the shrimp and replace fish sauce with soy. It might make it more of a side dish but it’s really all about the wing beans.

Shrimp and wing bean salad

  • 12 shrimp
  • 2 handfuls of wing beans, trimmed
  • 1/2 red pepper, sliced thinly
  • handful of mint leaves
  • handful of cilantro leaves (or rau răm if you have it)
  • 3 tbsp roasted peanuts
  • 3 large chillies, sliced thin
  • 2 tbsp ginger
  • 1 clove garlic
  • 1 birds’ eye chilli
  • 4 tbsp lime juice
  • 2 tbsp palm sugar
  • 1 tbsp fish sauce

To make the dressing, pound garlic and birds’ eye chilli in a mortar and pestle. Chop the ginger into small cubes then add and pound till you have a paste. Add sugar and pound again. Then add fish sauce and lime juice and mix. Taste for balance and add a little water if it is too strong.

Chop the wing beans into inch-long sections and boil for 2 minutes. Refresh in a bowl of cold water. Peel the shrimp and sauté until just cooked. At the last minute, add a tsp of dressing to the pan – as it boils off, the dressing should sear into the shrimp and caramelise them nicely.

Bash up the peanuts a bit in a bag or (very briefly) in a mini-prep. In a large bowl, combine wing beans, shrimp and peanuts along with pepper slices, herbs and chillies. Dress, toss to combine and serve immediately over regular or sticky rice.

Serves 2, or 3-4 as a side dish