As promised, the long-awaited (snort) post on Vigna umbellata, the red rice bean.
First, some background… The red rice bean is one of the top five most commonly grown green manure/cover crops in the world. It grows thickly enough to control weeds, and fixes nitrogen in the soil. The stems can be used as animal feed or mulch, and the vines can be cut for hay when the pods are immature. Even the leaves can be fed to chickens. The beans themselves are completely edible, and are a staple in many Asian cultures, typically grown as a soil improvement crop in between rice harvests.
Red rice beans can be dried and cooked, eaten as vegetable sprouts, or as young green pods (40 to 60 days old). The sprouts are a great source of zinc, and the beans themselves are high in protein, calcium and crude fiber, the latter of which makes them easier to digest. The red bean ice cream you have in a Japanese restaurant is made from red rice beans.
We started these beans in Box #4 after the complete and utter failure (sob!) of the corn crop. They sprouted quite quickly and rapidly started sending up viny tendrils. The vines have tons of little grabby hairs, so they will climb absolutely anything. I made a homemade support system for them, consisting of tall garden stakes and a good bit of twine:
This structure is about five feet tall, and you can see they would happily keep going up. Once the vines overtopped the structure, I just guided them back inside the mass, so they’d entwine amongst themselves.
They start blooming after about 30 days, gorgeous purple orchid-like blooms:
And from those blooms come pea pods, about six inches long, two to three per stem.
If you’re going for pulse (dried beans), as we did, leave the pods on the vines until they turn completely brown:
But be careful…the pods are VERY brittle at this point and if you are too rough removing them the pod will burst open, the two halves jumping in opposite directions, beans flying everywhere, with lots of nice volunteer bean plants emerging shortly thereafter.
You can see the chewed leaves in the picture above, so they’re not completely impervious to pests, but the leaves with actual holes in them make up only about 5% of the total. And the cursed whiteflies, may they rot in hell, have not touched the bean plants at all…and they live for wide leaves under which to hide and multiply.
Our beans have been producing steadily for about two months now, and show no signs of stopping. They have new blooms as of today, and I’m still harvesting pods every day.
Removing the beans from their shells is something that should be done over an entire table…so you can see where the errant beans land after they’ve sprung out of their shells. Half the beans are attached to one side of the pod and half are attached to the other…I’m sure there’s a botanical word for this but I’m too lazy to look it up. The point is, you should be careful when shelling, as the natural inclination of these pods is to just fly apart. My technique is to gently squeeze the pod from one end to the next, loosening the halves and the beans inside, then gently open it like a book, from the center, knocking beans into a bowl below. No matter how much care you take you’re still going to be picking up beans from the floor.
So, what does one do with the harvested beans? Well, in the absence of much Internet-based guidance (do not be fooled by “red beans and rice” recipes, they are NOT the same thing), we simply boiled them for a bit in salted water (15 to 20 mins at a rolling boil, ymmv), until they were al dente.
The water becomes a true bean liquor, taking most of the color from the dark red beans, and making a wonderfully flavorful sort of broth…I can’t wait to try these in a soup.
We drained the beans and served them with short grain sushi rice, tiny sirloin steaks and shrimp sauce (recipe here).
How’d they taste? Like peanuts, actually. They added a wonderful nuttiness to the rice, and seem to me a fantastic way to add protein and calcium to your diet if you’re not interested in the steak-y part.
Will we grow red rice beans again? Absolutely. This has been our big success story of this growing year, a high-yeild crop that can withstand the humidity and all the myriad pests Florida has to offer.