In the north eastern states of India, you will come across a number of indigenous flowers and fruits. For Assam it is the Carambola/Starfruit and in Manipur, the Yong Chak Beans are special. Also called twisted cluster bean or bitter bean, this tree bean variant holds a very special place in Manipuri cuisine. It has become an intrinsic part of the famous Ningol Chakkouba festival of Manipur.
Nuances of Yong Chak Beans
The Yong chak is one evergreen rain-forest tree and the average height is 25 meters or so. Its leaves can be up to 80 cms long. The pods are greenish and they turn black and shining later. Both the pods and flowers are edible. Apart from Manipur, the bean is also harvested in neighboring north eastern states including Nagaland. In fact, the farmers in Manipur have to purchase it from other regions to meet demand at times. Owing to difference in soil type and climate, its flavor varies a little from one region to another. It is replete with nutrients like vitamin A and iron along with a fair amount of fiber.
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After winter, the yongchak season is over. However, the Manipuris are not just willing to wait till the next harvest season! They preserve the bean by drying and hanging them. The mature beans turn black from green over time. When required, they soak the beans and cook. The taste is pungent and the beans have tender texture.
Delicacies made with Yong Chak Beans
A number of dishes are made in Manipuri households with the Yong chak beans. The Yong chak iromba, delicious a dish made with mashed and boiled vegetables and numerous herbs, deserves a special mention in this regard. Another is the Yong chak singju, a spicy Manipuri salad. While most people prepare the beans with fermented dry fish, vegetarians prefer cooking it with fermented soya bean. In most cases, tender tree beans are used to make yongchak shingju while mature ones are used to cook iromba. However, there is no mandatory requirement and sometimes shingju is cooked with the bean flowers too. To overpower pungent smell of the beans, the Manipuri people make use of several spices and herbs while making the dishes.
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