Growing West Indian Bora (long beans) in Canada

My parents love to garden. From late April to the end of September, my parents spend a majority of their time outdoors in our backyard. I would always get a lecture on how food ‘back home’ (i.e.: Guyana) would always be fresh, organic, and plentiful.

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I have a pretty shabby ‘green thumb,’ but I do like the idea of harvesting food straight from soil to table. At the beginning of planting season (Early to Mid May), I would accompany my parents to the plant nursery (i.e.: where you buy baby plants lol), and every year I could choose one plant to take care of. This year I chose bora.

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What must be the most ‘coolie’ vegetable I could’ve chosen (even sparking questionable looks from my parents), I decided that bora would be the plant I wanted to grow. Tired of the redundant tomato or the passé strawberry plant, I wanted to try something totally foreign, something that my mom could still use to cook with, and would be challenge to grow (or at least I thought).

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Bora (the West Indian term) also goes by the name of Chinese Long Bean and the Yard Bean. Just like a regular bean plant, it bares pods as fruit – only these pods can be up to “14 to 30 inches.” The notable difference from regular beans would be the thickness – these beans are extremely skinny and, depending on the variety, have little to no seeds inside the pod. Even within the variety itself “the length of bora or thickness can also differ.” You can see this by comparing the beans in the photo above, from the ones in the photo below (grown in my garden):

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These extremely long beans are native to Asian and are “known to grow quickly, even in harsh climates.” Its versatility and resiliency is probably one of the reasons it was brought to the West Indies to be grown, and used in staple household dishes today.

You could only imagine my surprise when I found out that the bora dish my mom cooked for dinner was made from the beans harvested in our garden. Obviously I couldn’t contain my excitement and spent the next ½ hour snapping pictures of my bora child…except my mother had already harvested most of the beans for dinner.

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Bora can be added to West Indian dishes in different ways, such as in a curry or even in a fusion version of fried rice/lo mein introduced by Chinese-Caribbean settlers. Bora has the same crispness as regular beans, and likewise can be substituted in dishes the same way. Because these beans are so long, they are often cut into smaller pieces (1/2 inch). The Inner Gourmet has a great recipe for Guyanese Lo Mein that incorporates these beans.

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The dish that I had this week was a classic bora stir-fry with potatoes and masala (a mixtures of spices and tomato paste), accompanied with brown rice. A very similar recipe can be found here by Ammaji Recipes.

As I am writing this post, I am enjoying the beans raw. My parents were right – there is a certain freshness, and even joy that comes from growing and harvesting your own food.

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