Wednesday, April 22, 2009

Munggo (Vigna radiata)

The munggo (pronounced moong-goh, there you have it, I can imagine the awkward attempts at pronunciation otherwise) or mung bean is a fixture in Philippine homes. I would say this is the only bean that remains constant and year-round in the metropolitan savory diet. Wet markets are never without them. They are cheaper and more common than the yellow and red varieties, which are often used for sweets and snacks. Their starch is made into thin noodles called sotanghon. There are documented medicinal properties.

If you have gone through the Philippine school system, you had probably grown some munggo in science class, on a piece of cotton or wet paper. It germinates quickly and demonstrates to children what plants are like and such.

While the mung bean is thought to have been domesticated in India (moong is a Hindi word), where it is commonly used for dhal and other dishes, some research shows that it actually originated from West Asia, or the "Afghanistan-Iran-Iraq area". It may have reached the east via two routes-- the Silk Road (West Asia to India to China to Taiwan) or from India to Southeast Asia.

Our standard munggo stew and our porridge with glutinous rice and coconut milk (f'in yum) seem somewhat common (with variations, of course) throughout Southeast Asian dishes and snacks. The eating of sprouts, (tauge or taugeh in Indonesian and Bahasa Melayu, Hispanized spelling togue for us), seems to have arrived here through East Asia, where its use is much more prevalent.

We grew ours from some market seeds, getting a little more than a dozen green munggo plants beside the okra. These are now bearing flowers and pods. Our companion at home has been extolling the superiority of eating fresh (soft) beans in her province (Bacolod), so we have been harvesting green pods and shelling them. Fresh, soft beans are segregated from the tougher ones from the dried pods which we somehow missed harvesting. When we have enough, we will get a decent dish going. As we are a good number of people at home, this requires patience.

The pods are allowed to dry in commercial production, as it prolongs shelf life, of course, and it is easier to process then. The seeds are extracted by either beating the pods or trampling on them. Here are some dry beans:

Compare the above with the fresh seeds below, which are larger, lighter in color, and tender enough to squeeze and destroy:

Munggo is relatively easy to grow in non-clay soils. The soil needs to be well-drained. They tolerate some amount of drought. A bonus are the little yellow flowers which come in bunches.