Fermented long bean salad Credit: Julia Thiel

Nathan Sears of the Radler and DAS, who’s familiar with some of the ingredients that previous Key Ingredient participants have had to wrestle into submission—duck tongues, Malort, blood, ghost peppers, and live eels, among others—wasn’t very excited about his assignment of Chinese long beans, courtesy of Tim Graham of Travelle. “I was kind of unimpressed with the weak choice, considering it’s basically a long green bean,” Sears says jokingly. “I was expecting something a little more interesting.”

Because Sears has always worked at restaurants that emphasize local produce, and long beans aren’t grown locally (as far as he knows), he’s never put them on one of his menus—but he has cooked with them at home. The main difference he’s found between long beans and green beans is that long beans take on the flavors of marinades better, but don’t retain their texture as well as they cook. The solution, he found, was not to cook long beans at all. Instead, he fermented them for five days in brine, the same way he would with sauerkraut.

Sears says that he wanted to use long beans as they would in China—and fitting a Chinese vegetable into the German cuisine he serves at the Radler and DAS wasn’t actually all that difficult. “Because we cook a lot of pork and we try to get nuances of umami in there—fermentation, pickling—we end up getting dishes every once in a while that are borderline Chinese.” The other elements of the dish, though, were much more German than Chinese: pickled herring, smoked foie gras dressing, candied caraway seeds, and fried Kölsch barley. “We’ve been playing around a lot with different beer malts and barleys,” Sears says. “One of our favorites that fries up really well is the one from Cologne they use in Kölsch .” He toasts the barley, fries it up, and it has “a weird beer kind of sweetness to it . . . good stuff,” he says.

The foie gras dressing is also something that Sears has been serving at the Radler, most recently on a knockwurst dish with grapes, cabbage slaw, and toasted almonds. Sears describes the dressing—made with a mayonnaise of rendered foie gras fat combined with yogurt—as “like a foie gras ranch dressing, but without the garlic and onion and herbs.”

To lighten up the salad, Sears also used Sun Gold tomatoes, dill, and a little lemon juice. “I think it took a little more of a tuna salad route with the herring,” he says, “but it’s one of those unexpected joys because of the food nostalgia to it. You get the slight funk from the green beans, from the fermentation. You get the meatiness from the herring, the Sun Golds give it a nice acidic pop that rounds it out.”

Who’s next:

Sears has challenged Dan Compton of Vie to create a dish with tepache, a Mexican beverage made with fermented pineapple.

Fermented long bean salad
1 cup fermented long beans
Shaved red onion
Foie gras dressing
Pickled herring
Sun Gold tomaotes
Fried Kölsh barley
Candied caraway

Toss everything together, adjust with oil and lemon juice, and season.

Fermented long beans:
Take the long beans and place in a plastic container. Cover with a 3.5 percent salt solution and weigh it down. Let sit at room temperature for five to seven days. Remove and cut on a long, thin bias.

Foie gras dressing:
2 egg yolks
1 whole egg
Juice and zest of one lemon
1 tablespoon mustard
1 cup grape-seed oil
½ cup foie gras fat
½ cup Greek yogurt

Use all ingredients except for the yogurt to make a mayonnaise, then fold in yogurt. Season to taste.