Fresh green beans are a versatile summer treat

swthompson@herald-leader.comJuly 18, 2012 

  • Just minutes to make

    Quick ways to serve green beans:

    Roasted green beans and pecans: Toss green beans and pecans with olive oil, salt and pepper. Roast at 400 degrees, tossing once, until beans are tender, about 12 minutes.

    Green beans with creamy basil dip: Blanch green beans and serve with a mixture of pesto and mayonnaise.

    Lemony tuna and green bean salad: Chop blanched green beans and olives. Combine with canned tuna, olive oil, fresh lemon juice, salt and pepper.

    Green bean, tomato and bacon salad: Cook sliced garlic in olive oil until golden. Toss with steamed green beans, halved cherry tomatoes and cooked bacon.

    Grilled Cajun green beans: Toss green beans with Cajun seasoning and a touch of olive oil. Grill over medium-high heat until tender, 4 minutes.

    Green bean and feta relish: Chop raw green beans and red onion. Mix with crumbled feta and red wine vinaigrette. Serve over grilled meat or seafood.

    Easy pickled green beans: Save a pickle jar and the brine, and fill with green beans. Let marinate at least a day and as long as a week before serving.

    Spicy Asian green beans: Toss steamed green beans with soy sauce and chili-garlic sauce (found in the international aisle in most supermarkets).

  • Which is which?

    At the farmers markets, you'll see snap beans (because when you break them in half, you'll hear a snap). They include pole beans, wax beans, haricots verts (skinny ones), rattlesnake beans and string beans (although modern varieties are often bred to be stringless).

    Here's how to identify the various kinds of beans from Cooking Light.

    Green beans. Slender beans with tiny seeds tucked in the pods. They also can be yellow or purple. (When cooked, the purple beans turn green.) These beans should be cooked briefly in boiling salted water to seal in the bright green color.

    Haricots verts. Also referred to as French filet beans, these tiny beans are picked young and prized for their intense, slightly sweet flavor and crisp texture. They should be no longer than about 3 inches and only a bit larger in diameter than a matchstick. Even though these beans are commonly called haricots verts (vert is French for "green"), you'll also find yellow and purple varieties. These beans are similar to green beans, but they cook more quickly.

    Pole beans. These are longer and broader than regular green beans. Pole beans can be flat or round. Always check pole beans for strings by snapping off the ends and peeling back before cooking. Pole beans taste much like green beans, but they are tougher than other snap beans and thus need to cook longer.

    Rattlesnake bean. An heirloom variety of pole bean. This bean gets its name from its mottled skin. Cook them as you would other varieties of pole beans. Once cooked, these beans turn green and lose their dappled appearance.

    Wax beans. A hybrid first grown as a hothouse plant in England, their waxy texture earned them their name. In addition to classic yellow, there are purple and light green varieties. These beans are not as flavorful as green beans. They may be treated much like green beans for cooking purposes.

  • Choose 'em, store 'em, eat 'em

    These tips on selecting, storing and cooking are from Real Simple.

    Selecting: Look for green beans that are slender and bright in color. They should make a sharp "snap" when broken. Steer clear of those in which the shapes of the individual beans can be seen clearly through the pod. This means they are overly mature and tough.

    Storing: Refrigerate unwashed green beans in a plastic bag or container in the vegetable drawer for no more than five days.

    Blanching: Fill a mixing bowl halfway with ice and enough water to cover it. Bring a pot of salted water to a boil, and cook the green beans until just tender, 3 to 4 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer the green beans from the pot to the ice bath. Drain when cool, about 1 minute.

    Steaming: Fill a large saucepan with 1 inch of water and fit with a steamer basket. Bring the water to a boil. Place the green beans in the basket, cover and steam until just tender, 3 to 4 minutes.

A mess of fresh green beans on a plate is at the top of the list of the best summer produce, right up there with just-picked corn on the cob and juicy tomatoes.

Green beans, also called string beans and snap beans, are "best cooked very slowly, in a black pot or skillet, with a ration of cured pork or bacon grease," according to John Egerton's Southern Food.

Egerton, who was raised in Cadiz, is one of the South's leading culinary experts and has spent decades documenting the diverse food cultures of the South. He's also a founding editor of the Southern Foodways Alliance.

Many Southerners still prefer their green beans "cooked to death," and Egerton explains that there are two variations of the cooking method:

"You can either simmer a 2-inch cube of salt pork or a small piece of country ham hock in a deep, covered pot or skillet with 4 cups of water for one hour or more. Put in 1 pound of beans and cook them covered over low heat for three to four hours. Stir occasionally and add water if necessary. Some salt may be needed if the pork is not enough. Or, you can put 2 tablespoons of bacon grease in a heavy iron skillet over medium heat. When the grease is hot, put in the beans. "Reduce heat to simmer. Cover and cook slowly for three hours or more. It may be necessary to add a little water now and then, but condensation in the closed pot should provide most of the moisture needed. Add salt if necessary."

There's no denying that green beans taste delicious when cooked this way, but nutritionists prefer that we eat them in a more recognizable state. When cooked in a small amount of water for a short time, green beans contain only 27 calories per cup.

Linda McMaine, a vendor at Bluegrass Farmers Market, grows green beans on her farm in Salvisa. The variety she favors most is Jade. Johnny's Selected Seeds lists Jade green beans as "gourmet-quality beans."

"They are an excellent green bean, very tender and have a good flavor," McMaine said. "The plants are heat-tolerant and high yielding, even in the kind of weather we have been having. They mature in 53 days, so they are about average for the length of time for production after seeding. I cooked ours with a little ham seasoning (the kind that is similar to bouillon), and they were delicious.

Despite the shortage of rain this summer, McMaine's garden is doing well.

"We are able to irrigate from the Salt River, so we have water to keep things alive and producing," she said. "We did use city water before we got the pump ready and hooked up to the river.

"Our biggest problem this year seems to be cucumber beetles. They are everywhere. We have not sprayed anything to try to control them, though, because we don't want to stress the plants with the spray."

When shopping at farmers markets, you'll see signs for snap beans (because when you break them in half, you'll hear a snap). They include pole beans, wax beans, haricots verts (skinny ones), rattlesnake beans and string beans (although modern varieties are often bred to be stringless).

RECIPES

Skillet green beans with orange

1 large navel orange

2 teaspoons canola oil

1 pound green beans, ends trimmed

¾ teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

1 tablespoon white wine vinegar, champagne vinegar or rice vinegar

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Freshly ground black pepper

Finely grate zest of the orange and reserve it. Segment the orange and keep the sections and juice in a bowl.

In a large cast-iron skillet or sauté pan, heat canola oil over high heat, swirling it around the pan so it coats the bottom thinly and evenly. When the oil begins to smoke, add beans (in batches if necessary — don't crowd the pan) and scatter ½ teaspoon salt over them. Cook, stirring only every 1½ to 2 minutes, until beans are half-blistered and blackened, about 8 minutes. Transfer beans to a serving platter or bowl. Lift the orange segments out of their juice (reserve juice) and scatter them over the beans. Sprinkle ¼ teaspoon orange zest over beans and oranges.

Add vinegar, olive oil and the remaining ¼ teaspoon salt to bowl of orange juice, and whisk until thoroughly combined. Pour dressing over beans. Toss, then season to taste with salt, black pepper and the remaining orange zest.

From The Lee Bros. Simple Fresh Southern by Matt Lee and Ted Lee


Stewed string beans with tomatoes

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

3 large cloves garlic, sliced

1 large yellow onion, cut into thick ribs

3/4 pound string beans, stems trimmed, cut in half

1 ripe tomato, coarsely chopped, including juices

Sea salt and pepper

1 can (6 ounces) tomato paste

3 cups water

1⁄8 teaspoon ground cloves

1⁄8 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

5 large fresh basil leaves

Heat oil in a heavy 4-quart pot over medium heat. Add garlic, onion, beans, tomato, salt and pepper. Stir well to coat with oil. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes, or until vegetables have softened and released some of their juices.

Add tomato paste, water, cloves and cayenne, stirring well to mix thoroughly. Coarsely chop basil, then stir it into the bean mixture.

Cover and bring to a medium-high boil. Cook, stirring occasionally, for 15 to 20 minutes, or until beans are tender. Taste for seasonings.

From Welcome to Claire's: 35 Years of Recipes and Reflections from the Landmark Vegetarian Restaurant by Claire Criscuolo (Lyons Press, $24.95)


In the South, dried green beans are called leather britches. "It is an age-old process of blanching the beans first to destroy bacteria, drying the beans and then stringing them as you would hot peppers. They can be rehydrated in water or stock, and used in any recipe calling for green beans," according to The Complete Southern Cookbook by Tammy Algood (Running Press, $26.95).

Leather britches

2 pounds fresh green beans, trimmed

Bring a pot of water to a boil over medium-high heat. Place beans in a steamer, then steam for 21/2 minutes. Run cold water over steamed beans and place in single layer on a jelly-roll pan. Place in the freezer 30 minutes.

Lay beans on the racks of a food dehydrator. Dry 8 to 10 hours, or follow the instructions on dehydrator. When the beans are completely dry, string and hang in a dry, dark place until ready to use. You also can place the dried beans in a canning jar or any container that can be closed tightly. Makes 1 string.

Sharon Thompson: (859) 231-3321. Twitter: @FlavorsofKY. Blog: Flavorsofkentucky.bloginky.com.

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