My introduction to green beans was the canned variety. My mother was such a great cook that she managed to make them taste delicious, but green beans were not a vegetable I ever requested for dinner.
It’s no wonder that when I tasted fresh-from-the garden Kentucky Wonder heirloom green beans they became my hands-down favorite!
Whether you call them string beans, green beans or snap beans, they are one of the most common garden vegetables in the United States. String beans come in many forms — some 130 in all — ranging from the petite, delicately flavored French variety called haricot verts to the broader, meaty Italian specimens.
String beans are divided into two categories: bush beans, which have a long, slender, rounded pod, and pole beans, which are usually large and quite flat.
Decades ago, string beans were named for the tough fibers that ran from one tip to the other. Although these strings have long been bred out of most varieties, the moniker has stuck.
The pods of these beans can be green, yellow (referred to as wax beans), purple, red or streaked. String beans are actually immature seeds and pods; if left on the bush, the seeds swell and the pods become too fibrous to eat. However, they do not mature to become “shell” beans.
String beans are bred specifically for their youthful succulence and tenderness, and are meant to be eaten pods and all.
Because green beans are high in fiber and water, they are low in calories, with only 22 calories in a 1/2 cup serving. Green beans are naturally low in sodium. To take advantage of this, flavor green beans with basil, dill, marjoram, mint, oregano or thyme.
Selecting Green Beans:
High-quality green beans are crisp and tender, without scars. Well-shaped pods with small seeds are desirable. Length is unimportant. Green beans should feel pliable and velvety, not hard or tough.
Preparing Green Beans:
Here’s how to produce the best color, flavor and nutrient retention.
Bring a small amount of water to boil — not more than 1 inch in the bottom of a pan for 1 pound of fresh green beans. Add green beans and cook uncovered for the first few minutes to let some of the volatile acids escape in the steam. (This will preserve the bright green color.) Cover and cook until just tender-crisp.
Newer varieties of green beans are more tender and do not need to cook as long as the older varieties. One pound of crosscut green beans will be ready to serve in 13 to 15 minutes. Overheating and overcooking cause discoloration.
Using and Preserving Green Beans:
- Green beans can be held in the refrigerator for several days without loss of quality. Store them in a plastic bag to prevent moisture loss and wilting.
- Wash green beans in cold water just before using, not before refrigerator storage. Let sand and soil sink to the bottom and lift beans out. Several washes in clean water may be needed.
- Trim and cut green beans just before using. Vegetables cut or chopped ahead of time lose nutrients more quickly than whole vegetables.
- To prepare, trim ends and snap or cut into 1-inch pieces for cooking or use in salads, or leave green beans whole for dipping.
- It is usually not necessary to remove strings, as most varieties of green beans are now “stringless.”
- One pound of fresh green beans makes five to six servings.
- Canning, freezing and drying provide your family with green beans throughout the year.
Select young tender pods when the seed is first formed. Cut into 1- or 2-inch pieces or slice lengthwise. Before freezing, green beans must be quickly blanched in salted water to destroy enzymes that cause flavor and color changes during storage. Cool and package green beans in moisture/vapor-proof bags or containers for freezer storage.
Try this “dill-licious” recipe for Dilled Green Bean Salad. It’s an easy go-to side dish on a hot summer day.
Dilled Green Bean Salad
1 pound fresh green beans
2 tablespoons fresh dill
4 to 6 green onions, roots removed and discarded, white and green parts chopped
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon sugar, honey or agave
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon ground black pepper
1. Cut green beans into 2-inch pieces, then place them in a microwave-safe dish. Add 1/4 cup water; cover and cook on high power for 7-12 minutes until tender-crisp.
2. In a medium bowl, whisk together oil, vinegar, Dijon mustard, sugar, honey or agave, salt and pepper to make the dressing. Add in the green beans, dill and onions, and toss well to coat and combine. Serve at room temperature. Makes 4 servings.
Angela Shelf Medearis is an award-winning children’s author, culinary historian and the author of seven cookbooks. Her website is www.divapro.com.