Ideas for fresh garden beans
Green beans, snap beans and string beans are the same thing
I’ve been wondering for years: how do green beans, snap beans and string beans differ?
It turns out they’re the same thing. Each name just focuses on one characteristic of the same type of bean: it’s green, it snaps when broken in two if it’s fresh, and it may have a tough string running down the centre (although many green beans are now string-free). Green beans are picked young, while the pods are tender and the seeds are underdeveloped. As the seeds mature, they are called shell beans if eaten fresh or, predictably, dried beans if dried in the pods.
We are growing scarlet runner beans in the garden for the first time and are happy with the taste and texture of these green beans, as well as the pretty red-orange flowers that adorn the climbing vines. I wasn’t surprised to read that the plants have often been grown strictly as ornamentals.
Now that our beans are coming on strong and I’m picking some every day, we eat them often. My old standard cooking method, perhaps the most boring way to prepare them, has been to break off the stem ends and boil the beans, whole, until just tender. It would be easy to get tired of them if cooked the same way every time, so I’ve been trying different ways of preparing them.
Some believe that green beans are poisonous if eaten raw, but I’ve popped enough of them into my mouth while picking that I know there aren’t any immediate ill effects when they’re consumed in small amounts. In any case, beans aren’t usually consumed raw, but they are good in salads if blanched to brighten the colour, soften them slightly and transform the raw taste into something a little more mellow.
To blanch green beans, cook them in a steamer or in rapidly boiling water until they are tender crisp. Drain the beans, chill immediately in ice water to prevent further cooking, drain and refrigerate them, wrapped in paper towels or kitchen towels, until ready to use.
You can dress them with a vinaigrette for a simple salad or add other vegetables for a dish that’s more colourful and robust. Last week I topped a bed of mixed salad greens with chilled chopped new potatoes, sliced green onions, blanched green beans and sliced hardcooked egg and then drizzled commercial salad dressing over it all. It was a tasty make-ahead summer meal, inspired by the classic Salad Niçoise.
Blanching green beans also prepares them for use in hot dishes and saves a few minutes in the dinnertime rush. Add blanched beans to onions and other vegetables in a stirfry, warm them in a fry pan with olive oil or butter and top with grated cheese or toasted almond slices or toss with sautéed sliced mushrooms, sauté with crushed garlic in butter, or heat and serve them with a herb butter.
Dill goes well with beans, as fans of dilled beans will know.
In this lemony salad, blanched green beans are tossed with oil and herbs. It caught my attention because we have beans, parsley and mint growing in the garden. The author suggests serving with grilled lamb chops and an orzo salad.
Green Beans with Parsley and Mint
Adapted from Fairchild, Barbara: “The Bon Appétit Fast Easy Fresh Cookbook”. John Wiley & Sons, Inc., Hoboken, 2008.
750 g (1½ lb) green beans, trimmed
50 mL (¼ cup) extra-virgin olive oil
45 mL (3 tbsp) minced fresh mint
45 mL (3 tbsp) minced fresh parsley
salt and pepper
30 mL (2 tbsp) fresh lemon juice
20 mL (4 tsp) finely grated lemon peel
Cook beans in a large saucepan of boiling salted water until just tender, about 5 minutes. Drain. Transfer to a bowl of ice water; cool. Drain well.
Transfer beans to a large bowl. Mix in oil, mint, and parsley. Season to taste with salt and pepper. (Can make to this point 1 hour ahead of time and let stand at room temperature.)*
Just before serving, mix in lemon juice and lemon peel. Serve at room temperature.
Makes 6 servings
* Remember that, for safety’s sake, cooked vegetables including beans should not be left at room temperature for more than a total of 2 hours.