A Great Day for Green Beans

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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 ten­der­crisp.

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.

Freezer Facts:

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

Dress­ing:

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 new cook­book is “The Kitchen Diva’s Diabetic Cook­book.” Her web­site is www.di­vapro.com. To see howto videos, recipes and much, much more, Like An­gela Shelf Medearis, The Kitchen Diva! on Face­book. Recipes may not be reprinted with­out permission from An­gela Shelf Medearis.

PHOTO CREDIT: De­posit­pho­tos

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