Soon as they come racing into our farmers markets, I load up on green beans. They are the truest taste of the garden, far different when freshly picked from a local farm or a neighbor’s yard than when shipped in from afar.
My grandmother grew “string” beans, the older variety with a tough fiber that ran down the seams. It was my job to de-string them for dinner, quite like plucking an errant thread from the hem of a skirt. Those strings have long since been bred out of today’s varieties.
When shopping at the market, look for plump, bright, firm beans that are not wrinkled or limp. Store them in a plastic bag in the refrigerator for up to three days; they don’t keep long. Don’t wash until just ready to cook. To prepare, simply snip off the tough tops and tails. A pound will yield about three to four cups of sliced beans.
The best technique for cooking green (and all garden) beans is simple. (And green beans do need to be cooked. A raw green bean is fibrous and crunchy and tastes grassy and slightly bitter.) They’re best boiled until tender, just beyond that crisp stage, as most recipes instruct. I do not mean cooked until overly soft and mushy, but enough so that the tiny bean within the green bean pod cooks, too. When this happens, the true flavors open up and the beans become slightly sweet and lush.
Drained and drizzled with a good, peppery olive oil and sprinkled with coarse salt, they’re fabulous served warm or at room temperature. You’ll want to eat them with your fingers, plucking each one from the pile one at a time.
Once they are cooked until just tender, they are also ready to serve in salads (as the essential components in a classic salad Niçoise), to toss with lemon butter and toasted sliced almonds (aka green bean amandine), or set out with a tangy dip.
Wax or yellow beans are a mild, tender garden bean variety. So are those purple, red, black and striped beans, but they tend to be tough and they will turn green once they’re cooked.
Chinese long beans are longer and drier than our garden green beans, and have a sharper flavor and firmer texture. The different varieties of garden fresh beans are interchangeable in recipes for green beans; the only suggestion is to be sure they are local and fresh.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.
Green Bean Salad With Yogurt Dressing
Serves 4 to 6.
Note: Green olives add a briny, salty note to this bright salad of tender garden-fresh beans. You can make the dressing ahead. You’ll have extra dressing, so store it in a covered container in the refrigerator and use within the week. It’s delicious on chicken salad, tossed with chopped fresh kale or served over fish. From Beth Dooley.
• 2 tbsp. fresh lemon juice
• 1/2 tsp. sugar
• 1 garlic clove, crushed
• 1/2 c. plain, whole-milk Greek yogurt
• 3 tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
• 1 tbsp. chopped fresh dill
• 1 tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
• Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
• 1 lb. green beans, tipped and tailed
• 1/4 c. chopped pitted green olives
For the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the lemon juice, sugar, garlic and yogurt. Whisk in the oil, then the dill and the parsley and season with salt and pepper.
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat and add the beans. Cook until bright and just tender, about 6 to 10 minutes, depending on the size of the beans. Turn into a colander set over the sink, drain and refresh under cold water. Drain thoroughly.
Arrange the beans on a serving platter or individual plates and spoon the dressing over the beans. Scatter the chopped olives over all. Serve at room temperature or chilled.
Nutrition information per 1/6 serving:
Fat 8 g
Sodium 100 mg
Carbohydrates 7 g
Saturated fat 2 g
Total sugars 2 g
Protein 2 g
Cholesterol 5 mg
Dietary fiber 2 g
Exchanges per serving: 1 vegetable, 1½ fat.