Smile Politely

Green beans any way you like ‘em

There is a continuing battle in my sister’s family over the right way and the wrong way to cook green beans.

Her in-laws, who come from a Southern tradition, like to put a smoked ham hock in a pot with a couple quarts of water and bring it to a boil. They then throw in a couple of pounds of green beans and let the works simmer for about an hour. The beans become a 1970s avocado green and turn very soft — she claims “mushy.” But, to her mother-in-law’s way of thinking, they are smoky and silky.

When family meals fall to my sister, she steam sautés her beans with a little garlic and olive oil. They are brilliant green and tender crisp, but her in-laws consider them “raw.”

So who’s right? Cooking actually increases the amount of vitamin A in green beans, but they can lose a third of their vitamin C. However, using green beans as sources of vitamins A and C is like using oranges as a source of zinc. Sure they have it, but there are far more efficient things you could eat to get your daily allowance. For example a cup of raw carrots has over 28 times more vitamin A than a cup of green beans, and a cup of red pepper has 6.5 times more vitamin C, even more than oranges.

Buy fresh green beans and make a mushroom sauce from scratch if you want. Let your relatives crack open a can of soup and pour it over their canned beans. Maybe not from a carbon or sodium perspective, but from a vitamin perspective it is moot: Green beans are colorful fiber. Better to eat peppers and carrots from the vegetable tray before dinner and simply smile at your mother-in-law when she passes you the green beans during the meal.

Since green beans are finding their way into the market and onto porch steps around town in earnest, here are some great ways to use them in quantity, now that you can rest easier about putting some heat to them.

Roasting green beans is a great way to work through a lot of beans in a hurry. It reduces their volume and concentrates their sweetness. The type of bean (green, wax, purple) isn’t as important as that they are of comparable size so they can cook at the same rate.

Roasted Green Beans

  • 2 pounds tender green, purple or yellow beans, washed and trimmed
  • 1 head of garlic, peeled, and minced
  • 2-3 T olive oil
  • salt and pepper to taste

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Toss the garlic and beans in a bowl with the olive oil, salt, and pepper. Spread evenly over two baking sheets and roast for about 40 minutes, stirring and turning at least once during cooking. Roasting time will vary with bean size. Smaller beans may be done in 30 minutes. They are done when they are slightly blistered and wrinkled with light-brown spots.

Serve as is warm or at room temperature. Or, dress the beans with chopped tomato, a splash of balsamic vinegar, and a couple of tablespoons of finely chopped basil.

If you’ve never had made from scratch Three Bean Salad, then you’ve never really had it. Unlike green bean casserole, this is where fresh beans really make a difference, and the difference really is like night and day.

Two or Three-Bean Salad

Combine in a large bowl:

3 cups mixed snap beans and wax beans, blanched (or 2 cups snap or wax beans with 1 cup shelled fresh beans if you can find them)

  • 1 /2 a large green pepper, julienned
  • 1 /2 c thinly sliced red onion
  • In a smaller bowl, combine:
  • 1/2 clove minced garlic
  • 3 T plus 1 t. sugar
  • 1 /3 c plus 1 T red or white wine vinegar
  • 1/4 c plus 1 T light olive oil
  • 1/4 t Worcestershire sauce or Chinese black vinegar
  • 1/2 t salt or to taste
  • dash pepper

Whisk together and pour over beans. Toss.

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