Green bean goodness


Green bean casserole.

Published: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 12:09 p.m.
Last Modified: Wednesday, June 5, 2013 at 12:09 p.m.

Steamed, sautéed, stewed or baked in a casserole, you’ll savor these recipes for America’s favorite side dish.

The go-to vegetable of my childhood, the green bean, has graced plates from grade schools to banquet halls. Although a serving of green beans never takes center stage, it plays its part of the sidekick worthy of attention. Even the pickiest eaters usually don’t turn up their noses when green beans are served.

First grown in Central America and used throughout Mexico and South America, explorers eagerly carried these beans back to Europe, where they became a staple vegetable there, as well. Perfect for the home gardener, green bean plants are either bush or pole types. Bush beans will ramble across the garden, taking up all the space provided. Pole beans, on the other hand, will wind their way up a stake or trellis, reducing their garden footprint while producing the same number of beans.

Whether the round green pods of traditional green beans, the flat pods of Roma and pole beans, the thin haricot verts (French filet beans), or the golden-colored yellow “wax” beans, all green beans are immature relatives of familiar shell beans and dried beans. Known in some areas as “string beans” because of the tough stringy membranes running the length of the bean in older varieties, green beans also have been referred to as snap beans, both for their crunchy sound and the traditional way of preparing the fresh beans for cooking.

Snipping and snapping beans are the perfect way for young children and grandmas to spend a sultry afternoon together in the shade. With a large washpan of beans in your lap, you can talk away the time while snipping off the two ends and then snapping the beans into the desired size.

The green beans of my childhood were served in just a few ways. Cut green beans from cans were everyday fare, served heated right out of the can or mixed with other beans in a marinated salad. The long slivers of green known as French-cut green beans usually were dressed up with almonds for a company dinner. Fresh green beans were long-simmered with bacon or fatback in the stewpots of our family’s Southern kitchens until they were a salty, mushy mess of faded green.

Eating habits and cooking methods have changed over the intervening years. Fresh-from-the-garden is preferred to frozen, or even worse, canned beans. A versatile vegetable, green beans can be served hot or cold, and can be boiled, steamed, stir-fried, roasted, and even pickled! Most often we eat them simply steamed, dressed up in a casserole or stewed Southern style.

Steaming is the best way to retain all the vitamins and texture of fresh green beans.

After steaming, any number of flavorings can be added, without added fat, to enhance the green beans’ appeal. Try adding any of the Five Flavorful Finishes below and avoid another night of boring veggies.

While the ubiquitous green bean casserole with canned mushroom soup has become a classic part of holiday dinners since its introduction in the 1950s, it is loaded with sodium and additives. This recipe uses fresh mushrooms and a simple cream sauce to enhance the fresh flavors. The traditional topping of canned fried onions is replaced with local pecans toasted right on the casserole.

Sometimes the flavors of childhood call continuously until you can answer in a new way. A tribute to my Southern roots is found in the recipe for Stewed Pole Beans. The flat pods of pole or roma beans can be a little tougher than the round pod varieties, so stewing for a short time creates a tender and tasty side dish. In place of the pork flavoring, a sautéed onion provides flavor with minimal fat. While you can stew them until mushy, they are ready to serve in just 30 minutes. Any leftover liquid can be used in soups or to cook grains.

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