Here’s the thing with fresh green beans: You can’t buy just a handful.
These are roughly 2 pound bags that I recently saw at Whole Foods. Whole Foods’ idea is that you will buy this entire bag, no questions asked. And of course, you can just remove what you want—even just a handful—with impunity.
But optimally, your idea should be to avoid bagged green beans altogether, because frankly, you have no idea what could be in there. You can also see how lumpy those beans are, which means: tough. You’ll be much happier with your purchase if you seek out this type of display. Hey, wait a sec! Those aren’t cucumbers! LOL, Larry.
You can see that many of the stems are still intact, a sign of freshness. Turn a bag inside out over your hand and grab what you need. (Do wash these when you get home, because people have been running their hands through those things All Day.)
Point being, when green beans rain, they pour. Your CSA box may be fair to bursting with beans one day. What’s a cook to do?
Well, first off, snap off those stems. This, I find, is the most satisfying green bean experience. The stems snap off with a nice snappy pop; maybe even the teeniest bit of water pops out when they’re super fresh.
You can also cut them, which is speedy. You just line ’em up, chop one set of tips, then line them back up the other way and repeat. This works if your green beans are maybe a little less fresh; again, not optimal, but still edible. Bonus: Beans make a great first cutting project for a beginning cook. You can practice your monkey claw, and complete the job in 2 quick cuts per pile of beans.
Just as with all vegetables, you have a few options—though limited somewhat by the ways of the bean. Prior to any veggie recommendations, it’s important to note that acid turns your beautiful bright green beans a downright fug olive color. Add acid, should you need it, to any preparation of green beans—particularly raw, steamed, or blanched—at the very last minute, and the dish will look fine for the next half hour or so. But leftovers are likely to look a bit sad. More on that below.
Green Beans: Raw
ONLY if you have just picked them out of the garden, and if they are the super skinny haricot vert variety (the ones so thin they look like needles). Even so, they don’t call ’em beans for nothin’. While green beans are actually a flower, they’re a little starchy. A quick dunk in a pot of boiling salted water or a light steaming preserves their bright jade color as it brings out the fresh green flavor, and makes them a little easier to digest as well.
If you do opt for raw, just rinse them well and snap off the ends. If you have to cut off the ends because they’re not snapping cleanly, they’re not fresh enough, in my book, to go on the plate without a little further cooking.
Green Beans: Steamed or Blanched
These methods are interchangeable and provide serious versatility. To steam, put your steamer basket filled with green beans in a pot with an inch or so boiling water. Cover the pot, steam 1-2 minutes, then refresh with cold water.
To blanch, simply dump the beans in a big amount of boiling salted water. More water works great because you want to cook the beans quickly, 1-2 minutes; in a big pot, the water comes back to the boil almost immediately. Pour into a colander and refresh with cold water so the beans don’t continue to cook.
You can pre-cook all your beans either of these ways, and then have them on hand for salads and other dishes throughout the week.
Beans love fresh herbs. Dill and mint get called up the most often, but pretty much any, in any combination work. This bean salad link provides step by step instructions and an actual, adaptable recipe if you like precise amounts.
Feel free add some butter or a tasty oil to your barely cooked green beans, because Fat = Yum. Fresh steamed or blanched beans with butter, salt and pepper are completely awesome.
Green Beans: The Steam Sauté
Green beans love some fat. Stir-fry or saute them raw, then add some liquid for a brief steaming. Alternatively, steam or blanch the beans before steaming. If raw, you may want to consider the so-called French cut, i.e., slicing them lengthwise.
It’s a pain in the ass, quite frankly, but it does serve its purpose; it was invented to help out some of the bigger and consequently tougher beans that often get to market.
As for optimal pairings: Native to the Americas, green beans at this point in time are part of nearly every world cuisine, and consequently go with all sorts of things, like….cherries!
In case you think that’s weird, there’s also corn and some feta cheese added to the mix. I swear, it worked beautifully.
They’re wonderful in a big Asian-inspired stir-fry. I adapted this Mee Goreng recipe from Yotam Ottolenghi barely at all (other than to not be tremendously slavish about amounts, and swapping the sprouts for radishes and the iceberg for radish greens, because I had them on hand).
And, with apologies to non-meat-eating friends and readers, I must report that green beans and bacon are quite wonderful, as this take on a classic southern recipe can attest. (The recipe does provide links to vegan “bacon” alternatives, so fear not.)
Do know that, since acid of some kind is usually added to a saute—lemon juice, vinegar, or tomato—leftovers will turn that dismal color. Additionally, while there are many, many recipes I’ve come across that advocate adding green beans to a long-simmering braise of other vegetables and protein, my personal preference is to keep them and crispy and green as possible. If you dig eating olive drab, go for it, and report back.
Green Beans: Roasted
Green beans can be roasted or grilled, though frankly this prep feels a little gimmicky to me. As always, you do you. The basic vegetable roasting techniques apply. Just toss in oil with salt and herbs. Then roast for a brief period, say 5-8 minutes before giving a good stir, followed by an additional 5-8 minutes.
Green Beans: A Few Cool Options
Having steamed and/or blanched green beans on hand benefits your kitchen throughout the week. You can add them to salads, either green or grain based. You can toss them in a soup for color at the last second, stir them into pasta or rice dishes, and dip them in hummus. Chopped up and mixed with a cooked grain—quinoa, barley, a plump short-grain rice—you can then form them into patties and make cute little cakes; I’m currently experimenting with an old Bert Greene recipe to this effect and will post when I’m happy with it.
Best of all, you can either dip into them through the week—they’ll keep nicely in your produce drawer as long as they don’t get wet, for several days—or steam off the whole bunch the day you get them and just throw in a little bean confetti as the inspiration strikes. Chomp away, mes amis.