If asked, “What’s your favorite veggie?” many of you would name that inaugural vegetable, probably one of the first you ever tasted, as the winner. You know—the one you had on your plate at least twice a week growing up—green beans! You may have had them served camo green from a can, or neon bright from a bag, hanging out with a mix of frozen peas and carrots. Maybe, if you were lucky, it wasn’t either of those dishes. Perhaps, it was a pile of fork tender pods of garden grown beans, cooked with a slab of bacon. Whatever their incarnation, green beans hold a place in our culinary history, and our personal memories that is as indelible as the Wednesday night meat loaf or the Thursday Thanksgiving feast. It wasn’t kale that Mom bought pureed in a small fat jar and fed you as your first bites of “real food.” It was green beans.
The thing about green beans is that in this age of kohlrabi, chard, sunchokes, and celeriac, they seem so regular, maybe even a little plain. But that’s exactly what we like about green beans, especially these days. I think we’d all admit it’s nice to have an uncomplicated, straightforward vegetable around. Green beans are a simple side that we can count on when we see it on our plate. With green beans, there are no questions, no anticipation, or summoning up our courage because they taste like home.
Mother knew what she was doing when she served up green beans, snap beans, or string beans to us, time after time. Green beans are high in dietary fiber and are a tasty source of Vitamins A and C. Just make sure not to overcook the beans. For crisp, tender beans, lightly steam them for a few minutes to retain their nutrients.
In the garden, green beans are also highly desired and very beneficial. Green beans, as part of the legume family, produce their own nitrogen and are sometimes grown by gardeners and farmers to improve soil quality. Early Native Americans grew a garden called “Three Sisters,” composed of corn, beans and squash. The corn provided the structure on which the beans could climb, the squash provided shade from the sun to retain soil moisture and the beans provided the nutrients for them all. Of course, when we say green bean we are talking about the pod, not the bean itself. And in this class of legumes there are many varieties, from the standard Kentucky Wonder pole bean to the Italian flat bean, to the haricot verts and wax beans (which are not green at all). Each type of bean has its own slightly unique flavor and characteristics.
The United States grows more green beans than any other country, however; green beans are also prevalent in dishes from many cuisines from around the world. Fresh, tender green beans are best in preparations that allow their bright flavor and crisp texture to shine, like my recipe for this delicious Green Bean, Tomato, and Sweet Onion Salad
Green Beans, Tomato, Corn and Sweet Onion Salad
Serves 4 to 6
You can make this wonderful salad up to 24-hours ahead of time making it the perfect dish for a busy week or a summer-time party.
1/4 red onion or sweet onion, sliced thin
1/4 European cucumber, cut into thin sticks resembling shape and size of green beans
1/2 pint grape tomatoes, halved
3 tablespoons Extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 lemon, juiced
1 teaspoon salt plus 1 tablespoon for salting water
1 teaspoon black pepper
1 teaspoon poultry seasoning
1/4 teaspoon sugar or sugar substitute
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 pound fresh green beans, washed and trimmed
1 cup fresh corn kernels (1 ear) or 1 cup frozen corn kernels
Place the onions, cucumber and tomato in a bowl. Dress the salad with a generous drizzle of extra-virgin olive oil, lemon juice, salt, pepper, poultry seasoning, sugar and cayenne pepper. Toss to combine and set aside.
Meanwhile, bring ½-inch water to a boil and add the tablespoon of salt . Add the green beans and the corn, cover, and steam for 3 or 4 minutes. Pour the green beans and the corn into a colander to drain. Cold shock the beans and corn by running under cold water and drain well. Add the green beans and corn to the tomato salad and toss until well combined.