About Green Beans

This week’s lesson: Green Beans!

Also called snap beans or string beans, they refer to any immature bean with pods that taste good when “snapped” into pieces. Green beans can be eaten whole, with the pod in tact, unlike shelling beans which are dried, removed from their pods, and must be cooked. There are hundreds of varieties, with pod colors ranging from green, purple, red and even streaked. When growing green beans, you can choose from two different growing habits: pole beans and bush beans. Bush beans are short plants, growing to approximately two feet in height, generally not requiring support. Pole beans have a climbing habit and produce a twisting vine that needs a trellis to support it. Pole beans can be rambunctious so plan accordingly when planting them to make sure they have enough space to wander. Green beans are a popular crop to grow because of how fast and furious they produce, and how fun they are to harvest. Finding them on the vine is like going on a scavenger hunt!

How do you know when they are ready to harvest?

The easiest answer to this question is “when they look like what you buy at the store”. You may pick snap beans when they are young and serve them as baby snap beans, or you can wait until they reach full size for a more bountiful harvest. Use two hands to pick, because you can easily pull the plant down by tugging too hard on the beans; simply hold the stem in one hand and pick with the other. As with most vegetables, beans keep producing steadily as long as you keep them picked, so harvest often to get the most out of your plant.

How do you store them?
Wash them right before you are going to use them. Store beans in a paper bag, or wrapped in a damp towel in an open plastic bag (*save the produce bags at the grocery store, they are perfect for this). Snap beans like humidity, but not wetness, so make sure they get air circulation so they don’t get soggy. They will keep in the fridge for up to a week. If your appetite can’t keep up with your bountiful harvest, you can freeze them to store them for later use. To freeze them- wash well, trim off the ends, and blanch in boiling water for 4 minutes. Cool in ice water, drain, and pack in freezer bags with a bit of room at the top. When you are ready to use them later, just quickly steam them for a few minutes to thaw.

How do you cook them?
Rinse beans in cold water and trim off both ends. If there is a string attached to the stem, remove it (a lot of varieties are “stringless”). Snap beans can be eaten raw (great for dipping in hummus), or cooked. When cooking, they should be boiled, steamed, or sautéed for only a few minutes to retain their crispness. Overcooked beans become mushy and lose their color, flavor, and nutritional value. FUN FACT: purple bean varieties turn green when cooked so you’ll always know when they’re ready!

NUTRITION:

Looking to boost your antioxidant intake? Add green beans to your diet! Green beans are a great source of vitamin C, beta-carotene and manganese all of which are powerful antioxidants. Not only are green beans rich in antioxidants, they are low in calories with 1 cup providing less than 50 calories. This makes a great snack! It’s best to work with fresh beans that are vibrant green and firm in texture. Unable to use fresh? Studies are showing that green beans retain valuable amounts of nutrients for up to 3-6 months after freezing. So, enjoy! Add green beans to a salad, sauté in olive oil with shiitake mushrooms for a side, or eat them raw.

Courtesy of: Brita Siljander, Swedish Covenant Hospital dietitian

RECIPE:

This recipe is a great way to incorporate your home-grown potatoes and dill too!

Warm Potato and Green Bean Salad
makes 6 servings

1 1/4 pounds red potatoes, cut in 1-inch pieces (can substitute other varieties)
1 TB lemon juice
1 tsp lemon zest
1 clove garlic, finely minced
1/2 tsp salt (plus more to taste)
1/4 tsp black pepper
1 TB fresh dill, chopped
3 TB extra-virgin olive oil
12 oz. green beans, trimmed and cut across in half
1/2 cup thinly sliced red onion
1 celery stalk, thinly sliced

1. Combine the potatoes and enough lightly salted cold water to cover them by 2 to 3 inches and bring to a boil. Boil until the potatoes are fork-tender, about 10 to 12 minutes. Scoop them out of water using a slotted spoon and place in colander (you will be reusing the cooking water).
2. While potatoes cook, combine lemon juice and zest, garlic, salt, pepper and dill in a large bowl. Whisk in olive oil. Gently toss in cooked potatoes.
3. Bring potato cooking water back to a boil and add green beans; cook until bright green and crisp-tender, about 3 minutes. Place onions in a colander; drain green beans and cooking water over onion. If they won’t be served right away, run cold water over vegetables to stop them from cooking. Combine with the potatoes and celery.