When I was young, my weary mother occasionally prepared green beans. They were canned green beans and they were cooked in the style of the day, which is to say that they were boiled until limp. Now, if you are a canned limp green bean fan, please don’t take offense. I cannot make some “truth” claim about what is a good green bean, but I can tell you what green beans are good TO me, and as you may have guessed canned limp green beans are not in this club. The only other green bean exposure I had with any regularity was at my dear grandmother’s house. Her addition to the container of limp green beans was a big piece of fatback. While I understand that might entice some folks, it didn’t create a veggie siren song for me. All this is to say that I am a late bloomer where the green bean is concerned.
Years later, I was convinced to try green beans with a promise of something truly different from what I’d experienced before, something that tasted like, well, something other than salt water. Al dente… tender crisp… a vegetable that is still cooked, but that resists the bite, offers a little crunch, demonstrates a need for teeth. And so began my love affair with green beans. I’ve since tried all the varieties I can find (I must confess that the yellow ones still don’t work for me), and have prepared them a variety of ways – and that’s they part you’re probably actually interested in.
For green beans, Mr. Little Sis and I used to steam them most often. The key was to yank them before they went too far. We watched and like most green veggies, green beans will tell you when they’re done. They turn brighter green before they go too far. So we would peek, stick with a fork, and pull the beans out of the steamer at the magic moment. We would add a little butter and some lemon juice, a little salt – delish.
As most of you know, we now have more voices to answer to and green beans were not an immediate sell, but I pulled the trickiest maneuver around. I grew them, and had my kids help me pick them. I don’t know anybody who can pick a bunch of anything without tasting one. This is why both my children happily eat fresh green beans and peas. So I thought we’d have no problem with them at the dinner table.
As it turns out, steaming is not the answer for my little garden elves. I was perplexed – why do they like it off the vine and not from the steamer? So I roasted them (who doesn’t like roasted anything?), but that was not going to work either. I became confused and started cutting the beans up and mixing them with other things to attempt a softer sell by mixing things together (HAHAHA says the mother of older kids who have never preferred to have things touching on the plate).
I finally asked the little darlings how they’d like me make their beans (novel, huh?) and they said they’d like them raw, thank you very much. We often serve our fresh green beans raw in a bowl on the table. At our table it is considered polite to eat these raw beans with the fingers. To prepare, I simply trim the ends. If the beans are more mature, I will pull the strings, but this is usually not necessary. The kids can often be cajoled to pop the ends off to help prepare dinner.
After a few years of raw green beans, I posed the question again. Is there some other way we can enjoy green beans together? “Sure Mommy, we might like them warm.” And thus, we have settled on our favorite green beans. They are not quite al dente – more like al lotsa dente – but warm and flavorful. I have two versions for you, both of which passed the kid test and which we enjoyed immensely.
Simple, Not Plain, Green Beans
- enough green beans for your tribe with an extra handful or two for leftover lunches, with ends trimmed
- olive oil for the pan (about 1 T, you’re not frying them)
- sprinkle of salt
- toasted pecans (or nuts of preference, you can also do raw, but the toasted are super special)
I usually toast my nuts while I’m trimming the beans. I simply warm a cast iron pan (with no oil in it). When the pan is warm, I put the pecans in and let them sit for a minute. While I’m trimming the beans, I stir the pecans around occasionally, and attempt to flip them over so they are toasted on both sides (I am, admittedly, not very careful or patient and so the whole both sides concern is pretty limited for me). If you smell the nuts while you’re trimming your beans, you should stir them. The scent gets stronger and more wonderful just before they burn.
On to the beans. Warm olive oil in pan. Add green beans and let them be for a couple of minutes. As the beans release some moisture you’ll hear noises that sound like frying, but it’s not. Treat them like the nuts – flip them around occasionally, keep your eye on them. They will get brighter green. Sprinkle a little salt and remove to serving dish when they are warm, but still entirely and delightfully solid. Add pecans, toss, eat.
Fancy Shmancy Green Beans or Green Beans with Pecans, Clementines and Balsamic Vinegar
- enough beans for your tribe
- olive oil for the pan
- sprinkle of salt
- toasted pecans (or your have)
- 2 chopped clementines (or other sweet orange)
- 1 small glug balsamic vinegar
Toast nuts as above. Peel and segment clementines. If you want to be SUPER fancy and have a hot little knife you want to give a whirl, you could supreme (and no, I don’t mean sing Baby Love) the clementine sections as described and documented by our pal Patty here. I am inadequately patient for such a maneuver, so I simply cut my sections into 3 pieces each.
I prepared my beans the exact same way as described above, being careful not to overcook them (which for my folks means taking them beyond warm). I moved them to a bowl, added the nuts, added the clementines, and a small glug of balsamic vinegar. Don’t bathe them in it – start small, see how you feel about it. You can always add more, as we do, every time we use it. My children are balsamic vinegar fiends – yes that’s weird. Toss to distribute nuts, fruit, and vinegar. Serve, eat, experience delighted surprise at the mix of tang, sweet, nutty, crunchy and then try to discreetly grab some seconds before you (or anyone else) finish the first serving. Delish.
This post was shared at Wildcrafting Wednesday.