I love it when my 7-year old son asks for veggies. Green beans are one of the most popular requests. Maybe he only likes the crunchiness or bright color, but I’m content just knowing he wants some. For you other green bean lovers, here are some basics and fun ways to prepare this summer crop.
What, Where and When
You might know green beans (Phaseolus vulgaris) as snap beans and string beans, but they’re all basically the same. The beans are small pods filled with seeds. Since they’re harvested when young, a green bean’s pods stay tender, making them edible along with the seeds. Although different varieties range in size, they average around four inches in length.
Green beans come in “pole” and “bush” varieties. Pole beans grow tall and are usually supported by a fence so they don’t fall over. Bush beans grow into small stubby plants that don’t need support. Even though they’re called “green” beans, they come in yellow and purple, too; the “wax bean” is a pale yellow variety. “Haricots verts” are French green beans that are very thin and tender. You’ll typically find them in restaurants served alongside chicken or steak.
Green beans are available all year round, though you can find them fresh at most local farmers’ markets from around May to October.
A cup of raw green beans contains 34 calories, 2 grams of sugar and is full of fiber (15% of your daily needs). It’s also an excellent source of vitamin K and vitamin C and a good source of vitamin A, folate and manganese. Covering 6% of your daily needs, they even have a decent amount of iron when compared with other veggies.
What To Do With Green Beans
If you’re going to leave green beans whole, choose ones that are of equal size for even cooking. Rinse beans under cold water and trim (or snap) off the stem end with your fingers or knife. You can also trim the opposite end, but it’s not necessary.
Overcooking green beans makes them soggy (ick!), so just cook them until they’re tender and vibrant green. In a rush? You can prepare your beans ahead of time by blanching them — that means cooking them in a pot of boiling water and then plunging the batch in ice water to stop the cooking process. Once cooled, drain and refrigerate them overnight in an airtight container.
Green beans are very versatile and add a lot of crunch and color to dishes. They work cold in a salad or braised as a side to grilled meats. My favorite way to cook green beans is sautéed in a touch of olive oil, garlic and black pepper.
Shopping Tip: Look for loose green beans, which will allow you to pick the freshest ones. Choose slender beans that are brightly colored, crisp and free of blemishes and brown specs. Store them in the refrigerator, tightly wrapped in a plastic bag, for up to five days.