Ingredient of the Week, August 18: Green Beans
Commonly referred to as string beans, the string that once was their trademark (running lengthwise down the seam of the pod) can seldom be found in modern varieties. It's for this reason (the breeding out of the "string") that string beans are often referred to as "snap beans." Because they are picked at a younger, immature stage, "snap beans" can literally be snapped in half with a simple twist of the fingers. Although these bright green and crunchy beans are available at your local market throughout the year, they are in season from summer through early fall when they are at their best and the least expensive. You may also see them referred to as "haricot vert"—this term simply means "green bean" in French and is the common French term for this vegetable. This term can also refer to specific varieties of green beans that are popular in French cuisine because of their very thin shape and very tender texture
Green beans belong to the same family as shell beans, such as pinto beans, black beans, and kidney beans. In fact, all of these beans have the exact same genus/species name in science—Phaseolus vulgaris—and all can be referred to simply as "common beans." However, since green beans are usually picked while still immature and while the inner beans are just beginning to form in the pod, they are typically eaten in fresh (versus dried) form, pod and all. Green beans are often deep emerald green in color and come to a slight point at either end. Green bean varieties of this common bean family are usually selected for their great texture and flavor while still young and fresh on the vine. In contrast, dried bean varieties like pinto or black or kidney beans are usually selected for their ability to produce larger and more dense beans during the full time period when they mature on the vine. At full maturity, their pods are often too thick and fibrous to be readily enjoyed in fresh form, but the beans inside their pods are perfect for drying and storing.
Green beans are surprisingly nutritious. A single serving of green beans has a quarter of the day's requirements of vitamin K, a fat-soluble vitamin that's important for healthy bones and blood clotting. They're also a good source of vitamins A and C, antioxidant vitamins that protect cells against oxidative damage. Vitamins A and C both keep the immune system healthy, while vitamin A preserves night vision and keeps skin and the cornea of the eye moist.
How to Select and Store
If possible, purchase green beans at a store or farmer's market that sells them loose so that you can sort through them to choose the beans of best quality. Purchase beans that have a smooth feel and a vibrant green color, and that are free from brown spots or bruises. They should have a firm texture and "snap" when broken.
Store unwashed fresh beans pods in a plastic bag kept in the refrigerator crisper. Whole beans stored this way should keep for about seven days.
Many people wonder about the possibility of freezing green beans, or purchasing green beans that have already been frozen. Both options can work—green beans are definitely a vegetable that can be frozen. There are several research studies on the nutritional consequences of freezing green beans, and most studies show the ability of green beans to retain valuable amounts of nutrients for 3-6 months after freezing. If you don't have fresh green beans available on a year-round basis, purchasing frozen green beans can definitely provide you with a nutritionally valuable option.
If you wish to freeze green beans we recommend that you steam the green beans for 2-3 minutes. Remove from heat and let them cool thoroughly before placing them in freezer bags and storing them in your freezer.
It is good to remember that the passage of time appears to lessen the concentration of multiple nutrients. There appears to be less nutrient loss at 3 months than at 6 months, and you may want to limit your freezer storage of green beans (whether frozen at home or pre-purchased in frozen form) to about 3 months for this reason.
Tips for Preparing Green Beans
Just prior to using the green beans, wash them under running water. Remove both ends of the beans by either snapping them off or cutting them with a knife.
A Few Quick Serving Ideas
- Green beans are a classic ingredient in Salad Nicoise, a French cold salad dish that combines steamed green beans with tuna fish and potatoes.
- Healthy sauté green beans with shiitake mushrooms.
- Prepare the perennial favorite, green beans almondine, by sprinkling slivered almonds on healthy sautéed beans.
Do you usually use fresh green beans, frozen or canned? How do you like green beans cooked? Sauteed, steamed, roasted, in a salad or casserole?