In the bean world, it’s time to snap to it.
Snap beans are a joy of summer. They grow rapidly on hot days, challenging gardening cooks to keep up with their harvest. Unlike their fully developed relatives destined to be dried, these beans are meant to be eaten young (and usually green).
It’s the pod – crisp and succulent – that makes these beans so tasty. (The actual immature beans inside are small but tender.) When fresh and just right, those pods make a distinct snap when broken. Hence, their preferred nickname.
“Snap bean” is a better description than “green bean” or “string bean,” say growers. Not all snap beans are green, and most modern varieties no longer have inedible strings holding together pods (although heirloom string beans still do). But a fresh pod still snaps.
In bean terms, “green” refers more to age than color. The pods are fresh and supple; not brown, hard and dried. Their color may be green, red, purple, yellow or streaked. Many kinds of shelling beans – the varieties usually saved for drying – can be eaten as “green beans,” too.
Call them snap, green or string, they’re still delicious. From Italian broad beans to Chinese long beans, these fresh summer vegetables are enjoyed by cultures around the world.
Chefs love green beans, too. At Ella in Sacramento, grilled romano beans accompany salmon, and sautéed green beans mixed with cherry tomatoes and wild mushroom vinaigrette are offered as a featured side dish. At Taste in Plymouth, filet mignon is served with mixed summer beans. At Japanese restaurants, panko-crusted green beans are a must in mixed tempura.
July usually represents the height of fresh bean season. But this year, the Central Valley harvest is off to a late start.
“It’s been too hot – and too wet (during spring planting time),” said Suzanne Ashworth of Del Rio Botanical in West Sacramento. “So, they’re coming in later.”
Ashworth grows six varieties of snap beans for local restaurants and Del Rio’s community-supported agriculture boxes. Right now, she’s harvesting Blue Ribbon bush, Red Swan, Carson and Jumbo Italian bush. Only the two bush beans are green; the Red Swan is a deep rose-purple while the Carson is a handsome yellow wax bean.
Her favorite way to prepare green beans is also among the simplest.
“I sauté them, then top with almonds, a little bit of salt and pepper, and some olive oil,” Ashworth said. “That’s it.”
While similar in flavor, different beans bring their own unique attributes to the table. Purple beans rarely hold their unusual color when cooked; they turn bright green when exposed to high heat. Yellow beans stay their buttery hue. Striped beans such as canary keep their markings, too.
All snap beans are divided into two groups based on how they grow. Bush beans grow on short stalks close to the ground while pole beans develop on climbing vines. Beans are further divided by the width of their pods.
For example, romano beans, also know as Italian flat, are classified as broad beans for their wide appearance, double the width of most snap beans. They’re large, meaty and made for slow braising.
Although there are hundreds of varieties, the most popular summer beans most likely are the classic Blue Lake green beans. They’re bright, sweet and tender with tiny beans inside. French green beans, also called haricot verts, are sweeter still and harvested when smaller than a pinky finger and quite succulent. They’re among the beans called “filet” for their slender appearance.
Wax beans are a common nickname for yellow snap beans. They tend to be slightly larger than Blue Lakes, crisp and meaty.
Santana Diaz, executive chef of Sacramento’s new Golden 1 Center, uses a wide assortment of snap beans for his summer menus.
“People think when the Kings aren’t playing, we’re not busy, but we’re doing cooking all the time,” Diaz said. “Since April 11, the night of the Kings’ last home game, we’ve already written 85 custom menus.”
Those menus were for catering at the new arena as well as concerts and other special events.
“We’re dedicated to using what’s in season, so our menus are changing all the time,” he added. “We still have the same goal of 90 percent of what we use comes from within 150 miles of Sacramento.”
For a recent farm-to-fork tasting menu, Diaz used beans from Dwelley Farms in Brentwood, 26 miles west of Stockton. He used Blue Lake, baby French, cranberry, romano and yellow wax beans along with sweet corn to make maque choux, a creamy traditional Creole side dish.
“I like romano best,” Diaz said. “They’re sweet. I even like them raw. Slice them thinly on the bias and they look pretty, like a different vegetable. That makes them fun.”
Green beans with mustard seeds, cashews and coconut
This fragrant, deeply flavored green bean dish works as an intense side dish for a simple meal or as a meatless main course in its own right. Take care when adding the mustard seeds to the skillet – they can pop and jump out of the pan as they heat, so stand back. If you can’t find large flakes of dried coconut (also sometimes called chips), you can substitute shredded coconut, as long as it’s unsweetened. But ground coconut will be too fine to add the necessary texture.
Recipe from Melissa Clark, The New York Times.
½ cup unsweetened coconut flakes or chips
2 ½ tablespoons coconut oil
2 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 (1/4-inch-thick) coins fresh ginger
1 teaspoon mustard seed
1 teaspoon turmeric
Large pinch red pepper flakes
1 bay leaf
5 large basil leaves, sliced into ribbons
1 pound green or wax beans, trimmed
¾ teaspoon kosher salt, or to taste
⅓ cup chopped roasted cashews (salted or unsalted, to taste)
Cooked rice, for serving
Lime wedges, for serving
Place a large, dry skillet over medium-high heat. Add coconut flakes and toast, shaking pan occasionally, until golden, about 5 minutes. Transfer flakes to a bowl.
Heat oil in the same skillet. Add garlic, ginger, mustard seed, turmeric, red pepper flakes and bay leaf. Cook, stirring, 1 minute.
Stir in basil, green beans and salt. Toss well to coat in oil and seasonings.
Add 1/3 cup water, cover partly and reduce heat to medium. Cook until beans are tender, about 8 minutes.
Uncover and continue cooking until most of the liquid has evaporated and the beans are wilted and lightly colored. Toss in cashews and coconut flakes. Serve over rice, with lime wedges.
Per serving: 254 calories; 20 grams fat; 14 grams saturated fat; 0 grams trans fat; 3 grams monounsaturated fat; 1 gram polyunsaturated fat; 16 grams carbohydrates; 6 grams dietary fiber; 1 gram sugars; 5 grams protein; 371 milligrams sodium
Lemony green bean pasta salad
Full of bright flavors and textures, this summery dish would be ideal for a picnic or luncheon.
Make ahead: The cooked pasta and green beans can be refrigerated for up to 1 week. The dressing can be refrigerated for up to 3 days.
Adapted from “The Southern Vegetable Book,” by Rebecca Lang (Oxmoor House).
1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more as needed
12 ounces dried penne, casarecce or other tubular pasta
8 ounces green beans (preferably thin haricots verts), trimmed and halved lengthwise
1 tablespoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
5 teaspoons finely grated lemon zest (from 1 to 2 lemons)
1/4 cup finely chopped roasted salted pistachios, plus whole roasted, salted pistachios, for garnish
2 tablespoons champagne vinegar (may substitute sherry vinegar or white wine vinegar)
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot (from 1 small lobe)
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more as needed
5 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 cups loosely packed arugula Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese shavings, for garnish (optional)
Bring a pot of generously salted water to boil over medium-high heat. Add the pasta and cook according to the package directions, adding the green beans to the water during the last 2 to 3 minutes of cooking time (2 minutes if the beans are thin and 3 minutes if they are thicker).
Drain the pasta and beans, then rinse under cool running water. Drain again, then transfer to a large mixing bowl.
Add the thyme and 3 teaspoons of the lemon zest to the bowl; toss gently to incorporate. Whisk together the chopped pistachios, vinegar, shallot, garlic, the remaining 2 teaspoons of lemon zest, the 1/2 teaspoon of salt and the pepper in a medium bowl.
Add the oil in a slow, steady stream, whisking constantly until blended. Taste, and add more salt and pepper as needed. Drizzle over the pasta mixture.
Add the arugula, and toss gently to coat. To serve, transfer to a platter or divide among individual plates, garnish with the whole pistachios and the cheese, if using, and serve.
Stir-fried green beans with peanuts and arbol chilies
Crunch and heat go well together in this side dish.
Kosher or sea salt
1 pound or Chinese long beans or green beans, sliced on the diagonal into 2-inch pieces
1 tablespoon low-sodium soy sauce, or more as needed
1/4 cup no-salt-added homemade or store-bought vegetable broth
1/2 teaspoon light brown sugar
2 tablespoons peanut oil
1/2 cup dry-roasted, unsalted peanuts
4 cloves garlic, minced or pressed
3 or 4 dried arbol chili peppers, stemmed and thinly sliced (seeded, if desired)
4 to 6 scallions (white and light-green parts), thinly sliced
Bring a large pot of water to a boil over high heat; add a generous pinch of salt, then add the green beans; cook for 2 to 3 minutes, until al dente yet still quite crisp. Drain in a colander.
Whisk together the tablespoon of soy sauce, broth and sugar in a small bowl. Heat the oil in a large heavy skillet or wok over high heat. As soon as the oil shimmers, add the peanuts; stir-fry for about 20 seconds. Beware, peanuts burn more quickly than you would think, so don't wait until they look browned.
Add the garlic and chilies (to taste); stir-fry for about 10 seconds, then add the scallions and stir-fry for 10 to 15 seconds. Add the green beans and toss to incorporate. Add the soy sauce mixture; stir-fry for 3 to 4 minutes, or just until the green beans are crisp-tender. Taste and adjust the soy sauce, as needed.
Serve right away.
Grilled green beans with romesco sauce
The beans are perfect with just about any grilled food, or as part of a summer vegetable plate. Recipe from Fred Thompson, a Raleigh cookbook author.
1/2 cup raw slivered almonds
2 slices sourdough bread, crust removed
2 cloves garlic
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes, optional
4 roasted red peppers, peeled and seeded
1 tomato, peeled
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil, or more as needed
Up to 2 pounds of green beans, trimmed but left whole
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste
Olive oil for drizzling
Place the almonds, bread, garlic, red pepper flakes, if using, roasted red peppers, tomato and vinegar in a blender. Pulse to combine and with the machine running, add the oil slowly to make a nice emulsified sauce. This can be done a day in advance or up to 10 days in advance, and refrigerated in an airtight container. Bring to room temperature before using.
Preheat your grill to high, or start a charcoal fire.
Toss the green beans with salt and pepper and a drizzle of oil.
Place the beans in a grill basket, and place on the cooking grate, or carefully place the beans so they won’t fall through your grill’s cooking grate.
Cook the beans until some char starts to happen, turning or rolling the beans to get equal char. This will only take a couple of minutes.
Serve hot or at room temperature, with some of the sauce drizzled over the beans, and more sauce on the side.
Turkish green beans
This is a touchstone vegetable dish in Turkey that was incorporated into the country's Jewish cuisine generations ago. It's simple to make and consistently good, and it can be served hot, cold or at room temperature. Although regular fresh green bean work just fine in this recipe, the more slender French beans called haricots verts are a nice touch, especially left untrimmed. Be sure to use a good-quality olive oil. Serve with roast chicken or baked salmon.
Make Ahead: If you're going to cook the beans in advance, do not add the lemon and parsley until just before serving. The cooked green beans taste even better after a day’s refrigeration.
From Washington writer Susan Barocas.
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil 2 medium onions, diced
2 large or 3 medium tomatoes, seeded and chopped, plus their juices
1 teaspoon sea salt, or more as needed
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more as needed
1 cup water
2 pounds untrimmed haricots verts (thin French green beans; may substitute regular green beans, trimmed)
Lemon wedge, for serving
About 1/2 cup fresh parsley leaves, coarsely chopped, for serving
Heat the oil in a heavy pot over medium heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the onions; cook for 15 to 20 minutes, until tender and somewhat translucent.
Stir in the tomatoes and their juices (to taste), the teaspoon of salt and the 1/2 teaspoon of pepper; cook for 2 minutes, then add the water and green beans, stirring gently to incorporate. Reduce the heat to low, cover and cook for 45 to 60 minutes, stirring only once or twice; the water should be absorbed and the beans should be soft.
Taste and add salt and/or pepper, as needed. Transfer to a platter or wide, shallow serving bowl. (At this point, the beans can be refrigerated for up to a day.)
Just before serving, squeeze the lemon wedge over the top and sprinkle with the parsley.