Getting Fresh: Snap Beans

Green, yellow, purple. French, Romano, Dragon Tongue. These are just some of the names you might come across this summer wherever snap (aka string) beans are being sold.

Regardless of variety, which vary in texture and flavor, they're all young forms of the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) picked before their seeds develop (at which point, they become shell beans). Young beans should be sweet as well as snappy, and if you've got a bunch of flabby, mealy pods, well, add them to the compost pile.

Snap to it: yellow wax beans. (Kim O'Donnel)

I love snap beans, particularly at this time of year. As a teenager, I used to eat them raw, right out of the bag, and share them with Larry the house painter, when he'd break for lunch.

These days, I like to cook them, just for a few minutes, and let the muse inspire me on how to fix them. They're so easy going, those beans; you can steam, boil, sauté and bake them, and they always come out nice AS LONG AS YOU DON'T OVERCOOK THEM. We all know what overcooked snap beans taste like (C-A-F-E-T-E-R-I-A), which is a darned shame because life is too short to eat bland green beans.

Last night, I decided to do a quick boil with my mini-mountain of yellow wax beans, just a few minutes to soften them up yet keep their mellow yellow color. I had a small handful of walnuts in the freezer and warmed them up in a skillet, with a bit of olive oil to keep things slick. In the pan went a handful of sliced smallish tomatoes, then the beans, for a quick toss and melding of flavors.

On top went some lemon thyme from the backyard, a squeeze of lemon and a wee bit more salt. The fat and crunch of the nuts helped me forget about adding bacon, which I've had on the brain since all my recent travels in the South. And that brings me to my main point: Add what you want to this medley. Omit the tomatoes if they make you unhappy, for example, and use herbs or any other add-ons of your choice. There are all kinds of possibilities here -- garlic, shallots, olives, potatoes!

Share your favorite way to eat snap beans in the comments area below. And if you're around at 1 ET, join me for an hour of What's Cooking Vegetarian, my monthly meatless roundtable.

Recipe below the jump.

Impromptu Snap Bean Salad

1 pound yellow wax beans or other snap beans
1 tablespoon olive oil or unsalted butter
1/4 cup nuts -- walnuts, almonds, pine nuts, pecans all come to mind
1 handful small tomatoes, sliced in half - grape, cherry or sungold varieties come to mind
A few teaspoons fresh chopped herbs - lemon thyme was wonderful, but I'd also try mint, basil, parsley and chives


Rinse beans under running water and trim ends as necessary. Boil in salted water, uncovered, until tender but still firm, about 5 minutes. Taste before removing from pot. Pour beans into a colander and drain.

In a skillet, melt butter or heat olive oil over low-medium heat, add nuts and allow to toast for a minute. Add tomatoes and beans and with tongs, mix to combine, allowing to cooking for about 2 minutes. Pour into a serving bowl and add herbs. Taste for salt and add accordingly.

Serve warm or at room temperature. I also added a squeeze of lemon just before serving.

By Kim ODonnel |  June 28, 2007; 10:28 AM ET Getting Fresh , Summer , Vegetarian/Vegan
Previous: Indie Cookware/Cookbookery | Next: Extra Helping of Meat-Free Assistance


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Last night we did a shallot saute in olive oil to mix into steamed haricot verte. Delicious.

Posted by: North Carolina | June 28, 2007 11:53 AM

I love to give them a quick blanch and then toss them in a wee bit of soy sauce and sesame oil. Delish!

My favorite unhealthy way is to blanch them and then toss them in browned butter and lemon juice. My mouth is watering!

Posted by: Bama via Boston | June 28, 2007 12:12 PM

I just posted a great way to enjoy fresh beans. I used four different varieties along with tomatoes, potatoes, lettuces, and caramelized onions in a salad. All locally grown and fresh. It was fantastic. Look for the post on my site if you wish.

Posted by: Expat Chef | June 28, 2007 12:24 PM

Nice to see something on this blog about cooking again--all the travel stuff is getting a bit old...doesn't have another blog for that?

Posted by: Anonymous | June 28, 2007 5:58 PM

I like to roast them with quartered mushrooms and some olive oil at 425F for about 20 minutes, stirring them once about halfway through. For a simple dish, drizzle with balsamic vinegar and sprinkle with sea salt after removing them from the oven. For something more decadent, toss with blue cheese and walnuts.

Posted by: DC | June 29, 2007 8:54 PM

Why add anything? Boil gently in salted water for four minutes, drain and throw in a pat of butter.Heaven!

Posted by: Davies | July 5, 2007 11:09 AM

I grew up on real southern green beans--cooked slow all day, lots of fat meat "now don't stir 'em, it'll break 'em up." And I still love them that way when I can find them cooked right, which is rare. But now that I've gone and gotten older and urban, I've learned to love sweet and crisp, too. Just not too much seasoning: you don't want to forget what you are eating.

Posted by: B_ellen | July 5, 2007 11:43 AM

From my late husband's Polish mama. Steam the beans to ala dente. Melt butter is a fry pan, add beans and stir to coat with butter. Sprinkle the beans with breadcrumbs. Cook, stirring the beans till the bread crumbs begin to brown and serve. Heaven.

Posted by: N Szerlag | July 5, 2007 8:44 PM

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