Roasting, Steaming, & Putting Up String Beans

When Bountiful Beans Arrive

After a slow start, the beans are coming in fast and plentiful. The slender, tender French filet beans tend to get eaten in the garden, or tossed in a lunchtime salad. Flat, strappy Romanos and colorful string beans, yellow, purple and green, may be steamed and stir fried, oven roasted and caramelized or grilled until lightly charred. As usual, I planted way more than we can eat, so every few days another batch gets tucked in the freezer. If those little filet beans aren’t picked daily, they quickly become flageolet or shell beans. Let them dry completely, still on the vine, and now they’re French haricots, classic dry beans for cassoulet and soups. I’m letting most of the Good Mother Stallard beans get to the dry stage, as they’re utterly delicious in hearty winter soups. If hefty Romano beans get a little leathery, they too can be allowed to dry, but the extra string beans end up in my freezer.

Fortunately, string beans freeze well, whether blanched or not. Blanching beans and other vegetables involves briefly steaming or boiling them, then cooling them fast to halt the cooking process. This inhibits enzyme activity that impairs the quality of frozen food but it definitely affects the texture. If fresh green beans are harvested a day or more before freezing, it’s better to blanch them; fill a metal colander or fryer basket with clean beans, tipped and tailed. Plunge them into rapidly boiling water for 2-4 minutes, then immediately transfer them into a big bowl of ice water for 1 minute. Whirl them dry in a large salad spinner, pat them totally dry, then arrange them in a single layer on a rimmed pan and freeze until firm (15-20 minutes). Packed in tightly sealed containers and frozen immediately, they’ll remain delicious for 3-6 months. If freshly picked green beans are washed, dried and frozen immediately, they retain excellent flavor and texture for up to three months even without the usual blanching.

Vacuum Pack Or Freezer Wrap

All frozen produce resists freezer burn and retains quality best when thoroughly dried before freezing in vacuum sealed pouches. It’s easy to make your own vacuum sealing system with zip-closure freezer bags and a drinking straw. Fill a bag, press out as much air as possible, then seal it around the drinking straw. Suck out as much air as possible and quickly reseal tightly. To avoid plastic, tightly wrap well-dried produce in freezer paper, seal with freezer tape, and pack in sturdy freezer containers. Yay!

Big Beans & Vinegar

High heat often brings out the boldest flavors in big, mature beans, especially oven roasting, perhaps with peppers and tomatoes. When it’s too hot to fire up the oven, grill your beans along with fish or poultry, or try this simple, speedy stovetop version. Fruity vinegars bring out the singing sweetness of meaty, tender beans, experiment to find your favorite combinations. My summery vinegar making includes the usual blueberry and raspberry, both of which are pleasant indeed, but my new favorite is nectarine vanilla, which is also fabulous with steamed or roasted beets. Still in the bottle; lemon mint vinegar. Hmmm. We shall see…

Lightly Charred Big Beans

2 tablespoons olive or avocado oil
4 cups mature Romano-type beans, ends trimmed
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
4-5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1 teaspoon finely chopped hot pepper
1-2 teaspoons fruity vinegar

In a wide, shallow pan, heat oil over medium high heat. Add beans, stir to coat, sprinkle with salt and cook without stirring until lightly charred (2-3 minutes). Flip with a fork or tongs, adding garlic and hot pepper. Cook until well browned (2-3 minutes). Splash with vinegar, stir to coat and serve. Serves 4.

String Beans And Bitter Greens

In Italy, tender young string beans are often paired with bitter greens to contrast the peppery bite with the beany sweetness. This favorite recipe lends itself to variations, perhaps using oregano, rosemary or basil instead of thyme, and spicy garlic or shallots instead of sweet onions. Unless they’re chopped up, it’s a little challenging to accurately measure things like string beans and broccoli raab, but I just loosely fill my bigger glass measuring cups to get an idea of quantities. I often make this satisfying dish with golden wax beans but it’s delicious with any kind of string beans.

Golden Beans With Bitter Greens

1 tablespoon olive or avocado oil
1/2 sweet onion, thickly sliced
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
1 teaspoon stemmed thyme
3-4 cups yellow wax beans, ends trimmed
2 cups broccoli rabe, stems included
2 cups shredded arugula, lightly packed
1 teaspoon brined green peppercorns (optional)
2 tablespoons toasted pumpkin seeds

In a wide, shallow pan, combine oil, sweet onion, salt, and thyme over medium high heat and cook to the fragrance point (1-2 minutes). Add wax beans and broccoli rabe, stirring to coat. Cover pan and cook until barely tender (2-3 minutes). Stir in arugula and green peppercorns and cook until barely wilted (2-3 minutes). Serve warm, drizzled with pan juices and garnished with pumpkin seeds. Serves 4.

Warm String Bean Salad

Make this with tiny, tender fillet beans, or use several colors of beans for a playful, pretty presentation. Fillet beans can be used raw or steamed for just a minute or two, while meatier beans might need another few minutes, so taste often to catch them while they’re just tender-crisp.

4 cups string beans, ends trimmed
2 tablespoons olive or avocado oil
1 tablespoon balsamic or cider vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher or sea salt
Pinch of smoked or hot paprika
1/2 red onion, chopped
2 cups halved cherry tomatoes
1/4 cup stemmed cilantro OR parsley OR basil

Steam beans for 2-4 minutes, drain. In a serving bowl, combine oil, vinegar, salt, and paprika and whisk to emulsify. Toss warm beans in dressing, add tomatoes and gently toss again and serve warm, garnished with stemmed herb(s). Serves 4.

 

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At The Crossing Of Bitter & Sweet

Arugula watercolor by Robert Morris

Reveling In Chicory, Endive & Radicchio

Chinese medicine practitioners often note that Westerners don’t know how to “eat bitter”. The phrase refers both to foods, such as bitter tea, bitter greens, and bitter melons, and to the capacity to withstand hardship. I’ve been thinking a lot about that lately, as the insanity unrolls through the news and social media; are people who are willing to wear a mask, willing to limit activities, willing to exercise social distancing especially able to suck it up and ‘eat bitter’? Are those who can’t seem to find that capacity less resilient? Too afraid? Too…weak? It’s curious that for some folks, doing a few simple things that have a clear potential to reduce risk of harm for individuals and communities reportedly feels like showing weakness. For others, compliance in itself apparently feels way too much like risk or harm. I’m baffled by the weird intersection of angry, tough-guy, aggressive refusal and apparent remarkable fragility that prevents cooperation for the greater good.

Turns out that during 1918’s deadly influenza pandemic, the same scenario played out in America; an ‘Anti-Mask League’ led angry, violent protests against closing down schools, bars and dance halls while the pandemic raged and people died in terrifying numbers. Scientists and health experts tried in vain to explain that simple precautions like wearing masks reduced the spread of the disease; statistics were valueless to people who wanted to party. Today, in spite of the refusers, millions of people are wearing masks, withstanding discomfort, eating bitter for the common good and feeling better for it.

The Bright Side Of Eating Bitter

As we do our civic duty, we’re also bonding in solidarity, both with each other and against the insanity. I’m proud of the Wall Of Moms who came together to protect peaceful Black Lives Matter protestors, first in Portland, now in cities across the country where BLM protests are under attack both by infiltrators bent on violence and federal secret police, also demonstrating vicious violence against peaceful, unarmed citizens and journalists who are simply exercising their First Amendment rights. I’m proud of Dads With Leaf Blowers who are learning how to return aerosol volleys of tear gas and other warfare chemicals, sending toxic sprays back to the senders. I’m proud of the hockey stick wielders who deftly lob tear gas canisters back at the anonymous feds, and the bucket brigades who submerge and defuse the canisters. I’m proud of every single person who wears a mask in public. Thank you. Thank you.

The Delicious Side Of Eating Bitter

This seems like an excellent moment in history to learn to eat bitter greens, not as a grim duty but with enjoyment for their flavor complexity and health benefits. Some countries, from China to Italy, have been doing this for millennia, appreciating bitter greens and herbs as tonics and digestive aids as well as intriguing elements in savory meals. While they haven’t previously formed an important part of the American diet, bitter greens are making a splash on the trendy culinary scene. Red and green and in between, chicory and endive are joining radicchio and frisee in farmers markets and upscale grocery stores. Savvy gardeners can easily grow their own, getting the best flavor and texture as well as the biggest nutritional boost. Happily, now through August is prime time for setting out starts for cool season harvesting.

When you plant them out, give each start about a foot of space for early croppers (precoce varieties) and allow a little more room for late varieties, which can spread their wings a bit wider. When you harvest, the outer leaves come off, revealing the beautifully shaped heads, rounded or elongated. In the kitchen, these classic Italian greens add a pleasant piquancy to sliced tomatoes, green salads, and steamed vegetables. Grill a few endive heads, split lengthwise and lightly rubbed with oil, alongside salmon or trout for a bitter-sweet, lightly caramelized accompaniment. Next time you grill poultry, lightly char-grill some red chicory (aka radicchio), again split and oiled and sprinkled with rosemary and thyme, for a spunky side. Or try this astonishing salad of Italian greens with sweet ripe figs and tangy feta.

A Late Summer Salad

Smoky-sweet dressing and succulent ripe figs balance the tart, mildly bitter crunch of endive and arugula in this simple yet stunning salad. Use soft goat cheese if you prefer, and add spinach and Romaine to mellow the mix even further.

Bitter Greens With Figs and Feta

1 shallot, finely chopped
3 tablespoons fruity olive oil
1 cup chopped chicory greens
8 figs, cut in quarters
Pinch each sea salt and smoked paprika
1-2 teaspoons pomegranate molasses
3 cups shredded endive, arugula, & frisee
2 cups shredded spinach & romaine (optional)
1/2 cup stemmed basil
1/4 cup crumbled feta cheese

In a saute pan, combine shallot and 1 tablespoon oil over medium high heat and cook to the fragrance point (about 1 minute). Stir in chicory greens, salt and smoked paprika and saute until barely tender (2-3 minutes). Remove from heat, add figs and toss gently to coat. In a small bowl, whisk together remaining oil and pomegranate molasses to taste. Toss shredded greens with basil, arrange on four plates and divide figs between them. Top with feta and drizzle with pomegranate dressing. Serves four.

 

 

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Pesto With Power & Punch

Basil Salt Is Very, Very Green

Bountiful Basil

After a horror show weekend, I’m retreating to the garden and the kitchen to recover a little peace of mind. I’m almost afraid to even look at the news for fear of seeing another peaceful, unarmed Wall Of Moms gassed and attacked by feds in unmarked uniforms or grabbed and disappeared to nobody knows where. Instead, let’s take a little break together and think about soothing, delicious, summery food. Ok? Our small but mighty sunroom has proved a blessing this summer, as our part of the maritime Northwest remains frequently cool and overcast. Though it looks like warm, sunny days are here at last, they’ve been a long time coming and our heat loving crops have been dragging way behind those in Oregon and California. My basil in particular was sulking until it got a new home in the sun. Now it’s booming and I’m enjoying playing with the bounty. Of course I’m making various pestos, but I’m also fine tuning a recipe for basil salt, combining dried and fresh basil with sea salt to boost the flavor to the max.

Summery Basil Salt

Here’s my current best version of basil salt, which is my go-to for anything that includes fresh raw tomatoes as well as herb-and-garlic sourdough rolls (this summer’s obsession). You can play around with the quantities, but a 1:1 ration of salt to fresh basil is a good place to start. I use the leaves and the softer parts of the stems as well as any blossoms, but stiff, woody stems won’t work. I blended Genovese with Bolloso Napolitano basils for big, robust flavor, but pretty much any kind will do.

Best Basil Salt

1-2 cups firmly packed basil leaves, stems and blossoms
2 tablespoons dried basil
1 cup coarse sea salt

In a food processor or blender, grind fresh and dried basil to a fine meal. Add sea salt and process until smooth (salt should look very green). Don’t wash the food processor yet (!). Spread evenly in a single layer on a rimmed baking sheet and bake at 225 degrees F until salt forms a crust (about 20-30 minutes, depending on quantity and pan size). Let cool completely, break in chunks and process again until uniform. Store in tightly sealed small glass jars out of direct sunlight for up to a year. Makes about 2 cups. Pack it into glass spice jars with shaker tops for great little gifts!

For Starters

Need a fabulous starter for a lazy evening pre-dinner nibble? My Siberian neighbor and I both love the spicy-smoky flavor of Black Krim tomatoes, a heritage type from the Crimean Peninsula. This year, Black Krim is the first to ripen in both our yards and we celebrated by making this delicious variation on the classic Italian Caprese salad. We alternated slices of juicy tomatoes and tender, fresh mozzarella, then drizzled on some bright and lively Spunky Pesto Dressing. Outrageous!

Black Krim Pesto Caprese Salad

4 Black Krim tomatoes, sliced
4 three-inch fresh mozzarella balls
1 cup Fresh Pesto Dressing

Arrange alternating and overlapping slices of tomatoes and mozzarella on a serving platter, drizzle with dressing and serve at room temperature. Serves four.

Spunky Pesto Dressing

1/2 cup fruity olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 cups lightly packed basil leaves, stems and blossoms
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon sea salt
Pinch of smoked paprika or your favorite pepper

Combine all ingredients in a food processor and puree, adding oil as needed to make a pourable dressing. Makes about 1 cup.

Bean-Based Pestos With Power & Punch

Pesto always comes in handy, especially when it’s too hot to cook. Instead of turning on the oven, I make hearty entree salads with a protein pop. For many years, that pop came from beans, but now I live with my daughter and she doesn’t like beans. (I know, right? Who doesn’t like beans?) I love beans but it isn’t practical to make sets of her-and-hers meals very often, so I’ve been looking for a clever workaround. The best I’ve found so far involves a sneaky, wonderful idea I was introduced to years ago. The original involved combining pesto and hummus into an intensely flavorful dip or dressing, but over the years, that pesto-hummus hybrid has been transformed into a series of sauces/dressings/dips that partner pleasingly with pretty much anything from the garden.

They’re also great as sauces for pasta, brown rice, and farro; use the rice cooker to prepare rice or whole grains before the day heats up, combining them with dressing while still warm to get the best flavor transfer. The basic recipe is very flexible; change it up with different nuts or seeds, and swap basil for fresh cilantro (pure awesomeness), thyme, or lemon balm. Turns out nobody can tell there are beans involved if I use white beans instead of chickpeas, score! If you are feeding vegans, nobody misses the cheese, either, since nutritional yeast adds both a protein boost and a bold umame flavor that’s often lacking in vegetarian and vegan recipes. However you spin it, this yummy stuff can be used in so many delicious ways. Spoon it over hot pasta, rice, or baked potatoes, or plain steamed vegetables. Add a little to simple vinaigrette and toss with greens, or use it straight as a tasty dressing for pasta or potato salads. Let it replace mayo on sandwiches and wraps. Mash it with soft goat cheese, spread on crusty bread and toast to a bubbly finish. Here’s a very good one to start with:

Power Pesto (Vegan)

1 cup raw pinenuts or hazelnuts
2 large cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
3 cups fresh basil leaves, stems and blossoms
1/4-1/2 teaspoon sea salt (to taste)
1 cup cooked white Italian cannellini beans
1/2 cup water
1/4-1/2 cup flaked nutritional yeast (to taste)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4-1/2 cup fruity olive oil (to taste)

In a food processor or blender, grind nuts and garlic to coarse meal. Add basil and salt and process to a coarse paste. Add beans and water and process to a smooth paste. Add nutritional yeast and pepper, process briefly, then slowly add oil while machine is running, then thin with water to desired consistency. Adjust seasoning if desired and serve at room temperature or refrigerate for up to 3 days. Makes about 2 cups.

 

 

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Disrupting Weeds

Ripples of change spread in ever-larger circles

When Repression Is A Good Thing

After over a year of sustained battle, my little backyard is approaching weed free status. Bindweed, bishops’ weed, buttercups and shotweed were well established, along with stinky Herb Robert, sneaky sweet woodruff, and several rampageous mints. For the first ten months, I thought I would never be able to plant into the ground, because every time I turned around, another batch of weed beasts would pop back up. Last winter, I spread a bale of bedding straw thickly over each cleared area, which helped open the soil so I could get more roots out. This spring, a friend who roasts and grinds coffee commercially brought me piles of sturdy burlap coffee sacks which, laid out two and three layers thick, made an almost impenetrable weed barrier. Slowly but surely, relentlessly digging out any sprout that dared to reappear, I started getting a grip on the insurgent weed attacks. Repressive behavior? Yes indeed. But unless a clean sweep is made, nothing better can happen here.

So is repression always so awful? When I think about the horrible violent hateful acts we’re seeing daily now, I’m thinking a little constructive repression and emotional retraining might be in order. But could that actually change the way haters feel? As I weed, I often think about the ways in which Black, Indigenous and people of Color have been treated like human (or sometimes sub-human) weeds. I started to say “historically treated”, but clearly, such inhumane treatment continues. A few days ago, I read a YES Magazine article by Kevin A. Young called History Shows That Sustained, Disruptive Protests Work.

Here’s the link, if you want to read it too:

History Shows That Sustained, Disruptive Protests Work

As I relentlessly ripped out yet another web of bindweed roots intertwined with an elderly Oregon grape, I thought hmmm, here I am, disrupting entrenched, embedded and invasive colonialists. My sustained, disruptive protest work is definitely changing up a long standing, poorly managed and unworkable situation. Coming back inside to drink some water and check on the news (a bad habit I’m trying to modify), my satisfaction melted into aching over the ongoing, savage police brutality and public brutality aimed at peaceful protesters. Over police targeting of Black, Indigenous, and People of Color. Over more than 50 car attacks on public protesters. Over innocent children locked in cages. Over relentless ecological destruction. Over economic sabotage of everyone but the kleptocrats. Over the almost incredibly inept mishandling of the covid19 pandemic. And most of all, over the baffling fact that the entire country isn’t outraged over what’s happening to us. How can anyone NOT be deeply disturbed right now?

Pressuring Big Money

Though everyone isn’t bothered by the onslaught of the unforgivable, that may not stop the momentum of the protests. In his YES article, Kevin Young reminds us that swaying a majority isn’t the only key to enormous social change, and quotes MLK’s remark, “I don’t think in a social revolution you can always retain support of the moderates.” Young also points out that what really broke open the gates barring integration was the combination of boycotts and walkouts that put significant financial pressure on local businesses and local governments. Voting with our wallets remains a powerful way to push for social change; repressive? Yes, and consumer boycotts are successfully putting pressure on Amazon, Cadbury, Coca-Cola, Kellogg’s, L’Oreal, Nestle, the NRA, Shell Oil, Walmart, Wendy’s, Whole Foods… The Lakota People’s Law Project (LPLP) is calling for a boycott of Starbucks because of its partnership with Nestlé, and even people who can’t imagine life without coffee are seeking other sources. Wow, right?

Though most of these companies are resisting with all their massive might, cracks are appearing and the enthusiastic consumer pushback is having a positive effect on numerous corporations. Repression? Maybe, but in a good cause, and it looks like it’s working. Just this week, thanks to building pressure from Indigenous people backed by millions of protesters, FedEx told its franchise, the Washington Redskins, to pick a new name or be banned from their home in FedEx Field. Wow again! Indeed, here’s an impressive list of corporations that are changing direction in response to the Black Lives Matter protests:

These Are the Corporate Responses to the George Floyd Protests That Stand Out

Adidas, Airbnb, Bank of America, Ben and Jerry’s, Comcast, CVS, Google, HBO, IBM, Microsoft, the New York Times, NASCAR, Netflix, Nike, PepsiCo, PwC, Quaker Oats, Twitter, Sephora, Square, Vox Media, Walgreens, Walmart and more, all pledging to change. That’s pretty impressive, and that list was made in late June. In the last two weeks, even more strides have been made in legal decisions like a Federal judge ruling that the DAPL pipeline must be permanently shut down by August 5, 2020, a decision leading to the cancellation of several other huge pipeline projects. Who else was pleasantly shocked by the recent Supreme Court decision on Eastern Oklahoma still being treaty land?

Moral Compass Reset

I’m praying that American is undergoing a radical reset of our collective moral compass, which has been knocked sadly askew by the magnetic attractions of raw power and big money. I’ve been fascinated to observe that local and national calls to defund police departments or redirect police funding and activities into community support for mental and emotional health and physical wellbeing are not meeting with massive pushback from the middle class. Seeing so much violence play out in seemingly endless video captures, even privileged, bubble-wrapped White people are no longer able to ignore, overlook, or deny rampant racism.

A few weeks ago, a handful of high school students asked to join the online meetings of the Inclusion Study Group at our local Senior Center. Our discussions are increasingly lively and rewarding, and I’m thrilled that even more students are asking to join. Last Friday, we talked about our responses to a statement from our local Suquamish Tribe about racism and police actions which we all read ahead of time. Participants of all ages acknowledged that we were unaware of at least some of the historic mistreatment and abuses, and we decided to read the original tribal treaty together before our next meeting. After the conversation, there was enthusiastic agreement about meeting more often and finding a way to continue into the autumn even if our local schools figure out how to open safely. Onward, right?

 

 

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