Delightful Beans, Fresh Or Dried

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A Bevy Of Bountiful Beans

Beans may not be a glamour crop in America, but they deserve more esteem than they get. Perhaps their very virtues make them seem dull: Dried beans are the basis of many world cuisines, packed with protein and yielding more nutrient value per running bed foot than anything else you can grow. However, these workhorse classics have an enormous clan of cousins that richly reward an approach with with finesse. In France, slim, succulent filet beans are prized by gourmets and gourmands alike. In Italy, tiny fresh beans are treated with reverence, while buttery shell beans are celebrated in legendary spreads. In Greece, mature green beans are roasted with olive oil and garlic or sauteed with leeks and fresh lemon juice. In Asian, tiny mung beans are tucked into sophisticated .desserts

When we invite the beans of the world into the garden and kitchen, we too can revel in their versatility. For sheer pleasure, start with French selections. If you’ve been content to enjoy Blue Lakes and Kentucky Wonders (both excellent in their way), filet beans may come to your plate as a revelation. Picked daily, these skinny young beans have a rich, full flavor that lends itself to many treatments, from a simple toss with butter and lemon to complex curries, salads, and sides. These fabulous French beans are the rock stars of a huge family, with a multitude of colorful, flavorful cousins from all over the world.

Heritage Heros

To further expand your culinary horizons, grow a mixture of fillet and shell beans as well as dried varieties that store well. These days,  both seed catalogs and farmers markets offer flavorful heritage beans such as rose-and-white speckled Cranberry Bean and Christmas Limas, dark red Sangre De Toro and Rio Zape, or mottled brown Wren’s Egg and Eye Of The Tiger. Yellow Eye Beans cook up creamy and smooth, traditionally slow-cooked with ham hocks. Scarlet Runner Beans have edible, fragrant flowers and are delicious fresh or dried. Black Turtle is a very old black bean variety still widely grown today for its sumptuous flavor and fine texture. Italian cooks cherish White Runner or Cannellini beans, with the rich, buttery flavor that makes them favorites for rustic bean spreads.

Once the fascination hooks you, you’ll find hundreds of bean varieties to try. Many are equally flavorful fresh or dried: Young French filet beans are a delicacy, but if you don’t pick them fast enough, they’ll ripen into pale green flageolet or shell beans. If you miss that boat, let them dry completely to becomes haricots, classics of cold season cookery. Plump Italian fava beans can also be eaten fresh, perhaps made into creamy hummus, spicy pesto, or herbed spreads for crusty baguettes. Heritage black beans from Central America give chiles and bean stews rich depth and savor, while Asian mung and adzuki beans offer new flavors to explore.

Making Beans Feel At Home

These tropical staples thrive in warm conditions and may rot when sown in chilly soil. To avoid cold damage, sow beans after Memorial Day (or two weeks past your region’s last frost date). If frost threatens tender young beans, protect them with floating row cover. If beans get badly frost nipped, they won’t fully recover, so replace them with sturdy new plants (it’s not too late). Since beans develop hefty root systems, open tight soil thoroughly with a garden fork before sowing and amend generously with mature compost. Where soils are heavy, beans do best in mounded beds of sandy loam, again well amended with compost.

All beans need full sun and protection from strong winds, and climbing pole beans need at least six feet of sturdy trellising or poles strung with netting for support. They also do well on wooden or even chain link fences, which offer very strong support for heavy laden plants. Beans are also heavy feeders, so dig in some transplant fertilizer with newly transplanted beans. Side dress young beans with seaweed meal and feed every few weeks with a complete organic fertilizer. Always water roots well before fertilizing. Beans produce best when given moderate fertilizers, such as 5-5-5, since high-nitrogen feeds encourage foliage instead of beans. They require even moisture to crop generously, so mulch well with compost to maintain consistent soil moisture. To avoid diseases, keep foliage dry when watering and avoid contact with bean plants after rain.

To Blanch Or Not

Since forever, standard wisdom has insisted that vegetables must be steamed or boiled for a few minutes, then plunged into ice water and cooled before freezing. This step 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 best to blanch first. However, in my own experience, when freshly picked green beans are processed right after picking, they retain excellent flavor and texture even without the usual blanching step.

For best results, the beans must be thoroughly dry, since ice crystals impair food texture. Organically grown beans can be carefully hosed off in the garden while still on the vine, then sun dried before picking. To keep track of your harvest area, use colored yarn or tape to mark off the section you plan to pick that day. Tip and tail your beans and cut them to your preferred size, pack them into freezer bags and date each bag. Blanched or not, all frozen produce retains quality best when vacuum sealed. If you don’t have a vacuum sealing system, you can make your own with freezer bags and a drinking straw. Fill and close bags, then reopen slightly and insert a straw. Suck out as much air as possible and reseal tightly.

Filet Bean Bliss

This speedy version of the classic French sauce is delicious over filet beans or pretty much any and all vegetables.

Blanched Beans With Quick Aioli

1 pound filet or any green beans, stem end trimmed
1/2 cup mayonnaise (vegan mayo works fine)
1 cloves garlic, pressed
1/2 organic lemon, juiced, rind grated
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon freshly ground white or black pepper

Blanch beans in salted, boiling water for 3 minutes, plunge into cold water for 3 minutes, drain and set aside. Whisk mayonnaise with garlic and lemon rind and season to taste with lemon juice, salt, and pepper. Drizzle warm beans with aioli and serve. Serves 4.

French Filet Bean Salad

1 pound filet beans, ends trimmed
1 lemon, cut in 6 wedges
pinch of sea salt
1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
2 green onions, thinly sliced
1/4 cup halved cherry tomatoes
few grinds black pepper
1/4 cup stemmed flat leaf parsley

Steam beans for 3 minutes, plunge into cold water for 3 minutes, drain. In a serving bowl, combine salt and the juice of 2 lemon wedges and stir until salt dissolves. Add oil and pepper and whisk to emulsify. Toss beans, green onions, tomatoes, and parsley with dressing and serve, garnished with remaining lemon wedges. Serves 4.

Filet Beans With Walnuts

1 tablespoon avocado or olive oil
1 clove garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chopped walnuts
1/8 teaspoon sea salt
1/8 teaspoon smoked hot paprika (or any)
1 pound filet beans, ends trimmed
1 teaspoon stemmed thyme
few grinds black pepper

In a small pan, combine oil, garlic, walnuts, salt, and paprika over medium high heat and cook to the fragrance point (1-2 minutes). Add beans, thyme, and pepper, stirring to coat. Cover pan and cook until barely tender (2-3 minutes) and serve at once. Serves 4.

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2 Responses to Delightful Beans, Fresh Or Dried

  1. Janice OConnor says:

    Thank you for the wonderful wisdom.,
    I am now looking at my pot garden in whole new light, and am looking forward to filling up my driveway with them..maybe tomorrow.

    • Ann Lovejoy says:

      It’s really very refreshing and educational if not a ton of fun. Best is when we can re-home everything appropriately and perhaps help urge a fellow gardener a bit further along the path…

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