Breaking tradition: Alternatives to green bean casserole

(Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

(Photo provided — Yvona Fast)

It’s that time of year again: time to plan the Thanksgiving menu. It is easy to fall into habits of customary sides to serve with turkey, like corn pudding or green bean casserole. But why not change up the boring, expected fare and try something new and different? Simple, vibrant veggie sides will add color and texture to your holiday meal.

Green beans are not in season this time of year — yet they have become traditional Thanksgiving fare, even though in our region they’re out of season and must come from the freezer, a can, or distant farms in China or California. Also known as string beans or snap beans, they are excellent sources of fiber and vitamin C, A, K and folate. They contain many antioxidants and the minerals potassium, magnesium, iron and manganese.

Like many of our popular vegetables, beans are native to the American continent and were an important staple in the diet of Native Americans. They were cultivated in parts of Mexico and Peru about 7,000 years ago. Beans became a dietary staple as part of the Three Sisters (corn, beans, and squash) and were associated with religious rituals. As a native vegetable (like winter squash and corn) they’re a fitting part of the Thanksgiving celebration.

Made with canned, condensed cream of mushroom soup and a can of French-fried onions, the old-school green bean Thanksgiving casserole became commonplace in the 1950s with the rise of popular brands like Campbell’s and French’s®. Today, for many, it is a tradition — but is it one worth keeping?

Times are changing. Many are moving away from factory products to real food. With obesity rates on the rise, others are seeking lighter, healthier options. With turkey, potatoes, gravy and stuffing, I like to make my veggies on the lighter side for the big feast, and save hearty vegetable dishes for weekday main-dish fare.

But … plain steamed green beans are boring. Fortunately, there are many ways to dress them up for a delicious, simple holiday side. You can steam, roast, stir-fry, or sauté them. Roast them with garlic, walnuts, and a little lemon or sharp cheese like Parmesan. Sauté or stir-fry them with onions and mushrooms. Steam and season or combine with colorful veggies like tomatoes or peppers.

Here are a few ideas for your holiday feast.

Green or Wax Beans Greek Style

Ingredients:

1 to 2 teaspoons vegetable oil

1 yellow onion

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 pound (14-ounce bag) of frozen whole green beans or wax beans

1 clove garlic

1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes, drained (or about 2 cups fresh diced tomatoes when in season)

1/2 teaspoon salt

A little pepper

1 teaspoon basil

1 to 2 Tablespoons crumbled feta cheese

1/2 cup sliced black olives

Directions:

Peel and dice the onion; set aside. Peel and mince the garlic; set aside.

Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, sprinkle with salt, lower heat, cover and cook five minutes. Cut beans into one-inch pieces; add to skillet along with the garlic, and stir. Cook two to four minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, basil, remaining salt and pepper, and cook stirring another five minutes or so, until beans are the desired tenderness.

Transfer to serving bowl and garnish with sliced olives and crumbled feta cheese . Makes about 8 half-cup servings. This can be served hot as a side, or chilled as a salad and is delicious at room temperature also.

Italian Style Green Beans with Gremolata

Ingredients:

1 to 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

1 pound (14-ounce bag) of frozen whole green beans or wax beans

(can also use fresh, will need to cook longer).

1/2 teaspoon salt

2 large cloves garlic

Grated lemon zest from 1 large lemon

1/2 cup tightly packed Italian parsley leaves (or 1/3 cup each parsley and arugula leaves)

Salt & freshly ground pepper to taste

1/2 cups coarsely-grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese

Directions:

Heat large skillet or sauté pan over medium heat; coat with oil. Add beans, sprinkle with salt & pepper, and cook about 5 minutes or to desired tenderness. It’s ok if they brown a little, but they shouldn’t burn; add a little water and cover the skillet if needed.

To make the gremolata, crush the garlic. Mince the parsley. Grate lemon zest.

In a small bowl combine minced garlic, lemon zest, and fresh minced parsley.

Cook off any liquid left in the beans and transfer to serving bowl. Toss hot beans with the cheese and gremolata, and serve.

Makes about 8 1/2 cup servings. This can be served hot as a side, or chilled as a salad and is delicious at room temperature also.

Green Beans with Almonds

Ingredients:

2 cloves garlic

1/2 cup slivered almonds

1- 2 teaspoons extra virgin olive oil

1 pound (14-ounce bag) of frozen whole green beans or wax beans

(can also use fresh, will need to cook longer).

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon pepper

Broth (vegetable or chicken) optional

Directions:

Peel and mince garlic and set aside.

Heat a large, dry skillet over medium heat. Add almonds and toast, stirring, two to four minutes until fragrant and lightly golden. Remove from pan and set aside.

Add oil to the same skillet just to coat. Add reserved garlic and cook one to two minutes over medium heat. Add beans, sprinkle with salt and pepper, lower heat, cover and cook three to five minutes until crisp-tender. If using frozen beans there should be enough water to cook them. If not, add a little broth or water.

Transfer to serving bowl and toss with reserved toasted almonds. Makes about 8 1/2 cup servings.

Sauteed Green Beans with Mushrooms and Onions

Cook beans with mushrooms for a more traditional flavor.

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon butter or extra virgin olive oil

1small red onion

1 8 oz. container mushrooms (portobellos have more flavor than the white; also try with other kinds like shitake)

1/2 teaspoon salt, or more

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 pound frozen green beans (can also use fresh, will need to cook longer).

Directions:

Peel onion; cut in half then slice into half rings. Set aside.

Heat butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion, sprinkle with salt and pepper, lower heat, cover and cook 5 minutes. While onion cooks, clean and slice the mushrooms; add to skillet, stir, and cook three to five minutes, until mushrooms release their liquid.

Add green beans and cook five minutes more, or until desired tenderness. Taste, and adjust seasonings.

Makes about 8 1/2 cup servings.

If you really want a casserole, here is how to convert the Green Beans with Mushrooms and Onions into one. You have two options for the bechamel sauce:

Option 1: In a jar with tight fitting lid, combine 1 1/3 cup milk (or half milk and half broth) with 1 Tablespoon flour, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Shake well. Transfer to saucepan and cook over medium-low heat, stirring, until thickened.

Option 2: In a bowl, combine 1 cup plain low-fat Greek yogurt with 1 teaspoon salt, 1/2 teaspoon pepper, 1/2 teaspoon honey or sugar and 1 teaspoon cornstarch.

Butter, oil or spray with cooking spray a 2-quart casserole dish. Add cooked green beans and mushrooms (above). Stir in the sauce.

For topping, combine 1/2 cup bread crumbs and 1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese. Sprinkle evenly over casserole.

Place in 350 degrees oven and bake 30 to 40 minutes, or until browned.

Author of the award-winning cookbook Garden Gourmet: Fresh & Fabulous Meals from your Garden, CSA or Farmers’ Market, Yvona Fast lives in Lake Clear and has two passions: cooking and writing. She can be reached at www.wordsaremyworld.com, yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on Facebook as Author

Yvona Fast.

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