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Fresh beans are a summer delight

There’s nothing quite like fresh beans from the farmers’ market. (Provided photo — Yvona Fast)

Whether bright green or waxy yellow, fresh beans are a midsummer treat – glorious proof that summer is truly in full swing.

Easy to grow and quick to mature, fresh beans are not always green — they come in an array of colors, shapes, and sizes. There are yellow (wax), purple and maroon beans. There are low bush beans and tall pole beans — like you read about in Jack and the Beanstalk. But regardless of shape, size, or color, all common garden beans belong to the same species. Because they’re easy to grow, they’re a popular summer crop among home gardeners.

Fresh beans do not compare to their soggy, tasteless canned version. They have great flavor and a completely different texture. Some people prefer them just slightly cooked, with a little crunch. Pole beans tend to be larger and tougher than bush beans, so they will need to cook a little longer.

Whatever their color, beans are a good source of antioxidants, the minerals potassium, magnesium, iron and manganese as well as folate and vitamins A, C, and K. They also contain antioxidants and fiber, and are a good diuretic. While one cup of green beans contains a scant 40 calories, it provides more than the daily requirement for vitamin K — 120 percent. Vitamin K is important for bone health because it activates osteocalcin, a protein that helps anchor calcium molecules inside the bone.

Like many of our popular vegetables, green beans are native to the American continent and were brought back to Europe by sixteenth-century Spanish explorers returning from their travels in the New World. Today, they’re a popular vegetable on both sides of the Atlantic. The term “string beans” dates back to the original, heirloom varieties, which had tough strings that held the pod together like a zipper and needed to be pulled off. Newer varieties have been developed in the twentieth century, where one only has to snap off the ends.

At the supermarket, your selection is limited to green beans: round, thin pencils with tapered ends — if you can even find them in the produce aisle. Most of the beans here will be in the freezer section, or with canned goods.

The farmers’ market offers greater variety. Choose beans with vibrant color — they come in hues from bright green to pale green, waxy yellow to royal purple. Bush beans should be slender, firm and velvety to the touch, free from blemishes or brown spots, and should snap when broken to reveal a moist center. Pole beans may be long and flat, with visible bumps (the beans). In any case, fresh beans should be hard and crisp, not soft and limp.

Just before using, wash under cool running water and snap off the stem ends. There are many ways to prepare this versatile vegetable; they can be steamed, boiled, sauteed, stir-fried, microwaved, or baked. Whatever method you choose, be careful not to overcook, as they will become mushy and dull their brightness (resembling canned beans). Many recipes call for blanching the beans before proceeding further; this is done by heating water with one teaspoon of salt per quart, adding the beans when it comes to a boil, and draining them a minute or two after they resume boiling. The fewer beans in the pan, the quicker they will cook, and the better they’ll taste. If cooking more than one pound at a time, use separate pans.

Beans prepared this way are good in salads. You can serve them on their own as a side dish or add to stir-fries, skillets, frittatas, casseroles, and soups.

Fresh Bean and Chicken Skillet

Ingredients:

1 Tablespoon vegetable oil

1 skinless, boneless chicken breast, about half a pound, cut up

1/2 teaspoon salt

1 yellow onion

1 pound fresh garden beans (about 3 cups)

2 tomatoes, peeled and diced or 1 small can diced tomatoes

1/2 teaspoon salt

A little pepper

2 Tablespoons fresh parsley, minced

1 teaspoon fresh basil leaves, minced

2 Tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese

Directions:

Heat oil in skillet; add chicken, sprinkle lightly with salt. Cook, stirring and turning, about five minutes. Remove and set aside.

While chicken is cooking, peel and dice the onion and add to the skillet the chicken cooked in. Rinse the beans, snip off the ends, and cut into one-inch pieces; add to skillet and stir. You may need to add a quarter-cup of broth or water if it begins to stick. When the beans are tender to your taste, add the reserved chicken and stir in the tomatoes, remaining salt and pepper, and cook stirring another three minutes or so. Stir in the parsley, basil, and Parmesan, and serve. This is good over pasta.

Option: use diced cooked ham in place of chicken, and add at the end with the tomatoes. For a vegetarian version, omit meat and add a cup of garbanzo beans, navy beans or black beans.

Serves 3.

Green Bean

and Potato Salad

Ingredients:

1/2 pound small red-skinned potatoes (or other potatoes)

1 pound green beans (can also use other beans)

3 scallions (1/2 bunch) or 1/2 sweet onion

1 red sweet bell pepper

2 – 3 pickles (I used half sours but any pickle you like will do)

1 small can tuna (6 oz.)

2 – 3 Tablespoons mayonnaise

2 – 3 Tablespoons plain yogurt or sour cream

1 – 2 teaspoons prepared mustard

1/2 cup minced fresh dill

Optional: a little salt, turmeric and black pepper (taste to adjust seasonings)

Optional vegetables: carrots, tomatoes, lettuce or arugula

Directions:

Prepare beans by removing stem ends, rinsing, and cutting larger ones in half or thirds. Rinse and set aside.

Put a pan of salted water to boil. Add potatoes (peeling optional). Cook 10 minutes.

Add prepared beans and cook 10 minutes longer, or until vegetables are desired tenderness. (If you like your beans crisp, add them later).

Drain and set aside to cool.

In salad bowl combine mayonnaise, yogurt and mustard. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Remove root ends from scallions, rinse and slice.

Remove seeds from pepper, rinse, and slice.

Combine vegetables and tuna in salad bowl; fold into dressing. Fold in fresh minced dill, and serve.

For a vegetarian dish, omit tuna and add garbanzo beans.

Serves 2 – 4, depending on size of servings.

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 yvonawrite@yahoo.com or on facebook at words are my world.

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