I used to hate green beans as a kid. Frankly, in most cases, I still do. I don’t blame my mom for this – she bought high-quality frozen green beans as I recall – but to be honest? They taste like vegetables. Like the vegetables of kids’ tear-induced tantrums – a little sharp, a little bitter, and very, very green. And they squeak. Seriously. Some people actually know them as squeaky beans. And God forbid, in my opinion, you buy them canned. Add to the squeaky bitterness a metallic aftertaste, and it’s like eating medical equipment.
I discovered 2 problems with my green bean past. 1) I was eating the wrong kinds, and 2) I was cooking them wrong. Most of the time, if you buy something labeled green beans, it’s probably Kentucky Wonder or Blue Lake – a relatively fat, fleshy bean with a succulent pod surrounding thin, tiny seeds. I’m sure plenty of people like the somewhat meaty, earthy flavor, especially when smothered in cream of mushroom soup and fried onions, but I am not one of those people. I am, however, something of a Francophile, so I’m pretty sure many of those same green bean loving people think I’m merely being pretentious by saying that I hate green beans but I love Haricots Verts. Which, yes, translates to “green beans,” I know.
But Haricots Verts are a different breed entirely from the fleshy cut variety that taints many a side dish. For one thing, they don’t have to be green. They come in purple and yellow and speckled and all sorts of beautiful colors. Haricots Verts and their slender brethren are thin, dainty, unimposing in their somewhat parched state. They crisp easily or soften and blend in with the crowd when necessary while still maintaining a wee bit of vegatative flavor. They’re milder than their heartier cousins. They still squeak, but I like to imagine more of a dainty accident than the bold mouse-like squeak of their friends.
As for eating them wrong, every blog and recipe I can recall commands steaming, blanching, boiling or microwaving. And to that I respond: bleh! It’s a good way to release some vitamins, sure, and to soften them up, of course, because they can get a bit stringy or a bit of a chewy-wood thing going on when they’re not cooked enough. Sure. But…bleh. What a way to make them taste like earthy, mineral-y mush. Nope, the trick I discovered? Burn them. Burn them all. (And if you’re not picturing a creepy Donald Sutherland in Backdraft right now, you don’t watch nearly as many movies as I do, and also, I envy your uncluttered brain.)
I don’t like burnt food. I scrape burnt toast, pick around burned roasts, hell, I throw out burned cookies and if you know me that’s practically a hangin’ crime for all the rules it violates, but green beans, as far as I can recall, are my one exception. Get a little burn on them and all that metallic minerality takes on hints of something akin to a savory caramel, the last wee traces of succulence get dessicated into crispness, and you’re left with something sharp and sweet and so tasty we always end up eating all the green beans before we even touch the main.
When buying haricots verts and their friends, look for fleshy, bright beans that snap easily. They shrivel and get tough and bendy as they dry out and get older, and as much as I like them drier, you want to do the drying, in the pan, not nature on the vine. Any variety that’s young and slim will do (have I lived in Hollywood too long?) but I like ones labeled Haricot Verts, Haricots Jaune (the thin yellow ones at the top), Golden Wax for something a bit fleshier (the ones in the red bowl), or these Purple Queens for Halloween – they look almost black. All of them, really, are varieties of filet beans, so you can look for those, too. Snip off the ends with the stem still attached, and burn away.
Burnt Green Beans
Any color Green beans
Herbes de Provence (or at least Rosemary)
goat cheese (optional)
Heat enough olive oil in to lightly cover the bottom of a pan, preferably cast iron (you want a pan that will get nice and hot, and that’s not a brand new non-stick – the non-stick doesn’t give a great burn, though it’s serviceable if that’s all you’ve got). Toss the green beans into the pan, and let them sit. This is the hard part. DON’T TURN THEM, toss them, or otherwise touch them. Make something else, do the dishes, whatever, until they start to get a little burn on the bottoms. (If your beans are on the fleshier side, you may want to add a healthy dose of sherry here to steam them open a little, then let them burn afterwards.) Toss/flip and let them start to get a little burn on the other side – you don’t want them burnt beyond recognition, but you want some blistering/black color going on. Chop the garlic (I like 2 cloves, but one will do.) Sprinkle liberally with herbes de provence and stir. Add the garlic and cook very briefly, until you can smell it, maybe 1 minute tops. Put on a plate and sprinkle well with sea salt. If you like goat cheese, mix some in just before you remove from heat – they’re AMAZING with goat cheese, but just as nice on their own if you’re not the dairy type. Added bonus? They don’t work well if you fuss over them, so screaming babies, rambunctious toddlers, and a big, balloon glass of wine can all be addressed while your green beans get nice and crispy. THAT’S the kind of side dish I like.
Trim? Yes. Snip off the stem end. If they’re larger or fleshier, you may want to peel the string down the side as well, but younger specimens don’t need it.
Edible when raw? Yes.
Worth the price of organic? Yes. Green beans don’t make the Dirty Dozen, but they make the Dirty Twenty, and that’s enough chemicals for me, thanks.
Best with: Stronger flavors – goat cheese, lemon/citrus, garlic, ginger, vinegars. Woodsy flavors like rosemary, sage, thyme and mushrooms complement nicely. They hold up well as a side dish from everything to the lightest sole to the meatiest steak, so there are really no holds barred.
In Season: Summer, though in warm-season climes like here in L.A, that actually means Late Spring and Early Fall, since the hot months are too hot for the vines to flower.
How to Store: In the fridge, in a produce box or loosely sealed plastic bag, they should keep for a few days. If they start to get bendy or a little shriveled, they’ll still taste fine if you crisp-cook them as above; if you can see bean seeds outline through the tight, shriveled skin, they’ve crossed the hump and are no longer very tasty.