Sure, I’ve heard the trash talk about string beans. “Boring!” seems to be the first thought when seeing a pile of tinned, soggy string beans dumped onto the dinner plate. But folks, I’m here to tell you that it doesn’t have to be!
Green beans belong to the same family as kidney, pinto and black beans. Green beans are picked while immature and the inner beans are just beginning to form in the pod, and therefore the pod and the beans are eaten together.
Fresh green beans are often called ‘string beans’ because of a “string” that runs lengthwise on the bean. It can be pulled off before cooking or will dissolve when the beans are cut into small pieces. Through breeding, the string is disappearing and they are now referred to a ‘snap beans’. Snap beans are picked when they are younger, so they can be “snapped” easily with one’s fingers.
Green beans’ pods can be green, purple, red, or streaked. Shapes range from thin “fillet” types to wide “romano” types and more.
Wax beans, which are pale yellow in color, have a slightly mild flavor, similar to green beans. Yellow wax beans are nearly identical to green beans in flavor and texture.
The French variety of green bean is also known as haricot vert, or filet beans. They are more delicate than regular green beans and cook up more quickly. Canned and frozen “French cut” beans are regular string beans cut lengthwise into very thin strips.
Fresh green beans at farmers markets are sold loose so you can choose the beans you want. Look for beans that have a smooth feel, a vibrant green color, and are free from brown spots or bruises. They should have a firm texture and snap when broken. Store unwashed fresh bean pods in a plastic bag in the refrigerator crisper. Whole beans stored this way should keep for about seven days.
String beans can be baked in casseroles — who hasn’t enjoyed this side dish at the Thanksgiving table? Steamed or sautéed beans can be jazzed up with the addition of spices, herbs, roasted pine nuts or slivered almonds, bacon, ham or prosciutto, garlic, a splash of balsamic vinegar — you can let your imagination run free! Toss them into vegetable soup or stir-fry or top a salad with crisp, chilled beans.
String beans can be dehydrated for a crunchy, healthy snack, or pickled, frozen or canned.
For dehydrating, blanch beans for 3 minutes, plunge them into ice water to cool the beans, drain well and cut into 1-inch pieces. Spread in a single layer on a dehydrator tray and dry at 125 degrees until crispy.
To freeze, first steam or blanch the trimmed beans for 2 to 3 minutes. Remove from heat and let them cool thoroughly before placing them in freezer containers and storing them in your freezer.
For pickling or canning beans, be sure to precisely follow a tested recipe, such as those found ext100.wsu.edu/clark/healthwellness/foodpreservation.
Judi Seifert is a Washington State University Clark County Extension Master Food Preserver. For more information, contact the Master Food Preserver hotline at 360-697-6060, ext. 5366, or website at clark.wsu.edu.