Jack’s mother was mad, beet-red steaming mad. Jack had sold Milky-White the cow for a handful of “magic” beans — what a fool! She threw the beans out the window and sent Jack to bed without supper. We know the rest of the story. A giant beanstalk grew outside the window providing the mother and son with an abundance of fresh green beans that they cooked in various ways. Beans steamed with golden carrot coins or in vinaigrette topped with sliced hard-boiled eggs from the Golden Goose. Every day they picked beans until autumn when they felled the giant stalk into their garden, where it continued to provide nitrogen for their compost. They lived happily ever after.
Bean plants are magical in that they are great providers. The pre-Columbian people domesticated Phaseolus vulgaris. Green beans are edible pod or string beans, as opposed to shell beans like fava or edamame. And different from dry beans, from which we get an array of legumes such as pinto, kidney, or black beans. Cornucopia: A Source Book of Edible Plants, by Stephen Facciola, lists 130 varieties of string (or snap) beans. Today most varieties are “string-less.”
Green beans have just 44 calories in one cup. Beans are loaded with nutrients: 25% of RDA of vitamin K for strong bones, lots of vitamins C and A, plus potassium, manganese, and folates thrown in for good measure. No wonder we see happy and fit green giants wandering the land.
Preparation: Wash beans and snip off the ends. They can be cut crosswise or on an angle. For “French cut” beans, slice lengthwise into ribbons. Beans can be steamed, boiled, or stir-fried. To steam, place beans in the steamer basket of a tightly covered pot with one inch of water. Cook only 3–5 minutes, remove, then stop the cooking by dunking the beans in ice water. Drain and dry on a cloth. Cooked beans can be served hot with olive oil, lemon juice, and sea salt or cold in a salad. The great French chef Escoffier said of string beans: “The most exquisite of vegetables, but they must be prepared with the greatest care. They are best when a little firm to the tooth, but without exaggeration.”
Storage: Store unwashed green beans in a plastic bag or container in the fridge (crisper drawer is best) for several days.