Vegetables for vitality: green beans

Depending on where you're from, the most familiar fresh bean is called a green bean, snap bean or string bean. Here's a guide to improving your health by simply adding green beans to your diet:

Vegetables for vitality:  green beans

Nutritional value

Packed into 250 millilitres (one cup) of beans:

  • About 35 calories
  • Insoluble fibre, which serves as a digestive aid and may help lower cholesterol
  • More than 30 percent of the daily requirement for vitamin C
  • Phytochemicals called saponins, believed to stimulate the immune system
  • Folate, important in pregnancy and for normal growth

At the market

Season:

  • Fresh green beans are a year-round staple in the supermarket produce section, but just-picked beans from a summer farm stand usually offer the very best flavour and texture.
  • That's because fresh beans, like corn, will lose their crunchy sweetness during prolonged storage; the sooner they make it from field to table, the better.

What to look for:

  • Regardless of which variety you are shopping for, choose beans that snap rather than bend when folded over.
  • The pods should be straight with a "peach fuzz" feel and no blemishes or brown spots.
  • Limp beans will be tough and bland.
  • Try to select slender beans of a uniform size to ensure even cooking.

In the kitchen

Storing:

  • Keep beans in the vegetable drawer of the refrigerator, loosely wrapped in plastic; and use as soon as possible.

Preparation: 

  • To prepare fresh beans, snap or trim off the stem end; the fine point at the tip is edible so there's no reason to remove it.
  • Beans can be left whole or cut to any length needed; they look good cut on the diagonal.

Basic cooking:

  • Steam or simmer beans for three to ten minutes, depending on their thickness, until they're cooked but still retain a bit of crunch – take a test bite to determine this. Beans also cook well and retain their colour in the microwave. Or, try blanching beans for one or two minutes in a large pan of lightly salted boiling water and then finishing them when needed by sautéing them in butter or olive oil just before serving. However you cook them, drain beans immediately.
  • If you're planning to finish them later or use them chilled for a salad recipe, plunge the crisp-tender cooked beans into iced water to stop the cooking process and to retain their bright colour; drain and pat dry before refrigerating or adding to other ingredients.

Best uses in recipes

  • Fresh green beans, sautéed in butter and seasoned with salt and pepper, make a refreshing accompaniment to almost any main dish.
  • Any fresh bean, cut to a manageable length, is a good addition to a stir-fry or a hot pasta dish, adding texture and bulk.
  • Cold cooked green beans add colour and texture to potato and pasta salads.

Fresh ideas

  • Cooked beans can be jazzed up with various seasonings and other ingredients. Before adding them, toss cooked beans in a hot frying pan to rid them of moisture. This way, the beans will better absorb the additional flavours.
  • To add toasted almonds, lightly brown slivered almonds in peanut oil or butter. Mix with the cooked beans and season to taste.
  • Thinly slice prosciutto or ham and heat in a little olive oil or butter in a large frying pan. Add cooked beans and toss to mix.
  • Add Parmesan cheese after tossing beans in melted butter. Season with freshly ground black pepper.

Now you have some great ideas for adding this super-food to your meal plan. Time to get cooking!

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