Green beans and string beans are actually the same bean. Green beans are string beans without the string. The string, a thick band of fibrous tissue that runs down both sides of the pod, cannot be found in most of today’s varieties. There are many varieties of green beans: string beans (the classic variety), snap beans, butter beans… and green beans are categorized according to size. These plants are grown worldwide specifically for its edible beans and there are two main classifications— edible pod beans and shell beans — and the colors and shapes of pods vary tremendously. In fact, there are more than 200 species of beans.
Green beans are edible pod beans that can be grown as bush beans or pole (running) beans. They are often referred to as string beans because originally a fibrous string ran along the seam of the bean pod. The string was noticeable when snapping off the end of the pod. This snapping noise is the reason for its other common nickname, snap beans. The pod color can be green, golden, purple, red or streaked, but the beans inside the pod are always green. Green beans range in shape from thin to wide types.
The common bean was cultivated in ancient Mesoamerica as early as 8,000 years ago. Beans were even found in the mummy covering of a woman in a Peruvian cemetery dating back to pre-Inca civilization. Green beans originated in the tropical southern part of Mexico, Guatemala, Honduras and part of Costa Rica. They spread from this center of origin to North and South America long before European explorers ever arrived. Early explorers, including Christopher Columbus, found the climbing beans typically planted alongside maize (corn). The first drawings of the bush bean were recorded by the revolutionary German doctor Leonhart Fuchs in 1542 and were also described in detail by explorers John Verazanno and Samuel de Champlain. Green beans was introduced to France by the Conquistadors about 1597. For a long time rare and expensive, this vegetable became widespread only in the 19th century. The first to put green beans on their menus were the French.
When first discovered, green beans had a “string” that ran on the outer curve of the pod shell. Botanists, however, found a way to remove the string through breeding and in 1894 the first successful stringless bean plant was cultivated. Calvin Keeney bred the first stringless bean, termed the “green bean,” in 1894. Burpee Seed Company promoted it. Because green beans required less work to prepare than string beans, they gained in popularity. Today, nearly all varieties of edible pod beans are grown without strings.
While green beans come in a variety of colors, they all taste about the same and can be used more or less interchangeably. The same is true for pole beans, which grow on vines that wrap around poles, and bush beans, which grow on a bushy structure.
When cooking green beans, your main concern should be what you are going to cook with them. It does not really matter too much, in most cases, what type of beans you use, since they all taste very similar. However, if you wish to create a dish with purple green beans, then you should either serve them raw or cook them as little as possible, since the color will bleed out and make your food look funny.
Green beans that are thin and tender can be eaten raw or cooked. They are usually about 4 inches long, slightly pointed at each end, and hold a number of small seeds arranged in a row inside the bean itself.
The green bean is a great favorite of dieters everywhere because they can be served in a wide variety of ways, have lots of vitamins and minerals and are just plain good for you. They contain vitamins C, A and K, as well as manganese. This makes them great for bone, cardiovascular and colon health. Green beans are anti-inflammatory, which means that they can help calm respiratory problems like asthma and other inflammatory disorders like arthritis. One cup of raw green beans provides thirty percent of the recommended Daily Value (DV) for Vitamin C, (15% DV) for fiber and Vitamin A. and the essential vitamins: thiamin, riboflavin, niacin, Vitamin B6 and Vitamin K.
Cleaning and Preparing Fresh Green Beans:
Wash fresh green beans thoroughly in clear, cool water. Lift beans from the wash water and leave garden debris behind. Rinse again.
Break off the end (the top and tail) as you wash them. Leave whole or cut into desired lengths. Beans can be cooked whole, cut crosswise, diagonally or French-cut. If you want sweet tasting, crisp fresh beans, cut them as little as possible. Cut older, more mature beans in the French style. Make sure all the pieces are similar in length so they cook evenly.
Cooking Fresh Green Beans:
Boiling, steaming or microwaving are popular ways to prepare fresh green beans. Stir-frying preserves the best qualities of the fresh green bean. Whatever cooking method you choose, remember to cook fresh green beans as little as possible using the smallest amount of water as possible. The fewer beans in the pan, the quicker they cook and the better they taste. If cooking more than one pound of green beans at a time, use separate pans.
Important To Remember: The beans will continue to cook after you remove them from the heat source. Either take them out just before they are cooked the way you like or plunge them in ice water immediately to stop the cooking process.
Boiling Green Beans:
In a large saucepan over medium-high heat, bring water to a gentle boil. Add trimmed green beans and cook, uncovered, 4 to 5 minutes or until crisp-tender (you may need to experiment with the degree of doneness you like). Immediately drain the green beans in a colander.
Steaming Green Beans:
To steam green beans, set a steamer basket with the green beans into a saucepan just large enough to hold it tightly covered. Add one-inch of water, bring to the boil, and cover the pan tightly. Regulate heat to moderate. Green beans will take only 3 to 5 minutes.
Microwave Green Beans:
Place prepared beans in a microwave-safe bowl. Add approximately 2 tablespoons water. Cover with plastic wrap, leaving a small corner open. NOTE: If you seal them completely, the plastic wrap will almost shrink-wrap itself to the beans. Microwave on high for approximately 3 to 4 minutes (you might need to experiment to get the beans done to your liking). It is more difficult to get green beans cooked to a precise and even level of doneness when microwaving.
Cooking Green Beans Ahead-of-Time:
Green beans may be cooked several hours in advance. To keep their freshly-cooked taste, once cooked to your liking, dry them thoroughly in clean towels and then refrigerate them in a covered bowl. They will keep for about 4 days, wrapped in a plastic bag or wrap, refrigerated.
Cooking With Green Beans:
Italian Flat Green Beans With Tomatoes and Garlic
This dish is reminiscent of an Italian method of cooking green beans with tomatoes for a long time, which was especially good for tenderizing tough, old beans. Here, fresh Italian flat beans are cooked quickly and added to fresh tomatoes, garlic and basil.
- 1 pound Italian green beans (romano) or string beans, ends trimmed; cut on the diagonal into 2- to 3-inch pieces
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 3 medium cloves garlic, cut into very thin slices (a scant 1/4 cup)
- 1 large tomato, preferably peeled, cored and seeded, then cut into 1/2-inch dice (8 ounces)
- Freshly ground black pepper
- 6 to 8 large basil leaves, cut into chiffonade (stacked, then rolled tightly and cut into very thin strips)
Bring a large pot of salted water to a boil over high heat. Add the green beans and cook for 5 to 7 minutes, until tender. Drain immediately.
While the beans are cooking, heat the oil in a medium skillet over medium-low heat. Add the garlic slices, distributing them evenly. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until the slices become almost translucent and start to brown on the edges; be careful not to let the garlic burn.
Add the diced tomato and salt and pepper to taste, then reduce the heat to medium. Cook for 2 to 3 minutes, so that the tomato is heated through. Add the cooked green beans and heat through for 1 to 2 minutes; mix well. Taste and adjust seasoning as needed. Transfer to a serving dish and top with the basil. Serve warm or at room temperature.
Italian Green Bean Chicken Saute
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
- 1/2 teaspoon black pepper, divided
- 1 pound skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – cubed
- 1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes or 2 cups cherry tomatoes, quartered
- 2 tablespoons minced fresh basil
- 1 pound fresh green beans – rinsed, trimmed, left whole
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Heat oil in a large skillet over medium high heat. Add garlic and saute until aromatic oils are released, then add green beans, oregano and 1/4 teaspoon each salt and pepper.
Saute for 5 minutes and remove to a bowl.
Add chicken and cook through, until no longer pink.
Stir in tomatoes, crushed red pepper, remaining salt and pepper and basil and bring to a boil; add green beans and reduce heat to low. Simmer for another 5 minutes.
Green Bean, Zucchini and Potato Stew
Serves 6 to 8
Serve with crusty Italian country bread
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed, halved crosswise
- 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 8 ounces zucchini, cut into 1-inch-thick slices
- 8 ounces russet potatoes, peeled, cut into 1-inch cubes
- 3/4 cup chopped fresh Italian parsley
- 1-26-ounce container Pomi Italian chopped tomatoes
Heat oil in heavy large nonstick skillet over medium-high heat. Add onion and saute 5 minute. Add green beans and cayenne pepper and sauté until onion is translucent, about 3 minutes. Add zucchini, potatoes and parsley. Pour tomatoes and their juices over vegetables. Bring to boil. Reduce heat. Cover and simmer until potatoes are tender, stirring frequently, about 45 minutes. Season with salt and pepper. Remove from heat. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.) Serve warm or at room temperature.
Salmon, Potato and Green Bean Salad
- 2 medium potatoes (about 12 oz.), thinly sliced
- Salt and pepper
- 1 pound salmon fillet, skin removed
- 8 ounces green beans, trimmed
- 1/3 cup pitted black olives, chopped
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- Lemon for garnish
Bring 1 inch of water to a boil in a large pan. Line a steamer basket with parchment cut to fit the basket. Arrange potatoes on top; sprinkle with salt. Place salmon over potatoes; sprinkle with salt. Lower steamer into pan (don’t let basket touch the water). Steam for 6 minutes. Place green beans over salmon, cover and continue steaming until potatoes and beans are tender and fish is cooked through, 4 to 6 minutes longer.
Transfer potatoes, beans and salmon to a large bowl; flake salmon. Let cool slightly. Add olives to bowl, drizzle with oil and lemon juice, season with salt and pepper and serve with additional lemon slices.
Green Bean and Meatball Stew
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
- 3 pounds mixed ground beef, pork and veal (or any combination you like)
- 1 cup seasoned Italian breadcrumbs
- 1/4 cup freshly grated Parmesan
- 1 bunch parsley, stemmed and finely chopped
- 2 eggs
- 3 cans (28 ounces each) Italian peeled tomatoes, crushed with your hands
- 2 ½ cups chicken stock
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper
- 4 pounds small red potatoes, skin on, cut into 1-inch pieces
- 3 pounds green beans, cut into 1 1/2-inch pieces
In a soup pot, heat the oil and cook the onion, stirring often, for 10 minutes or until onion begins to brown.
Meanwhile, in a large bowl, mix the beef, pork and veal with the breadcrumbs, Parmesan, parsley and eggs. With clean hands, work the mixture well. Shape it into meatballs about 1-inch wide; set aside.
To the onions, add the tomatoes and chicken stock. Stir well. Cook over medium heat until the mixture comes to a simmer. Add salt and red pepper. Add the potatoes and simmer for 10 minutes or until tender.
Add the green beans in a layer on top of the potatoes. Do not stir. Add the meatballs in a layer on top of the green beans. The layering is important: it keeps the potatoes and meatballs whole, and keeps the meatballs at the top. Do not stir the pot at all until the dish is served. Cover and cook for 15 minutes or until the meatballs are solid and cooked through.
With the back of a ladle, gently press the meatballs into the liquid so they’re just submerged. Cover and simmer gently for 1 hour without stirring.
Red Wine Beef Stew with Potatoes and Green Beans
- 2 pounds beef chuck for stew, cut into 1-inch cubes
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 2 tablespoons olive oil, divided
- 4 medium carrots, peeled, halved and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 3 small onions, diced
- 2 tablespoons all-purpose flour
- 2 (14 1/2-ounce) cans reduced-sodium beef broth
- 2 cups dry red wine
- 1 cup canned crushed Italian tomatoes
- 3 sprigs fresh rosemary
- 2 medium Yukon gold potatoes, peeled and cut into 1-inch chunks
- 2 handfuls of green beans, ends trimmed
Season the beef cubes lightly with salt and pepper. Heat 1 tablespoon oil in a heavy 6-quart pot over medium heat. Add half the beef and raise the heat to high. At first, the beef will give off some liquid, but once that evaporates, the beef will start to brown. Cook, turning the beef cubes on all sides until the pieces are as evenly browned as possible, about 5 or 6 minutes after the liquid has boiled off. If the pan starts to get too brown at any point, just turn down the heat a little. Spoon the beef into a bowl and brown the rest of the beef the same way using the remaining oil.
Spoon out the second batch of beef, then add the carrots and onions and raise the heat to medium-high. Cook until the onion starts to turn translucent, about 5 minutes. Stir in the flour until it has been worked into the veggies and you can’t see it any more. Pour in the broth, wine, crushed tomatoes and rosemary. Slide the beef back into the pot and bring the liquid to a boil.
Turn down the heat so the liquid is just breaking a gentle simmer. Partially cover the pot and cook 50 minutes. Stir the stew several times while simmering, so it cooks evenly and nothing sticks to the bottom.
Stir the potatoes into the stew, cover the pot completely and cook until the potatoes and beef are tender, stirring occasionally, about another 45 minutes. Add the beans and cook for another 5 minutes until the green beans turn bright green and are cooked through.
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