What to Do With Fresh Beans

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As the farmer’s markets and produce aisles shift from peaches and tomatoes to apples and brussels sprouts, you will start to notice that piles of beans are taking center stage. Not the green beans and wax beans of summer, but the fall beans like scarlet runners and pintos. These beans are sometimes called shelling, pole, or runner beans, but they are all the fresh version of beans we are used to seeing more often as dried beans. From black-eyed peas to cranberry beans, if you have never worked with them before, they can be a little daunting.

But fresh shelling beans are one of the most delicious and easy things you can cook, and once you know how, you’ll wait all year for the brief window when they are available. Since fresh beans don’t need any soaking, they are much easier to deal with than dried beans and can be made as a last-minute dish instead of having to think ahead.

Cooking dinner shouldn't be complicated

Choose your beans

Look for pods that are firm and don’t seem dull or floppy. They should look plump, and the beans inside should feel secure and not loose and rattle-y. it can be tempting to grab huge handfuls but being a bit picky when choosing will serve you well, because you are buying something by the pound that is 60 to 70 percent inedible pod, so you want to get the best yield for your money. Speaking of which, assume a full half-pound of bean pods per person as a side dish and a pound for a main. If you are buying pre-shelled beans, look for beans that are not wrinkled or browned, they should look taut and shiny.

Watch: How to Make Basic No Soak Beans

Store the beans

Whole pods will keep on your counter in a paper bag for two days or in the fridge for up to a week, be sure to store in paper, plastic will encourage mold. Keep shelled beans in an airtight container in the fridge for up to two days before cooking.

Shell the beans

Shelling beans is pretty simple. You can usually squeeze the pod to pop it open and then run your thumb down the length of the interior to remove the beans. Any discolored or shriveled beans should be discarded as you go.

Cooking beans

The simplest method is to place the beans in a heavy-bottomed pot and cover with either cold water or stock or broth by about one inch for a small amount of beans (one or two cups) or two inches for a larger pot. If you are cooking them to use as an ingredient later, especially for salads, this is all you need to do, since you’ll be rinsing under cold water to stop cooking. If you are wanting to serve the beans as a side or main, add some aromatics, like onion, shallot or leek, carrot or celery or a combination of these. Toss in a sprig of fresh herbs like thyme, rosemary or tarragon, or dried like a bay leaf or two or a pinch of herbes de provence. A clove of garlic if you are so inclined. Some chopped tomato or tomato paste isn’t a bad idea, nor is a little bit of fat like a twirl of olive oil or a knob of butter.

Unlike most dishes, where you want to season during initial cooking, salt can make the skins tough, so you are going to season a bit later in the process. Bring the pot to a boil, skim off any foam that rises to the top, then reduce the heat to low and cover. Simmer for 15 minutes, then come back and season well with salt and pepper, and taste for doneness. Fresh beans cook fast, anywhere from 15 minutes for smaller fresher beans to 40 minutes or so for larger or slightly older beans. Taste about every 6-8 minutes for doneness, you do not want al-dente, but depending on how you intend to serve, you may want them firmer or creamier. For salads or chilled applications, go a bit firmer, for side dishes, you may want them a bit creamier.

If you are chilling the beans for salads, drain and rinse under cold running water to stop the cooking, then store for up to three days in the fridge in an airtight container. You can then use these the same way you would canned beans. You can also freeze them at this stage for later use.

If you are serving hot, simply remove the herb stems or bay leaves, taste for seasoning, and adjust salt and pepper. Beans love a splash of acid, so don’t be afraid to add a squeeze of lemon or dash of vinegar. Fresh chopped herbs and an extra drizzle of olive oil are also a good idea. And for a bit of textural variation, I love some toasted chopped nuts or toasted breadcrumbs on top. Once you start experimenting with these fresh shelling beans, you’ll be hooked!


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