Garlic vinaigrette turns green (string) beans into a perky starter or side
Time to green up, guys! Because green beans are finally in season in our part of the US.
Sure, we can buy “fresh” green beans other times of the year. But why bother? Too often they are woody, and their dull out-of-season flavor borders on soulless.
But as spring rolls into summer, we can find locally grown green beans in abundance. They’re plump and tender— and their flavor is so robust, they don’t require complicated recipes. All they need is a quick vinaigrette dressing. Simple.
We can handle simple.
Recipe: Summer Green-Bean Salad
Green beans are also known as string beans—because of the fiber “string” that used to grow up the side of each bean (and that had to be removed, bean by bean, before you could cook them). Those fibers are largely a thing of the past now. Modern agriculture has developed stringless beans with old-fashioned flavor.
Unlike many vegetables, green beans generally are not eaten raw. The raw beans contain high levels of lectins, which can be harmful if consumed in excess (among other things, they can cause gastrointestinal distress). More to the point, though, cooking tenderizes green beans and releases their flavor.
Long-cooked beans (like our Southern Green Beans with Bacon) can be delicious. But for most recipes, we prefer beans that retain just a bit of snap. So for this dish, we suggest cooking the beans until they’re tender, but still a bit firm to the bite.
BTW, feel free to “eyeball” ingredient quantities for this recipe. Or substitute other ingredients for the ones specified. We offer some suggestions in the Notes.
This recipe takes about 15 minutes of active prep time. However, you need to allow about 30 minutes for the cooked beans to dry off. And the dish tastes best if you marinate the beans in vinaigrette for an hour or two. So plan on starting this dish 2 or 3 hours before you’ll be serving it.
The recipe serves about 4 as a starter course, or 6 as a side dish. Leftovers (ha!) keep for a day or two if refrigerated in an airtight container.
For the green beans:
- ~1 pound green beans
- ~2 tablespoons Kosher salt (for seasoning the cooking water; see Notes)
- ~½ red onion (you can substitute a mild onion like Vidalia, although it won’t be as colorful)
- ~1 sweet red bell pepper
- 1 or 2 cloves garlic, minced fine (to taste)
- 2 tablespoons wine vinegar or lemon juice (or a combo of the two)
- 6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 1 or 2 tablespoons chopped herb of choice (optional; we like parsley or fresh thyme; but see Notes)
- salt to taste
- freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Cook the green beans: Place a large pot of water (at least 4 quarts, but use a bigger cooking pot if you have one) on to boil. Meanwhile, rinse the beans. Snap the ends off (you can snap off just the stem end if you wish, leaving the pointed tip on). When the water comes to a boil, add the salt, then add the beans to the boiling water. When the water returns to a boil, set a timer for 4 minutes. While the beans are cooking, prepare an ice bath to cool the cooked beans—add 5 or 6 handfuls of ice to a large bowl, and fill with cold water. At the 4-minute mark, start testing the beans for doneness—pull a bean out, rinse it under water to cool, and bite into it. You want the beans to be tender, but with a bit of “bite” to them. Cook the beans until they reach the stage of doneness you prefer. Typically, this is 5 or so minutes for us, but it could take as long as 8. When the beans are done, drain them in a colander, then add the drained beans to the bowl of ice water you’ve prepared. Let them sit in the ice water for a couple of minutes to cool down, then drain the beans again. Spread the green beans on a kitchen towel to dry.
- Prepare the red onion: Peel the onion and cut it into thin slices or dice of ½ inch or so. Set aside.
- Wash the red bell pepper, then cut it into thin slices or dice of ½ inch or so. Set aside.
- Make the vinaigrette: Peel the garlic and mince it well (or whirl it in a mini-food processor). Place the garlic in a small jar or bowl that has a cover. Add the vinegar and/or lemon juice to the container. Add the olive oil, then cover the mixing container. Shake the container vigorously to combine all ingredients. Add the herb, if using, along with salt and pepper to taste. Shake again to combine. Set aside until ready to use.
- When the green beans are dry, place them in a large bowl. Add the sliced or diced red onion and red bell pepper. Add the vinaigrette and toss well to combine. Taste a bean, then adjust the salt and pepper if necessary.
- You can serve the green beans immediately, but we think they taste better if you marinate them for an hour or two in the fridge before serving (just place the green-bean mixture in an airtight container).
- In some parts of the US, green beans are also called snap beans.
- Green beans range in shape from very thin to rather fat. Any kind will work in this dish, but try to make sure the beans you buy all have more or less the same diameter—they’ll cook more evenly that way.
- When buying green beans, snap one in half. Fresh beans snap crisply, and often are a bit juicy where you’ve snapped them.
- Why use an ice bath in Step 1? To stop the cooking process. It also helps preserve some color (the longer you cook green beans, the less bright they become).
- We strongly recommend serving this dish only during the spring or summer—using fresh, local beans. Out-of-season green beans just don’t have the same flavor.
- We like to serve this dish in place of salad at the start of a meal. It also makes a great side, especially for a picnic or cookout.
- You should salt the water heavily when you cook the green beans (Step 1)—this helps season them. We use Kosher salt, which is less salty by volume than regular table salt (because its crystals are larger). If using table salt, you may want to reduce the amount by about half.
- You can substitute ingredients in this dish to suit your taste. Shallots make a nice substitute for red onions. Canned pimento works well in place of fresh bell pepper.
- Feel free to add other ingredients too. Maybe a bit of cooked zucchini or corn. Or some hot peppers if you want to jazz it up a bit. If an ingredient sounds good to you in this dish, it probably will be.
- Much of the flavor in this dish comes from the extra virgin olive oil and wine vinegar (or lemon). So make sure you use good quality.
- We sometimes skip the optional herb when making this dish (especially since the other ingredients add plenty of flavor). But it does add a nice touch. As noted above, we particularly like parsley or fresh thyme. Chives are also nice, as is mint. But use whatever herb you have on hand—it will probably taste good in this dish.
“Yum, great flavor for such a simple dish,” said Mrs. Kitchen Riffs.
“Easy as bean bag,” I said. “Perfect for hot weather.”
“That’s using your bean,” said Mrs K R.
“Hey, I’m one smart human bean,” I said.
“True,” said Mrs K R. “You’re a regular Mr. Bean.”
Yes! Hey wait a minute . . . .
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