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Saturday, August 24, 2013

Green Beans Galore, what to do with an Abundance

Green beans are one of those garden vegetables that you look so forward to, yet once they start coming in, the plants may soon have you asking for help with the picking. Unless checked every two days or so, the beans soon become large and tough and the plants slow down in production. Many people plant the pole bean varieties for the reason that the bending with bush beans requires an ability to tolerate the strain on the back and knees. Once the chore is done and you are rewarded with an abundance of beans, the next question is what to do with them. Blanching and freezing are always an option, but if you are looking for recipes to use a lot of beans at once and as more than just a boring side dish, then perhaps you will like the following ideas.

This recipe is very popular with Mediterranean  cooking. Eaten along with orzo and some crusty bread for dipping in the juices, it can be hearty enough to be the main course.
Fassolakia prassina yahni

2 - 3 pounds string beans
1 - 2 pounds fresh tomatoes
2 medium size onions
1 cup olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh parsley
salt and pepper to taste

Trim the beans and either leave whole or snap into halves. Wash to remove any dirt from the garden.
Wash the tomatoes and cut up into quarters.
Peel and chop the onions.
Add the olive oil to a large pot (a cup might sound like a lot but remember olive oil is a very healthy oil and that amount is needed for the final consistency of this dish). Saute the onions until soft, followed by the tomatoes. Crush the tomatoes with your spoon to bring out their juices.
Add the green beans, parsley, salt and pepper.
Add enough water to bring almost cover the beans, about 3/4 full.
Bring to a boil, adjust the pot lid to allow evaporation, turn the heat down to a simmer.
This dish needs to be started hours ahead of meal time. The idea is for a slow simmer allowing time for the water to evaporate until only an oil remains as a sauce. 

Orzo is a pasta that looks like grains of rice. To just boil and strain like any other pasta is ok but finding a strainer with small enough holes to prevent the orzo from slipping through may be a challenge. My method of cooking is done a little differently. Add about a tablespoon of butter and enough olive oil to coat the orzo to a saute or frying pan. Heat slowly as not to brown the butter or smoke the olive oil. Add the orzo pasta and stir to coat. The idea is to saute just a bit to coat and flavor the orzo, it doesn't take long. Slowly add some salted water and using a spatula that can scrape the bottom of the pan, continuously stir the orzo to avoid clumping. You must stay with this to keep an eye on it. As the water is absorbed, add some more and continue stirring. Continue to do this until the orzo is tender but not mushy. Orzo should be served immediately to remain loose. If left sit in the pan it soon clumps and sticks together, which is ok but not as appealing upon serving.

Serve the orzo, along with the green beans and tomatoes, and a crusty bread for sopping up the delicious, oily sauce from the beans. Yum and very healthy!

Living in Pennsylvania Dutch country, many foods are pickled with sugar and vinegar. To use up a lot of green beans at once and keep in the refrigerator to keep until needed, this dish is very practical.

There isn't really a recipe for this dish. You just wash and trim the ends off enough beans to fill a large soup pot, add about two inches of water, bring to a boil, turn down to a simmer, and cook till tender but not too soft. You want them to hold their shape. Strain the beans but be sure to save the cooking water. As the beans cool in the strainer, add about a cup of sugar and a cup of apple cider vinegar to the saved cooking water. Stir to dissolve. Dump the cooled beans into a large bowl and top with the sugar/vinegar water. Stir to coat, cover the bowl and leave in the refrigerator for a few hours for the beans to absorb the flavors. I remember as kids, we were given a bowl of beans as a snack and ate them as finger food.

This last recipe is a slow cooker recipe that is a hearty meat and potato dish.
Total cooking time is about 4 1/2 hours.

Use a 5 quart crock pot
2 pounds fresh green beans, rinsed, trimmed and snapped in half
1 large onion, chopped
1 1/2 pound potatoes, peeled and quartered
2 - 3 ham hocks
1 teaspoon garlic powder
1 teaspoon onion powder
1 teaspoon seasoning salt
1 tablespoon chicken bouillon granules
ground black pepper to taste

Place the beans, onion and ham hocks in the crock pot. 
Add enough water to barely cover.
Cook on High until simmering. Reduce heat to Low and cook for 2 - 3 hours until beans are softening but not yet done.
Add the potatoes and cook for another 45 minutes.
Remove the ham hocks from the cooker and when cool enough to handle, remove the meat from the bones. Shred the meat and return to the crock pot.
Season with the garlic powder, onion powder, seasoning salt, bouillon, and pepper.
Continue to cook until the potatoes are done.
Taste to adjust the seasonings.
To serve, use a slotted spoon to dip out the beans, potatoes, and ham without having too much broth. If you want a soup like meal, then by all means serve with a ladle to catch the broth too.