At the Farmers' Market: Beans!

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Dave Lieberman
Blue Lakes and wax beans

Beans, beans, good for your heart;
The more you eat them, the more you fart.
The more you fart, the better you feel,
So let's eat beans at every meal!

Now that I'm done regressing back to the fourth grade here, it is prime bean season, and by beans I mean string beans; green beans, wax beans and Romano beans.

Fact: if you left heirloom varieties of green bean on the vine, they'd turn into the kind of beans we associate with cassoulet and Mexican food.

The markets are currently overrun, and since the terminology can be a little bit confusing, let me set the record straight: no matter what kind of string beans (what our British colleagues call "runner beans") you buy, you can treat them all the same way with only small differences in taste.

Blue Lake beans are the archetypal American green bean, about a quarter of an inch in diameter. If you are picking loose specimens, try to avoid those with truly obvious bulges; it means the beans were picked somewhat late.

Haricots verts are French for "green beans". When bought around here, they refer to extremely small, crisp green beans, no more than about an eighth of an inch in diameter.

Wax beans, though once technically "waxy" in texture, are now really just yellow-colored Blue Lake-type beans.

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Dave Lieberman
Romano beans

Romano beans, however, are different: they are the immature pods of the borlotti, or cranberry bean, and are flat and bumpy (it is not really possible to get non-bumpy Romanos).

Whatever you do with them, you should make sure they are fresh (bend one in half; it should snap long before it curves over onto itself) and that there is no brown or slimy texture anywhere on the bean. Most people snip off the tough vine end of the bean, and some people snip off the thin blossom end of the bean (called "topping and tailing").

Beans can be eaten raw--they are excellent dipped in hummus--or, like everyone's parents used to do, they can be boiled or steamed. They lend themselves quite well, however, to being battered and deep-fried (shhh, don't tell the health police!). They pickle well, which is the idea behind three-bean salad, and thicker beans like Romano and Blue Lake even can be roasted with oil (three to five minutes at 400°F is plenty), which concentrates the flavor.


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