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Beans, fresh

Why Eat It
Varieties
Availability
Shopping
Storage
Preparation
Nutrition Chart


Why Eat It

Of the many types of edible beans, only a few varieties are eaten fresh--the familiar green snap beans, yellow wax beans, and scarlet runner beans among them. Although dried beans are more concentrated sources of complex carbohydrates and other nutrients, fresh beans do offer some vitamin C, folate, iron, and, if they're deep green in color, some beta-carotene.

Fresh beans can be classified into two basic categories: Edible-pod beans and shell beans. Green and other snap beans, and Chinese long beans, belong to the first category, while lima beans and fava beans, among others, are picked when their seeds (the beans) are midway in development between snap and dried phases.

Varieties

EDIBLE-POD BEANS
There are many delicious varieties of edible-pod beans on the market. (See also Peas, fresh)

Chinese long beans: Originally from Asia, these mild-tasting, thin green beans--also called "yard-long" or "asparagus" beans--can measure up to 18" long. When young and tender, long beans are good for stir-frying. Look for them in Asian markets.

Haricots verts: These French snap beans are not much thicker than shoelaces. You'll probably have to go to a specialty market--and pay a premium price--for these slender beans.

Italian green beans: Also called Romano beans, these are distinguished by broad, flat, bright green pods. They are most often available in frozen form, but can also be found fresh in local farmers' markets and specialty stores.

Purple wax beans: Similar to small yellow wax beans, these have a dark purple pod that turns green when cooked.

Scarlet runner beans: The pods are broad, flat, and green; the seeds are scarlet. These beans also have an edible blossom that may be red or white.

Snap beans: These most popular fresh beans are sometimes still called "string beans" although the fibrous "string" that ran along the seam of the bean does not exist in modern varieties. Snap beans are actually immature kidney beans, and their pods can be flat, oval, or rounded. The most familiar types are green beans and yellow wax beans, which are identical in taste and texture (yellow beans, however, contain less beta-carotene).

SHELL BEANS
Cranberry beans: These beans--so named because of the red markings on both the white pods and the beans themselves--are occasionally available fresh. They are usually served as a side dish or added to soups and stews.

Fava beans: Some people prefer the taste and texture of these beans to lima beans, which favas closely resemble. Also called broad beans, their pods are longer than those of limas--up to 18"--with larger beans. Favas can be enjoyed cold in salads or hot as a side dish.

Lima beans: The most common shell bean in the United States, limas are named after the capital of Peru, where they have been cultivated since about 5,000 BC. Nearly all of the domestic crop is marketed frozen or canned, but you can sometimes find fresh limas sold in their pods. For more information, see Lima beans.

Soybeans: See Soybeans.

Availability

Snap beans are available year round in good volume, but the supply and the quality of most varieties tends to be best in summer and early fall.

Fresh shell beans are generally available for only a few months of the year--lima beans and cranberry beans from mid-summer through early fall; fava beans from late spring though early summer; and soybeans in summer and fall.

Shopping

The best way to choose edible pod beans is at a market that sells them loose so that you can pick out beans of equal size (for uniform cooking), free of rusty spots or scars. The beans should have a fresh, vivid color and a velvety feel, and they should be straight and slender (no thicker than a pencil), with a firm texture. When broken, they should snap crisply (although the very thin haricots verts are not as crisp). If snap bean pods are very stiff, or the seeds are visible through the pod, the beans are overly mature and will be tough and leathery.

Shell beans should bulge through a tightly closed pod; feel the pods to be sure the beans inside are firm. If they are sold shelled, the beans should be plump and tight-skinned. Shelled limas should be grass green (chalky white limas will be starchy), favas should be a lighter gray green, and cranberry beans should be splashed with bright color. Soybean pods contain 2 to 4 beans per pod and should be plump and well filled, with no signs of browning.

Storage

Keep fresh beans in perforated plastic bags in the refrigerator crisper; edible pod beans will stay fresh for 3 to 5 days, shell beans for 2 or 3 days. Refrigerate shelled beans in a plastic bag and use them within a day or two.

Preparation

EDIBLE POD BEANS
Wash the beans, then snap or trim both ends of each bean. Leave the beans whole for cooking or cut them crosswise or diagonally into 1" to 2" lengths. Slicing beans lengthwise, "French style," should be done only with beans that are old and tough; it robs young beans of their crisp texture and allows their sweet flavor to cook out.

There are many ways to cook snap beans; whatever method you use, be sure not to overcook them. Otherwise, they will lose their brilliant color and crisp-tender bite, and be depleted of much of the vitamin content.

Blanching: A relatively brief immersion in lots of rapidly boiling water will insure that snap beans retain their bright color while also tenderizing them. Snap beans can be precooked by blanching, then quickly reheated in a little stock at mealtime (a favorite restaurant method). Drop a few beans at a time (whole or cut-up) into a large pot of boiling water so that the water continues to boil; cook to the desired doneness. Drain and serve them while they are still al dente, or cook them until they are more tender, as you prefer. Drain the beans (cool them under cold water if you are going to serve them cold). Cooking time: 5 to 8 minutes.

Microwaving: Place a pound of cut snap beans in a microwavable dish with 1/4 cup of water or broth; cover and cook until tender, stirring beans midway through cooking. Cooking time: 5 to 10 minutes.

Steaming: Use a steamer basket over boiling water or cook the beans in a small amount of boiling water in a tightly covered pot. Cooking time: about 3 to 5 minutes.

Stir-frying: Cut beans into 1" lengths and stir-fry with thin strips of beef or poultry, or in combination with vegetables such as broccoli, mushrooms, or water chestnuts. Cooking time: 2 to 5 minutes.

SHELL BEANS
To remove shell beans from the pod, split the pod open and push out the beans with your thumb; rinse the shelled beans before cooking. It may be easier to open the pod if you shave the seam of the curved side with a paring knife or vegetable peeler. Large fava beans not only need to be shelled, but their tough skins must be peeled either before or after cooking; small, young favas need not be skinned. To peel the raw beans, split the skin with your thumbnail or a sharp paring knife. The skins of cooked favas will slip off easily.

Boiling:Shell beans can be simmered in water or stock. Place the beans in a pot with boiling liquid to cover. Cover the pot, reduce the heat, and simmer the beans until tender. Beans can also be cooked with onions, garlic, tomatoes and other seasonings. Cooking time: 5 to 20 minutes (the shortest time is for baby limas; the longest is for large fava beans).

Microwaving: Place 2 cups of shell beans in a dish with 1 tablespoon of water, cover, and cook until tender, stirring beans midway through cooking. Cooking time: 4 to 8 minutes.

Steaming: Steam shell beans over boiling water. Cooking time: 5 to 20 minutes.

Nutrition Chart

Green & Wax Beans/1 cup cooked

44
Total fat (g)
0.4
Saturated fat (g)
0.1
Monounsaturated fat (g)
0
Polyunsaturated fat (g)
0.2
Dietary fiber (g)
4
2
Carbohydrate (g)
10
Cholesterol (mg)
0
Sodium (mg)
4
Manganese (mg)
0.4


Date Published: 04/19/2005
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