Do Not Be Gentle When Cooking Green Beans

Slate's Culture Blog
July 25 2012 2:48 PM

You’re Doing It Wrong: Green Beans

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Slow-braised green beans.

Photo by Juliana Jiménez Jaramillo for Slate.

Green beans, one of summer’s finest crops, appear to be a fine example of the maxim that gently cooked vegetables are better than severely cooked ones. Fresh green beans, steamed as lightly as possible and tossed with a little lemon juice and olive oil, are plump, crisp, and vibrantly green. They look as bouncy and exuberant as Carly Rae Jepsen. Meanwhile, overcooked green beans are droopy, mushy, and grayish, and sometimes smell suspiciously sulfurous. Given a choice between the two, the answer seems obvious.

L.V. Anderson L.V. Anderson

L.V. Anderson is a Slate assistant editor. She edits Slate's food and drink sections and writes Brow Beat's recipe column, You're Doing It Wrong. 

But the obvious answer is the wrong one. To be sure, a French-style preparation of blanched, lightly seasoned green beans isn’t exactly bad. But far better is the Turkish or Greek method of preparing green beans—namely, cooking the living daylights out of them.

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If the sight of these slow-braised green beans reminds you of canned green beans, the scourge of school cafeterias everywhere, you may be skeptical. Suspend your disbelief, if you can, because braised green beans have several things going for them that canned green beans do not. Aromatic onion and garlic, sweet tomato, and tart lemon counter any bitterness, while a healthy dose of olive oil lends the beans the luxurious mouthfeel that only fat can provide. Plus, crucially, these green beans aren’t merely overcooked; they’re so far beyond overcooked that they’ve practically transubstantiated. When you simmer green beans for a couple of hours, they become tangled, silky, and so tender that they nearly dissolve on your tongue.

And it takes very little effort to achieve this magical texture: All you have to do is throw all your ingredients into a pot, cover it, put it over a reasonably low heat, and wait for two hours. The hardest part, in fact, is trimming the beans before you cook them. You have to cut or snap off the stem end (the blunt rather than pointy end), which takes a while when you’re dealing with two pounds of beans. As with Jepsen’s latest, you’ll hate trimming the beans at first—but once you’ve tasted the finished product, you’ll do it again and again.

Slow-Braised Green Beans
Yield: 4 to 6 servings
Time: 2½ hours, mostly unattended

2 pounds green beans
1 large red onion, chopped
1 large tomato, chopped
⅓ cup extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lemon
2 garlic cloves, minced
Salt and black pepper
¼ cup chopped fresh dill (optional)
½ cup Greek yogurt (optional)

Put the green beans, onion, tomato, olive oil, lemon juice, and garlic in a medium pot. Add ⅔ cup water and season with salt and pepper. Cover and cook over medium-low heat until the green beans are so tender that they’re falling apart, about 2 hours. Stir in most of the dill if you’re using it. Taste and adjust the seasoning, and serve hot or at room temperature, garnished with the remaining dill and the yogurt if desired. (Store leftover green beans in an airtight container in the refrigerator for up to a few days.)

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