Green beans are just coming into season here in Oklahoma. Soon farm stand displays will be piled high with voluptuous kelly green mountains, which, if past patterns continue, will disappear in the first hour the farmers’ markets open.
During the springtime harvest, green beans are more like a faithful sidekick than just any old side dish. They are the reliable weeknight dinner option: not just sluggishly getting the job done, like canned green beans, but also making sure we’re getting a healthy dose of vitamins and minerals in the process.
Of course, inspiration can sometimes fall flat, even with farm-fresh produce. In the old days, my family ate green beans one of two ways: steamed until tender, or served cool with chopped tomatoes, olive oil and vinegar. That’s it. After 32 years of eating green beans the same way, I decided it was time to mix things up a bit.
Thankfully, the last two years of cooking the world from my kitchen has taught me that there are countless creative ways to enjoy green beans. Since they can grow in almost every corner of the world, most cultures use them in their cuisine. Best of all, what is normal to someone halfway around the world is often just the ticket to totally shake up my weeknight routine.
Thanks to globalization, I can model my family’s meal on recipes from families in a distant corner of the world – from entire cultures I’ll likely never meet. And yet, eating food from their table makes the world seem a little friendlier – a little smaller. My favorites hit nearly every continent. In snowy Austria, they adorn their green beans with soft onions and salty speck, a bacon-like cured meat. In arid Algeria, the people like to infuse them with an intense blast of woodsy clove. All over West Africa, green beans are loaded up in Jollof, a rice casserole made many ways, but typically with ham, onions and spices. The green beans make a striking contrast to the rice, which is stained red from cooking in tomato sauce. In steamy, tropical Indonesia, the people cool off with Gado Gado, a cold vegetable salad served with peanut dressing. Not too far away, in central Asia, they top steamed green beans with a slightly tangy tomato sauce thickened with sour cream. In Guyana, South America, they gobble up their green beans in Guyanese Chow Mein. (Bet you didn’t see that one coming.)
My favorite new way to prepare green beans falls in the comfort food category – Green Bean Soup from Luxembourg. With this recipe, this teeny, tiny country in Europe has managed to capture springtime in a soup bowl. The broth is light and healthy, made with a mountain of green beans, a handful of potatoes, and bit of onion and celeriac. Because the aromatics are not browned, but simply cooked until soft in water, the resulting flavor is clean and bright. Tradition dictates that the green bean soup get topped with bits of crumbled bacon and German-style sausage, which takes this soup from vegetarian to a meat-lover’s delight. The choice, as ever, is yours.
Sasha Martin is cooking one meal for every country in the world. Her picky husband and baby girl are along for the ride. Join the adventure for recipes, reviews and more at www.globaltableadventure.com.