bowl of green beans

“Somewhere between the bottom of the climb and the summit is the answer to the mystery why we climb.” – Greg Child

Do you think plants ever have existential questions? You know: Why am I here? What am I good at? From my vantage point, it sure doesn’t look like it.

pole beans on the vine

The green beans in my backyard know their purpose on this Earth. They’re here to conquer the garden, produce a dizzying bounty, and reach the sky. There is a reason why Jack chose to climb a beanstalk, after all.

We’ve had fresh beans from the garden for nearly two months, and they show no signs of stopping. If I had half the grit of this prolific vegetable, by now I’d be a 3:15 marathoner, novelist, and one of those bloggers who posts everyday before breakfast. For now, I’ll settle for being an upstart gardener with a hankering for fresh produce. Who knows? Maybe a diet high in green beans will fortify my soul.

bowl of green beans

With crisp, tender beans and the snappy mustard dressing, this preparation is one of our favorites. It’s easy enough for a mid-week meal, but dressy enough for company. Consider the recipe below to be a jumping off point. I like to use whole grain mustard, but any mustard will do. Red onion, finely minced, can replace the shallots, too.

You can steam the beans instead of boiling them—but either way air on the side of caution. Nothing says cafeteria food like limp overcooked green beans. If you fear you’ve overdone it, a trick is to quickly plunge the beans in a bowl of ice water. I’ve salvaged more dinners than I care to admit this way. Another tactic: hide it under a sprinkle of feta. You’ll do better next time.

green beans with feta

Good Old French Bean Salad

Courtesy of Jamie Oliver

4 handfuls of French beans (haricots verts), stalk ends removed

2-3 heaping teaspoons good French mustard, to taste

2 tablespoons good-quality white wine vinegar

7 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper

1 medium shallot, peeled and finely chopped

½ clove of garlic, freshly grated

Optional: 1 tablespoon capers, a small handful of fresh chervil, a handful of feta

Bring a pan of water to a fast boil, add your beans, put a lid on the pan, and cook for 4-5 minutes. Meanwhile, put the mustard and vinegar into a jam jar or bowl and, while stirring, add the olive oil to make a good hot French dressing. Season carefully with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper, then add the finely chopped shallot, the capers if you’re using them, and the garlic.

Remove one of the beans from the pan to check if it’s cooked. If it holds its shape but is also soft to the bite, it’s perfect. Drain in a colander. Now, while the beans are steaming hot, this is the perfect moment to dress them—a hot bean will take on more of the wonderful dressing than a cold one. It is best to serve the beans warm, not cold, and certainly not at fridge temperature because the flavors will be muted and boring.

Serve the beans in a bowl, sprinkled with chervil if you like—it’s a delicate, crunchy herb that goes well with beans. Serve as a salad in its own right or as an accompaniment to a main meal.

French green bean salad