FULL OF BEANS

Q: What does the term ‘Three Sisters’ have to do with beans? 

After a difficult start due to wet weather conditions, the winter bean season will be kicking into gear over the next few weeks. So to help you get the most of out these nutritious, tasty pods we’re spilling the beans (pardon the pun) on what to watch out for this season. 

Beans have played a powerful role in the development of civilisation as we know it, due to their simple cultivation, high protein/amino-acid content and ability to rejuvenate the soil in which they grow. Beans are loaded with vitamins, minerals and protein which is highly valuable to those who have limited meat in their diet or choose to forego it altogether. 

Fresh beans varieties can be divided into two categories: edible pods and edible seeds. The beans eaten ‘pod and all’ are picked immature and crisp, while shell beans (those we eat for their seeds) are picked when the pods are swollen (but still not fully mature) so the seeds are meaty but tender. If the beans are allowed to fully mature, the resulting seeds are classified as ‘dried’ beans, which require different preparation methods to their fresh counterparts. 

Beyond these distinctions, when buying edible pod varieties such as green beans (or baby green beans), it is important to differentiate between hand and machine picked pods. Machine-picked beans are more cost-effective, however the manner in which they are harvested can cause damage or bruising that blackens when cooked. Therefore if the appearance of the beans is important for the dish, opt for hand-picked, they may be a little more expensive but they are much less likely to display these kinds of flaws. The tough string which gave these beans their ‘string bean’ mantle has now been all but made redundant due to selective breeding of non-string varieties, however some flatter varieties do still need to have the string removed.

Getting the most out of fresh beans can be difficult, with some bean varieties having multiple names, or even worse the same name being applied to completely different beans. Here’s our guide to the beans we’re buying this Autumn/Winter season.  

EDIBLE PODS: 

Image: Simon George & Sons

GREEN BEANS: aka French beans, snap beans, string beans, common beans, haricot vert

What: most common fresh bean in Australia, these are crisp and juicy with barely noticeable seeds 

Availability: all year, best May – Jul and Sept-Oct

Appearance: can be flat or round but all have approximately finger length crisp pods. Most commonly green with small light green seeds inside, however they are also available in pale yellow or purple varieties

Selection: choose beans that are firm, crisp with no soft spots or obvious damage  -avoid those with obvious seed bumps, as this means they are over-mature

Storage: store in a plastic bag in refrigerator, unwashed

Prep: trim stem end, cook uncovered in lots of water to stop the colour darkening 

Best for: stir-fry, blanch and serve as a side-dish or in a salad

 

BABY GREEN BEANS: 

What: small, very immature green beans, slightly more expensive but offer a wonderful crisp, sweet bean flavour

Availability: all year, best May – Jul and Sept-Oct

Appearance: can be flat or round but all have approximately finger length crisp pods. 

Selection: choose beans that are firm, crisp with no soft spots or obvious damage

Storage: store in a plastic bag in refrigerator, unwashed

Prep: trim stem end, cook uncovered in lots of water to stop the colour darkening

Best for: interchangeable with green beans, just more delicate in appearance

 

SNAKE BEANS: aka yard long bean, Chinese long bean

Image: www.marketfresh.com.au

What: long, thin green bean very popular in Asian, Middle Eastern cuisines – eaten fresh or cooked

Availability: all year, best Dec-May

Appearance: very long, thin olive-green pod that bends and constricts as it matures

Selection: firm, slender beans with minimal external damage i.e. bruising or yellowing

Storage: best fresh so buy as required, store in plastic bag in refrigerator

Prep: trim stem- end, snake beans are stringless so chop and cook as desired

Best for: Asian and Iraqi cuisine- best stir-fried or braised, otherwise use much like a green bean once chopped (soups, curries, salads)

 

ROMAN BEANS: aka Continental bean, Italian Flat 

Image: Simon George & Sons

What: a large flat bean that is used while immature and crisp

Availability: all year

Appearance: long, flat pale green pod that is slightly curved. 

Selection: bright, firm beans with no signs of bruising or discolouration – should snap when broken

Storage: store in a plastic bag in refrigerator, unwashed

Prep: trim stem end, cook uncovered in lots of water to stop the colour darkening

Best for: used interchangeably with green beans however the flat pod and larger seeds offers a very different texture

 

BUTTER BEANS: aka yellow wax pole beans

Image: Simon George & Sons

What: the yellow green bean

Availability: Dec – Jun

Appearance: yellow pod with slight ridging on the sides, houses small white-pale yellow seeds

Selection: look for crisp, firm pods that are bright in colour 

Storage: store in a plastic bag in refrigerator, unwashed

Prep: trim stem end, cook uncovered in lots of water to stop the colour darkening

Best for: adding colour and crisp, juicy texture to a dish

 

EDIBLE SEEDS: 

BROAD BEANS: aka Lima Beans (dried), Fava Beans (mature)

Image: Simon George & Sons

What: thick bean – grown mainly for the delicious seed, however can be eaten fresh when immature

Availability: Jun – Dec – there are some early season broad beans on the market now but in short supply

Appearance: leathery, round pod with a distinctly pointed tip – changes from green to black-brown as it matures. Seed is large and flat contained within a cotton-like lining

Selection: look for moist, firm beans. Smaller pods mean the beans inside will be smaller but also more delicate of flavour

Storage: store in a plastic bag in refrigerator, unwashed

Pod vs Seed: seed – though when immature and crisp (under 12cm) they are sometimes prepared like a green bean

Prep: double shell for best possible flavour: shell seed, then blanch, drain, rinse and peel off the tough outer skin

Best for: used widely in all manner of ways; in pastas, casseroles, soups, side-dishes, roasting, purees, dips,  salads, 

 

BORLOTTI BEANS: aka cranberry beans

Image: Simon George & Sons

What: variety of kidney bean with a delicious creamy texture and slightly sweet, nutty flavour

Availability: all year, best Mar – May

Appearance: beige pod with purple marbling. Seed is speckled in the same colours as the pod, however they turn light brown when cooked

Selection: fresh, crisp pods that are full and brightly coloured- avoid any with signs of wilting or dampness

Storage: buy as required and store in a plastic bag in refrigerator, unwashed. To prolong life, shell, blanch, drain and freeze in airtight container/bag

Prep: shell and cook gently to prevent its skin from splitting

Best for: Italian and Portuguese cuisines- soups, stews, casseroles and salads

 

A: Broad beans are the only beans native to Europe, all other bean varieties were introduced following the discovery of the Americas by Christopher Columbus. It was observed that the indigenous people grew corn (maize), beans and squash together in a system later known as the ‘Three Sisters’. This was sustainable farming at its best!! The corn provided shelter for the squash and a trellis for the bean vines, the beans returned nitrogen to the soil crucial for the growth of the corn and the thick vines and coarse leaves of the squash  deterred predators from trampling or eating the crop. Simply brilliant.  




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