You can serve fresh, raw sliced snap beans with a dipping sauce or you can sauté them and then toss them with diced potatoes and a little onion and bacon for a hot bean salad.
Simpler yet, just top and tail snap beans and cook them in boiling water for 5 minutes and serve them as an accompaniment to meat or poultry or fish. You can go wild by just adding a dab of butter.
When you look for snap beans at your farmers’ market, you will find considerable variety. There are many types of snap beans including purple, yellow, creamy white, and green, and snap beans can be flat or round.
Snap beans are also called green beans but they are also called baby French green beans, filets, flat green beans, French beans, haricot verts (in French), Italian green beans, Romano beans, pole beans, bush beans, string beans, stringless beans, wax beans, and yellow beans.
Probably the two most commonly grown beans are the green snap bean and the yellow or wax bean. Green snap beans are rarely called string beans anymore because the fibrous side strings have almost been wholly bred out of the species.
All of these beans are called snap beans for the sound they make when they are broken in half.
The peak season for fresh local snap beans is late spring through late fall, May through October in the Northern Hemisphere.
Snap beans are tender annuals that grow on bushes or vines depending upon the variety. The leaves are composed of three leaflets and the pods can be round, flat or curved in shape. The pods are usually 3 to 8 inches (7.5-20 cm) long, pencil thick to about ¾ inch (2 cm) in diameter. They can be colored green, yellow, purple, red or green flecked with purple.
Both the immature seeds and seed pods are edible.
The varying names of snap beans are mostly descriptive. Here are the snap beans you are likely to find at your farm market:
• Green snap bean. There are many cultivars of this bean; all are green in color. Green snap beans were once commonly called “string beans” which referred to the tough filament or string that ran the length of some cultivars. The string is largely absent from snap beans today.
• Yellow snap bean. This bean is similar to the green snap bean except for its yellow color and somewhat waxy texture. That’s why yellow snap beans are also called wax beans.
• Purple snap bean. This bean has a velvety skin which is dark, dark purple. When cooked, this bean turns green.
• Filet bean or French bean or haricots verts. This is a style of green bean that is exceptionally slender and stringless. These beans are usually ⅛ inch (.3 cm) in diameter. They have long been a favorite in France. There are yellow and purple filet-style beans. Haricot means “bean” in French and vert translates as “green.”
• Italian flat bean, Roma, or Romano bean. These beans have flattened pods, not plump. They can be green, yellow, or purple in color.
• Dragon Tongue bean and Tongue of Fire bean. The Dragon Tongue bean is yellow in color and similar to the yellow or wax bean but with violet splashes across its skin. The Tongue of Fire bean is green skinned with violet splashes.
• Dutch flat pole bean. This green snap bean has flat, tender pods about 10 inches (25 cm) long. This bean is a favorite in the Netherlands.
Snap beans originated in Southern Mexico and Guatemala. The cultivation of snap beans dates to at least 8,000 B.C.
Choose: Select beans that are clean, crisp, well-shaped and smooth. Green snap beans should have a velvety skin. If the beans have been snipped at the ends, the cut ends should be green and moist.
Avoid snap beans where you can see the shape of the beans inside the pod. These beans are too mature to be eaten as fresh snap beans.
Store: Snap beans will keep in the vegetable compartment of the refrigerator for about 5 days. Wash the beans to maintain their moisture before storing them. Do not snap off the ends until you are ready to cook them.
Snap beans can be blanched and frozen for up to 3 months.
Kitchen tips: Eat snap beans raw or lightly cooked. Use snap beans in casseroles, braises, soups, and quiches.
Simmer green beans 5 to 15 minutes if whole, 4 to 10 minutes if cut up. Add about 3 to 5 minutes to steam snap beans.
Sauté or stir-fry snap beans after you have broken or cut them into small, uniform pieces.
Serve snap beans plain or topped with plain for flavored butter or margarine, vinaigrette dressing, plain or flavored mayonnaise, white sauce, melted cheese or cheese sauce, sour cream, or plain yogurts.
Season snap beans with salt, pepper, onion, garlic, dill, marjoram, turmeric, savory, basil, paprika, oregano, tarragon, allspice, mustard, caraway seed, sesame seed, mace, nutmeg, mint, parsley, sage, rosemary, or thyme.
Serve snap beans alone or mixed with cooked onions, carrots, tomatoes, mushrooms, corn, celery, sweet bell peppers, pimientos, winter squash, water chestnuts, sliced almonds, bacon, or ham.
Nutrition: Beans are rich in vitamins A, B, and C, and also calcium, phosphorus, iron, fiber, and protein. A medium serving of snap beans contains about 43 calories.
The botanical name of snap beans is Phaseolus vulgaris.