Rhapsodizing about the glories of seasonal produce is de rigueur for food bloggers. Gushing about the superior flavor of a dew-covered strawberry just picked from the field, celebrating the ugly beauty of a lumpy heirloom tomato, buying a dozen ears of sweet corn from a roadside stand and eating them all in one sitting--these moments are set into prose again and again and again because there is a glorious truth to them. The sweetness of strawberries from the u-pick farm down the road will always surpass the vague strawberry flavor of pale red giants from California, heirloom tomatoes are more photogenic than their bred-for-easy-transport counterparts, and corn on the cob from Florida is a sad imitation of the local version. But there is a downside to eating local, occasionally hinted in recipe round-ups about what to do with an abundance of tomatoes or zucchini: monotony.
This isn't as much of an issue for farmer's market shoppers, since they can pick and choose what to buy for dinner. But for CSA subscribers and avid gardeners, the season's bounty can seem like a be-careful-what-you-wish-for fairy tale come to life. Just as the mountains of lettuce start to diminish, there are piles of zucchini, green beans, and cucumbers, then heaps of tomatoes, and finally a profusion of apples. I can cope with eating giant salads for dinner three nights a week, I have an arsenal of zucchini recipes, and I have yet to reach the upper limit of how many cucumbers I can eat in one sitting. The chest freezer has ample room for several batches of tomato sauce and applesauce. Where the whole eat-local-and-be-happy enterprise starts to falter is the green beans.
At some point in the not-so-distant past, before blogging and Mike and responsible adulthood, I ate raw green beans from my dad's garden by the handful. In the intervening years, the hefty bags of green beans that are frequent flyers in our CSA boxes have faded the vegetable's appeal considerably. I can only force down so many raw and steamed green beans a week, especially on top of all the cucumbers and zucchini. Occasionally, Mike prepares himself a plate of green beans with a mustard-bacon vinaigrette, but his green bean consumption threshold is lower than mine. At a particularly low point last year, with two bags of green beans in the refrigerator and another one on the way, I hit upon the solution. As many of my culinary revelations do, it began with my beloved copy of Mollie Katzen's The Heart of the Plate.
I had dismissed this recipe on my initial perusal of the cookbook because of the sesame oil--it's not an ingredient that I typically keep in my pantry. However, I was able to find it in the ethnic foods section of my local grocery store, and the nutty flavor it adds transforms the green beans from something Mike and I have to eat into something that we want to eat. This small miracle is well worth $5.99 for a 15-ounce bottle and the loss of some pantry shelf real estate.
This recipe would probably be easiest to prepare in a wok, but I make do with my Dutch oven. I usually serve the beans over rice to make a meal, but they also work as a side dish.
Adapted from The Heart of the Plate by Mollie Katzen
- 2 tablespoons sesame oil
- 4 cups green beans, trimmed
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 clove garlic, minced
- 2-3 pinches of crushed red pepper
- 1 tablespoon sesame seeds
Heat wok or Dutch oven over medium heat. Add sesame oil and tilt to coat evenly. Add the beans and 1/4 teaspoon salt and increase heat to medium-high. Cook, tossing constantly to coat the beans with oil and salt, for two minutes.
Add the garlic and 2 pinches of crushed red pepper. Continue to cook, tossing constantly, until beans are crisp-tender, about one minute. Remove from heat and stir in the sesame seeds. Add additional 1/4 teaspoon salt and pinch of crushed red pepper to taste, if desired.