Green beans, also known as snap beans or string beans, are my ultimate go-to. When I need a vegetable that can be steamed to crisp-tender perfection in about 5 minutes? Green beans. One that braises to silky, dense succulence in the oven while I get on with other tasks? Green beans. When I’m craving the deep browning of roasted vegetables but have only 20 minutes? You see where I’m going here—green beans are endlessly accommodating.
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Like chickpeas and lima beans, green beans are legumes, but their edible pods set them apart from the rest of the family. You’d think that a jade hue would also be a defining feature, but no: Pale‑yellow wax beans are green beans that have had the chlorophyll pigment bred out of them, and purple varieties, which contain an anthocyanin pigment that masks chlorophyll when the beans are raw (it recedes when cooked), are available in bean season. Shape and size vary even more widely than color. A cross section of a Blue Lake bean, the most common commercially grown green bean, is round, while a Romano bean is broad and flat. Haricots verts are delicately slim and petite, while Chinese long beans, also called yard-long beans, can grow to a length of 3 feet.
These three recipes all come together quickly, but the steamed haricots verts, with a less-than-5-minute cooking time, have to be one of the speediest cooked vegetable dishes going; they’re simple, but a sprinkle of shallot and mere slick of butter give these elegant beans a distinctly French flair. For our shrimp and long bean stir-fry, we borrow a technique from our skillet-charred green bean recipe: Steaming the beans in the microwave softens them, and then a stint in a hot wok blisters them, leaving them with an appealingly dense, satisfying chew and deep color and flavor. And our bean salad features Romano and wax beans that have been blanched briefly and then chilled in ice water so that they retain their bright colors and crisp textures, making the salad a refreshing addition to any late-summer cookout.