The garden diet

Henri goes green, grows green beans

photo by Matt MacGillivray (via flickr)

It was supposed to be a check-up, not a lecture. Weight, cholesterol, alcohol: bad, bad, bad. Apparently Henri’s lifestyle does not meet with the approval of the well-intentioned Dr. Epinards, who had the gall to suggest, again, that I get some exercise. Even once a week, he said. Once a month.

I hastened to remind him of my frustrating attempt to find a home treadmill with a decent cup holder for my wine glass and how the “personal trainer” I hired quit after my first three appointments—even though I apologized for not showing up. (A side note to the good doctor’s receptionist: Henri heard your crack about his body being shaped like a food pyramid—and he was not in the least bit amused.)

Having said that, Henri does admit that perhaps he could benefit from a minor tune-up—especially if he wants to look at all sexy this summer in his new shorts from Tommy Hilfiger and his Ralph Lauren blazer. And, truth be told, I had just been thinking fondly back to last summer and the green beans that Jonathan and I grew. We ate them right off the vine in our lawn chairs and washed them down with Tanqueray-and-tonics—Jonathan in his little cut-offs and L.L. Bean gardening clogs. We braised them and boiled them and used them in salads through September.

Green (or snap or string) beans are rich in vitamins K, A and C and other nutrients. They’re extremely easy to grow and produce abundantly from late spring through early fall. While there are dozens of different varieties, most are available as either climbing “pole” beans or self-supporting “bush” beans. Henri’s favorites among the many varieties that do well in the North Valley are Blue Lake and Kentucky Wonder.

Green beans should be planted in well-drained soil where they’ll get lots of sun. Plant bush beans in rows about 3 feet apart. Pole beans can be planted around a “teepee” made from three or four bamboo stakes tied together at the tops or along a fence with something for the plant to vine around—such as a wooden trellis or even string or wire strung between nails.

Prepare the soil by turning it over and breaking up large clods down to about eight inches. Then dig a furrow two or three inches deep and sprinkle in a small amount of fertilizer. Cover with loose soil and then plant the beans three or four inches apart, cover, and moisten thoroughly. Do not water again until seedlings begin to appear, after which you should keep the soil moist.

Pods should begin to appear in 50-70 days, depending on variety and weather. It’s best to harvest the beans when they’re slightly immature, and you should continue to harvest every five or six days—wait too long, and the beans get hard and stringy (and the plants think they’re done and will stop producing). If you don’t have the sun and space to grow your own, our local farmers’ markets always have excellent selections, including some gorgeous Asian varieties grown by local Hmong farmers.

The following is one of Henri’s favorite recipes for green beans (slightly modified from a recipe in Cook’s Country magazine). The peppers and garlic give it a bit of bite, and the cashews make it wonderfully crunchy. Excellent with grilled salmon and a glass or two of sauvignon blanc. Also good chilled.

Green beans with buttered cashews

2 tbsp. butter

1/2 cup lightly salted cashews, chopped very fine

1 tsp. red pepper flakes (less if you don’t want them as spicy)

1/2 cup orange juice

1 clove garlic, minced

1 lb. green beans, stems and ends snapped off

1/2 tsp. salt

Heat the butter in large skillet over medium-high heat until foamy. Add cashews and pepper flakes and cook, stirring constantly, for a minute or two. Transfer mixture to small bowl.

Wipe out the skillet and return to medium-high heat. Add orange juice and salt and bring to boil. Add beans and garlic, cover, lower heat, and simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are tender and liquid has reduced (about 20 minutes).

Transfer beans to serving dish and sprinkle the cashews over the top.