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It's the season of overflowing market bags, heavy CSA boxes, and gardens run amok. Alexandra Stafford of Alexandra Cooks is showing us how to store, prep, and make the most of the bounty, without wasting a scrap.
Today: Discover all the ways you can get through your haul of beautiful green beans, starting with Madhur Jaffrey's spicy, vegan Masaledar Sem.
My hope is that most of you are still relishing no-cook dinners; still keeping your spice drawer indefinitely closed; still cherishing just-picked string beans, sweet local corn, and finally ripe home-grown tomatoes.
Because this golden period of primal eating never lasts long enough, and before we know it we'll have moved on to corn puddings, summer vegetable stratas, and breadcrumb-topped gratins, easing the oven back into its in-season regimen.
If you find yourself already looking forward to some cooler evenings, or want to mentally prepare for the change of seasons, here's a great dish to add to your late-summer repertoire: Madhur Jaffrey's Masaledar Sem, spicy green beans cooked with ginger, garlic, and chilies.
In masaledar sem, green beans simmer with both whole and ground spices as well as with a ginger-garlic paste, all of which combine to create an incredibly complex-tasting sauce, certain flavors detectable, others indiscernible. In Indian Cooking, Jaffrey describes this synergistic effect as "the genius of Indian cooking," explaining that "depending on how [spices] are used -- whole, ground, roasted, fried -- they can be coaxed into producing a much larger spectrum than you might first imagine."
More: But what of green beans' flatter cousin, Romano beans? There's an article for them, too.
Here, whole cumin seeds and crushed chile sizzle in hot oil first, instantly releasing a roasted, piney aroma. Next, a purée made with a substantial knob of ginger and 10 cloves of garlic browns briefly in the cumin-and-chile-flavored oil, forming the base of the sauce and providing a serious kick. A sprinkling of roasted and ground cumin seeds, a fine powder that only faintly resembles pre-ground jarred cumin, finishes the dish. Without these different treatments of the spices and seasonings, the depth of flavor in the sauce would be lost.
Masaledar sem certainly could be served as a side to chicken or pork -- or any meat, really -- but it also makes a lovely vegetarian entrée. Steamed basmati rice, warm naan, and a dollop of yogurt make it a complete meal -- perhaps not as elegant as blanched haricots verts sprinkled with sea salt, but a lovely showcase nonetheless of one of the most prized gifts of summer.
To store and prep your green beans:
- Green beans, also known as string beans, will keep for about a week stored in a bag in the fridge, but are best eaten shortly after being picked. The beans will be crisp and stiff when fresh, but will turn flaccid if they spend too much time in the fridge. At the first sign of discoloration (look for brown spots dotting the bean), they should be cooked and eaten immediately.
- Before cooking, discard any mushy, brown, or desiccated beans, then snap off the tip, or stem, end using your hands or a knife -- however you feel most comfortable. The delicate tail end can be left intact.
More ways to cook your green beans:
- Perhaps the simplest way to cook fresh green beans is in boiling, salted water for 3 to 4 minutes or until tender. Drain and toss them with olive oil or butter, salt, and freshly cracked pepper. Herbs such as chives, tarragon, basil -- any herb, really -- nicely complement green beans. Cooked beans are best eaten right away.
- To dress up boiled green beans, toss them with a tapenade, a light mustard vinaigrette, or a creamy crème fraîche dressing.
- Green beans are a favorite addition to summer potato salads and Salad Niçoise, and are, of course, the main show of the holiday staple green bean casserole.
- Green beans and tomatoes are a lovely match. For a fresh salad, after boiling the beans, drain and spread them out to cool. Shocking the beans in cold water helps them retain their bright color, but some cooks may argue this technique can also strip the beans of some of their flavor -- I've never found shocking to cause any harm, but just beware. If serving the salad right away, toss the beans and chopped tomatoes (cherry are nice) with a simple vinaigrette. Wait to dress the vegetables (the beans especially) if serving the salad later in the day -- the beans will lose their bright color if they sit in vinegar for too long.
- Green beans can be slow-cooked, too. A popular Greek dish, fasolakia, calls for braising beans with tomatoes or tomato sauce and herbs and often finishing the dish with a handful of feta. Green beans can be slow-simmered in a flavorful liquid (stock, wine, vinegar, aromatics) or quickly simmered, as they are here, with ginger, garlic, and spices.
- Green beans can be stir-fried, dry-fried with preserved vegetables, or deep-fried and coated in a light tempura batter.
- They also can be seared and cooked in their own juices with nothing more than butter, garlic, and salt.
- Beans can be both pickled and fermented.
1 1/2 pounds (750 grams) fresh green beans
1 piece fresh ginger 1 1/2 inches (4 centimeters) long and 1 inch (2 1/2 centimeters) thick, peeled and coarsely chopped
10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 1/2 cups (350 milliliters) water, divided
5 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 dried hot chile, lightly crushed in a mortar, or a pinch of crushed red pepper flakes
2 teaspoons ground coriander
2 medium tomatoes, peeled (optional) and finely chopped
1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt (or more or less to taste)
1 lemon, halved
1 teaspoon ground, roasted cumin
Freshly cracked black pepper
Photos by Alexandra Stafford