Green Bean

What to Do with an Overload of Green Beans

August 22, 2014

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.

Green Beans

Shop the Story

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.

Ingredients for Masaledar Sem

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.

Ginger and garlic

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.

Ginger Garlic Spices

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. 

Spicy Green Beans Recipe

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.

Trimmed Green Beans

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.

Cut Green Beans

Madaledar Sem

Masaledar Sem (Spicy Green Beans)

Serves 6

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

See the full recipe (and save and print it) here.

Photos by Alexandra Stafford

Order now

The Food52 Vegan Cookbook is here! With this book from Gena Hamshaw, anyone can learn how to eat more plants (and along the way, how to cook with and love cashew cheese, tofu, and nutritional yeast).

Order now

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • bookjunky
  • JanieMac
  • Susan
  • Alexandra Stafford
    Alexandra Stafford
I write the blog alexandra's kitchen, a place for mostly simple, sometimes fussy, and always seasonal recipes. My cookbook, Bread Toast Crumbs is available everywhere books are sold.


bookjunky August 25, 2014
link for slow cooked green beans is incorrect.
Alexandra S. August 26, 2014
Thanks for pointing this out! We'll try to fix the link soon. In the mean time, here is the correct link:
JanieMac August 25, 2014
Oh, and his simple gremolata!
JanieMac August 25, 2014
Alexandra, It is from Jamie At Home, and now that I look it up, it is actually 'grilled butterflied monkfish with a sweet runner bean stew'. I remember now that my attempt at the butterflied technique he suggests failed miserably but the beans have become a kind of obsession.
Alexandra S. August 26, 2014
Thank you! I don't have Jamie at Home, but I often admire it when I'm at bookstores — love that pretty cover. I might have to add that one to the collection. I've loved so many of his recipes most notably his smashed veg that appeared in the genius recipes column with the braised lamb shoulder. So good:
JanieMac August 27, 2014
Alexandra, the Jamie at Home book is particularly useful for people who grow their own vegetables and fruit at home - he has ideas when you have used up all of yours. The other one that saves me from gluts and the 'oh not jerusalem artichokes again' feeling is Nigel Slater's Tender Part 1 which covers all the common and even not so common vegetables that we can grow this side of the pond. Most are simple but genius.
Alexandra S. August 27, 2014
You know, I do not own a single Nigel Slater book, and I think I need to do something about that — I've made several of recipes that have been posted on this site in various places, and they never disappoint. My cookbook wishlist is growing...
JanieMac August 27, 2014
He is different from most cookbook writers, he is really a home cook, not a chef or professional cook. So he appeals to keen home cooks like me who don't have catering style hot grills or a million different gadgets with somebody to wash up after me. Some of his dishes are so simple I wonder how I hadn't thought of it. His thinking is so wonderfully sensual about food. Instinctual.
Alexandra S. August 27, 2014
I'm sold. He sounds like a genius.
JanieMac August 24, 2014
Great ideas - thank you.
This year I do not have a glut - very sad, I enjoy the challenge of eating green beans every day differently. Jamie Oliver does a style that I found very useful and often make in big batches and freeze in portions. It is based on garlic, chilli peppers anchovies and lots of tomatoes (the other glut). Then throw in the beans, and stew. Much as I love my beans al dente, I have to admit that the bean flavour comes through when they are stewed for at least 25 minutes. End of season tough beans also do well this way. Jamie uses this bean dish under a freshly seared piece of cod. It is wonderful! and it works with chicken really well too. It works on a slice of polenta. It works in a bowl with curls of Parmesan.
Alexandra S. August 25, 2014
Oh, that sounds so good! I love the garlic-chili pepper-anchovy trio, and I imagine that combo would add a lot of flavor to stewed beans. And I couldn't agree more re long-cooked beans versus al dente — they really have so much flavor, and they don't taste at all mushy. I tend to undercook beans all the time, because I love when they taste crisp and fresh and squeak when I bite into them, but I have become a long-cooked bean convert. I just looked online to find that recipe but I can't – is it in one of his books? I'd love to include the recipe here for others who are interested. Thanks so much!
Susan August 23, 2014
To answer your question about how I dry green beans - snap (or not), blanch, toss with coarse salt (optional), and spread on dehydrator trays. I have an American Harvester dehydrator and I'll pretty much try drying anything. As soon as the tomatoes currently in it are done, I'm going to try my hand at home-produced Chipoltes - smoking then drying jalapeños. I'll do the smoking on the grill then finish the peppers in the dehydrator.
Alexandra S. August 24, 2014
oh no, do I need to buy a dehydrator? I think I do. I made cabbage chips earlier this summer, and they were so good, but they needed to be eaten almost immediately — after a few hours, they turned totally soggy. Does a dehydrator prevent this a bit? It's been on my to-buy list for awhile now...thinking it's time.
Susan August 23, 2014
I've been waiting for this column! My beans are going gangbusters. I've frozen many pounds, turned more into dilly beans, dried some for snacking, and last night (ironically before I read this column) made beans Jaffrey's way. Today I have to return to the garden to pick more. Thank goodness for fresh ideas, as well as for a friend who will take as many beans as I give her and for two horses who think I let the bean vines drape over the pasture fence just for their dining benefit. The latter is probably one of the more unorthodox ways of dealing with a surplus of beans. :-)
Alexandra S. August 23, 2014
Haha, I love it. Yes, what lucky horses?! So funny you made Jaffrey beans, too. I've been on a big Indian kick recently, and her book has been such a treasure. Questions: how do you freeze your beans? Blanch first? I always forget to add this detail to the post bc I am not the best freezer, but I need to get better. Also, how do you dry your beans? That sounds like fun :)
Susan August 23, 2014
One of my favorite Jaffrey cookbooks is her World Vegetarian. It is a godsend for those of us with big gardens. She provides dozens of recipes from around the world for each of many (many!) vegetables. With that book in hand, repetition is a choice, not a necessity. :-)

I blanch snapped green beans for 3 minutes for freezing and for drying. Different vegetables require different amounts of blanching time, but the general rule of thumb is if you blanch to freeze, you want to blanch to dry. Otherwise all your hard work will yield are inedible pieces of shoe leather. Most university extension services provide freezing/blanching information, but my favorite is the University of Georgia:

Today, my gardening buddy and I picked 6+ pounds of beans, turned 2/3rds into dilly beans, then the rest went home with my friend. Thank god. I need a few days respite from beans! Hahahaha! But tomorrow I'll wash and freeze the chard I also harvested this morning -saving out just enough to make that lovely chard and ricotta tart. Mmmmmmm. (I'd make it today, but I am 'Kitchened out.')
Alexandra S. August 24, 2014
So many great tips here! Thank you. I have been buying so many more vegetarian cookbooks in recent years because I find I can never have enough vegetable inspiration this time of year. World Vegetarian sounds like a must-add to the collection. Thank you for the great tip re the Univeristy of Georgia extension program. Enjoy your break from the kitchen!