Genius Recipes

Your New 5-Minute Thanksgiving Green Beans

And the most heartwarming holiday story I've ever heard.

November 17, 2021

Every week in Genius Recipes—often with your help!—Food52 Founding Editor and lifelong Genius-hunter Kristen Miglore is unearthing recipes that will change the way you cook.


These undemanding green beans have so much to offer our dinners—anytime, but doubly so at a holiday feast: They’re a little creamy yet vibrantly green, deeply savory yet superfast to make, and so make-ahead-friendly that they require no more than five minutes in a single skillet before dinnertime, leaving the oven free for roast beasts and pies and whatever other casseroles you want to jigsaw in there.

But what really got me was the milk.

Milk can do all this? Photo by JULIA GARLAND. FOOD STYLIST: LAUREN LAPENNA. PROP STYLIST: MOLLY FITZSIMONS.

The original recipe, from the chef and historian Dr. Maricel Presilla, calls for dairy milk, but she would encourage us to use all sorts, from almond to coconut to Lactaid to A2.

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Top Comment:
“Will be making the beans on Thursday/Turkey Day. Your husband does a great job too. ”
— Judy R.
Comment

Maricel first encountered this technique in the kitchen of an octogenarian family friend named Angelica Laperira in the town of Remolino in Colombia, early in the 30-plus years Maricel spent traveling and researching for her cookbook opus, Gran Cocina Latina. “The beans are so green, they have a crunch, and the milk is like a beautiful blanket that does not overwhelm," Maricel told me in this week's episode of The Genius Recipe Tapes (1).

She was delighted to see the care Angelica put into blanching green beans to harness their bright color and crunch—not common in Latin American green bean dishes, but dating back in Angelica's family to at least the 19th century. And at once, Maricel could see how this simple dish illustrated the deep roots of Latin American cooking—both the green beans that were indigenous to the Americas, and the medieval technique of cooking in milk, still seen in everything from milky soups like changua in Colombia and pisca andina in Venezuela, to the cheesy papas chorreadas served alongside meaty dishes at restaurants in Bogotá.

Angelica's care and technique also happen to make the recipe ideal for making ahead, for a small gathering all the way up to restaurant-scale. The green beans can be trimmed and blanched in batches earlier in the week. Even the sofrito—in this instance, a deeply savory, three-allium base of white onion, scallion, and garlic—can be prepped ahead, too.

And then, whenever you’re ready to serve—you’re nudging people toward the table, someone is carving the roast beast—you quickly sizzle the sofrito, tumble in your blanched beans, and don’t make a flour-thickened cream sauce or track down a can of cream of mushroom soup or do any other backflips. Instead, open the fridge and splash in some milk to bubble down and carry the sofrito into a very light, very flavorful swaddle to hug the beans.

So many other cookbooks and teachers have trained me to fear letting milk boil, and it turns out I really shouldn’t. For one thing, milk is much more stable than I’d ever given it credit for. As you can see in the video above, you can let milk simmer for a good while without it breaking, as long as there isn’t a strong acid present (then, it’s definitely turning to cheese). And for another, even if it did boil to its breaking point—what could be wrong with cheese? Curds are delicious. Whey is delicious. “I’m not afraid with milk,” Maricel told me.

With this freedom, thanks to Maricel and Angelica, the joys of creamy sauces no longer require commitment or heft. They can happen anytime—Thanksgiving or tonight—and be as light and flavorful as we want them to be.

(1) For those of us in need of a pick-me-up, Maricel also told me the most heartwarming holiday love story I've ever heard (starring her husband Alejandro, below) in this week's episode of The Genius Recipe Tapes—I highly recommend giving it a listen.

Alejandro and Maricel Presilla at a holiday party, carving together.

Got a Genius recipe to share—from a classic cookbook, an online source, or anywhere, really? Please send it my way (and tell me what's so smart about it) at [email protected].

This post contains products independently chosen (and loved) by our editors and writers. As an Amazon Associate, Food52 earns an affiliate commission on qualifying purchases of the products we link to.
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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Judy Reinsberg
    Judy Reinsberg
  • abbyarnold
    abbyarnold
  • Kristen Miglore
    Kristen Miglore
  • The1stFall*
    The1stFall*
I'm an ex-economist, lifelong-Californian who moved to New York to work in food media in 2007, before returning to the land of Dutch Crunch bread and tri-tip barbecues in 2020. Dodgy career choices aside, I can't help but apply the rational tendencies of my former life to things like: recipe tweaking, digging up obscure facts about pizza, and deciding how many pastries to put in my purse for "later."

5 Comments

Judy R. November 23, 2021
Thank you Kristen...I love to watch you cook and give us hints on how to make things simple but DELICIOUS. Will be making the beans on Thursday/Turkey Day. Your husband does a great job too.
 
Author Comment
Kristen M. December 1, 2021
Thank you so much, Judy—I hope you had a happy Thanksgiving and the beans were delicious!
 
Judy R. December 1, 2021
Everyone loved them...my grandkids liked them better than "those beans in the soup!"
 
abbyarnold November 17, 2021
Dear Kristen,
Congratulations on your new home, but I'm so sorry you are stuck with an electric stove! I know it is environmentally evil, but I'm not ready to give up cooking with gas. I grew up in an all-electric home and became a cook when I got my first gas kitchen. It takes a real GENIUS to get a decent meal out of an electric kitchen.
 
The1stFall* November 20, 2021
Ok seriously, I never write comments in these things, but thank you for the comment about the electric stove. I am 50 and have been cooking since I was 4 years old. We just moved into an apartment with electric and omg, I haven't cooked a decent thing in six months! Can't wait to make these yummy beans.