Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Green Beans: An Experiment, A Method & A Recipe

As a nutritionist, I often get questions about the difference between fresh, frozen and canned vegetables.

Do they have the same nutritional content?
Can you interchange them in recipes?
Do they taste the same?

To answer these questions, let's consider green beans.

Growing up I think I only ever had canned green beans. That wasn't an accident. Canned vegetables are the cheapest and they last a flippin long time. But they are also processed and contain a lot of sodium. They are typically limp and a rather unappealing color. If you have no other means of eating vegetables, then canned veggies are a great option, just be aware of the sodium content.

Frozen green beans (and veggies) do not have the added sodium of their canned counterpart. Unless of course you purchase frozen veggies with a sauce or seasoning. They are, for the most part, the same as fresh produce, nutritionally speaking. They are usually cheaper than fresh produce (unless you are buying in season or on special) but more expensive than canned. Many stores usually have specials and sales, though, so buy when they are cheaper and stock up. They last quite a long time, so long as you have the freezer space. Unfortunately, while they are just as good for us as fresh produce, they don't always taste quite the same or have the same crunch/texture.

Here is a fun experiment that I did in a food science class during graduate school that I would highly recommend you try at home:
Purchase a can of green beans, a bag of frozen green beans and some fresh ones. Microwave each without seasoning. Then put them in separate bowls by each other for comparison. It's really interesting to see just how different they will look, smell and taste.

Of course, microwaving is not the tastiest preparation. And I recently found a new recipe for fresh greenie beanies that also uses a fun technique.

Green Beans, using two preparations:

You will need:
  • As many fresh green beans as you want to prepare
  • Lemon juice (a few tablespoons) I use the bottled kind because it keeps longer and is much easier to use in a recipe than fresh juice from a lemon.
  • EVOO
  • S & P
  • Garlic (2 cloves unless you really like garlic like me, then use as much as you want)
  • Fresh or dried herbs such as chopped rosemary (a tablespoon or so of fresh or a teaspoon of dried)
  • Saute pan
  • Steamer or steaming device
  • Large bowl
  • Ice
To prepare:
  1. Trim and wash the green beans
  2. Steam the beans until just tender and bright in color, 8-12 minutes. I do this in a stainless steamer basket placed into a large pot of boiling water. These baskets cost less than $10.
  3. Immediately plunge the beans into a bath of ice water. This stops the cooking process.
  4. Heat the saute pan/skillet with the evoo.
  5. Cook the garlic in the skillet until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Do not allow to burn.
  6. Place the beans in the skillet with the garlic.
  7. Add the S&P, a dose of lemon juice and the herbs. Again, the amount you use will depend on your tastes and the amount of beans you are preparing. I made about 3 cups of beans and used 3 Tablespoons of juice and about 1 Tablespoon of herbs.
  8. Saute beans for a few minutes until softer and slightly browned.
  9. Serve!

This recipe/method may sound complicated and time consuming. But I assure you it isn't that bad. Just have all the equipment and items you need handy before you start. In total it took me 15 minutes to make them. I am pretty picky about fresh green beans and I love this recipe.

If you have never had fresh green beans (or other veggies), I encourage you to try them. Even if you think you don't like them, you may have only had canned, which does not taste the same at all.

All of this said...I will probably be making green bean casserole with canned green beans this weekend for the Easter holiday. Everything in moderation and with perspective....

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