Technically, beans are a “musical legume,” but that doesn’t exactly rhyme with “toot.” Despite their feature role in that charming children’s song, beans have great potential for both gardening and dinner.
Their role as legumes make beans an excellent contributor to the garden. Rhizobium, bacteria that have a symbiotic relationship with legumes, are one of the few types of organisms with the ability to “fix” nitrogen. They can transform gaseous nitrogen that plants and animals can’t access and turn it into ammonia which they can. Without human intervention, nitrogen is a huge limiting factor on growth, as all organisms need it but few fix it. Most of the time, we have to add nitrogen to the soil manually, by adding fertilizers like compost or manure. (Or in non-organic gardening, nitrogen compounds that have been chemically fixed.) However, as even organic compounds can pollute waterways and cause nitrogen blooms of algae, it’s better to plant legumes that return nitrogen to the soil slowly. That’s why beans were one of the Native American’s Three Sisters that I learned about in elementary school.
In terms of dinner, beans are great for adding interest to a summer salad. Some beans are pretty good sources of protein (although not traditional green beans), especially if you eat little meat like I do. They also have a lot of fiber and nutrients.
For these reasons, I decided to plant bush and pole beans in my garden this year from heirloom seeds from Southern Exposure Seed Exchange. Even though I had squash in the garden, I decided against planting corn because it requires a lot of space. So I co-planted it with nitrogen-gobbling potatoes instead. I had no idea how it would go – I had never grown beans before, and I wasn’t even sure what they would look like!
As it turns out, they are super-easy to grow. Sprouting from seed was simple and worked a lot better than planting them straight into the ground. Despite the mystery beast stripping the seedlings of their first leaves, they still flourished. In fact, the bush beans produced beautiful, delicate purple flowers that led to surprisingly purple beans. As I wasn’t sure what to do with them, I turned to my always-trusty tome, How to Cook Everything Vegetarian. His recipe is for dry beans, but I adjusted it for green beans and added some extra ingredients I had in my fridge/garden.
Garden Bean Salad
(Adapted from Essential Bean Salad in How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)
– 1 cup green beans
– 1 tablespoon sherry (or other red wine) vinegar
– 2-4 tablespoons minced shallot – this is about 2 small shallots (ours were from our garden)
– Salt and pepper, as always
– 1/4 cup olive oil
– 5-6 fresh basil leaves
– 1/4 cup almonds, toasted or raw
– 2 medium tomatoes or 1 medium tomatoes and 5-6 grape tomatoes (we have a yellow grape tomato bush in our garden)
1) Put water on to boil in a medium-sized pot. Fill a medium bowl with ice and water.
2) Cut the ends off of the beans and at least cut them in half. You can cut them in smaller pieces as you’d prefer.
3) Chop up the tomatoes.
4) Use a food processor to break down the almonds or chop them.
5) Chop the basil. The easiest way to do this is to roll the leaves into a cylinder and then chop that.
6) Combine the vinegar, shallot, olive oil, and a couple of pinches of salt and garlic.
7) When the water comes to a boil, lower the beans into the water with a basket or just dump them in. It’s more of a pain to get them out if you just dump them in, so a basket is preferable if one is handy.
8) After 2 minutes, check the beans. They should be just starting to get tender, but have some crunch. Different beans may cook at different times, so be aware of that. The fatter pole beans in my salad were too raw because I took them out at the same time as my skinner bush beans, which cooked faster. If you have purple beans like I did, they will sadly lose their beautiful color as they cook.
9) Once the beans are done, dump them in the cold water. Shocking the beans prevents them from cooking more and reduces the chances of overcooking.
10) When the beans are cool, combine all ingredients.