While the season for picking beans from our own gardens is not quite upon us, you will start to see a variety of beans arriving on retail shelves from a little further north.
There are a good variety of beans available in New Zealand, most of which can be traced back to their origins in Central and South America. I guess for my generation the memories of beans in our childhood years are likely not to be great - in fact, most likely to be not far behind brussels sprouts in the least favoured vegetable stakes.
Ours were generally placed in the pot and boiled until well and truly dead then served up as dark relics of the lovely fresh broad beans that we adored when raw straight from the garden.
My early experiences of cooking weren't much better. I often saw bags of frozen broad beans tipped into a pot of boiling water and cooked for quite some time. They were then often held at a serving temperature by which stage they were grey and bitter, with a very odd aroma.
As kids we often managed to hide them by slipping them into our pockets and feeding them to the chooks at the bottom of our section. It wasn't until when I was in my tertiary training that I found out when you remove the outer skin of a broad bean, inside is a beautiful bright green, sweet and tender, tasty little morsel.
Beans should always be a welcome addition to any meal adding colour, texture and good nutritional value. The major nutrients in beans are folate, vitamins A and C with thiamine, niacin, calcium, zinc and iron present, although some in low levels. They are a good source of protein and fibre and are low in calories.
All beans are best when they are young. Look for fresh and tender pods, which make a good snapping sound when broken. Top and tail then slice or leave whole. Broad beans need podding except when very young. Beans are highly perishable and are sensitive to ethylene-producing fruits and vegetables (such as apples, tomatoes, avocados and bananas), so keep them separate whenever possible.
The best ways to store your beans is in plastic bags. Always buy them in small quantities. Their taste is definitely at its best when they are cooked so that they are tender and still slightly crisp. They can be cooked using a variety of different methods.
CHICKEN AND GREEN BEAN SALAD WITH CHILLI-COCONUT DRESSING
1 Tbsp peanut oil
2 red chillies, seeded and chopped
2 tsp grated lime rind
1 tsp grated fresh ginger
1 Tbsp sugar
8 chicken breast fillets (tenderloins)
100g baby English spinach leaves
300g green beans, top and tailed, blanched and refreshed
1 red chilli, seeded and chopped
1/2 cup coconut milk
1/4 cup chopped fresh coriander leaves
3 Tbsp lime juice
1 Tbsp fish sauce
Heat the oil in a frying pan over a medium-high heat. Add the chillies, lime rind, ginger and sugar and cook for a minute.
Add the chicken fillets and cook for 3 minutes on each side or until golden. Set aside.
To make the chilli-coconut dressing, place the chilli, coconut milk, coriander, lime juice and fish sauce in a bowl and mix to combine.
Put the prepared beans, baby spinach in a bowl. Slice the cooked chicken fillets and add to the bowl. Toss through the dressing and transfer onto a serving platter, serve.
Graham Hawkes operates Paddington Arms at the Queens Dr/Bainfield Rd roundabout.
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