green beans

What are they? First cultivated in the Americas, green beans came to Europe when explorers returned home with the sweet, nutritious pods around the 16th century. Depending on where you come from, you might call them green beans, string beans, haricots verts, runner beans, French beans, or maybe snap beans, so named for their crisp texture.

What are they good for? You should learn to love green beans with all of your heart - their powerful combination of fibre, folate, and the minerals magnesium and potassium make green beans a super food for cardiovascular health. And though one cup of green beans adds up to only 44 calories, it also provides nearly one-fifth of your daily needs of antioxidant vitamins A and C. That same cup of beans also gives you a quarter of your daily recommended intake of vitamin K, which is crucial to proper blood clotting.

What do they taste like? Go fresh if you can! If you've never eaten fresh green beans, you're in for a treat. Compared to the mushy, metallic taste of canned beans, farm-fresh beans have a pleasing texture and flavour - sweet, firm, crisp, and juicy. Try to find green beans sold loosely, so you can pick and choose the best specimens - vividly green, smooth-skinned, and free of bruises or brown spots. Test one or two beans for their snap-ability. Keep unwashed beans wrapped in plastic and tucked in your crisper until you're ready to prepare them. Trim off the ends and pull out the string (unless you bought string-less string beans). Sauté and top with thinly sliced almonds, or roast, chop, and toss in a vinaigrette. Or add beans to the perennial holiday favourite - green bean casserole. The mellow, clean, "green" flavour of a green bean makes it a natural complement to starchy potatoes or to add texture to an assortment of stir-fried vegetables.

Amy Toffelmire