We seem to be swimming in beans these days. The vines continue to grow upward, like Jack’s beanstalk, the white and bright red blossoms relentlessly visited by buzzing pollinators, with both pencil thin and plump green beans in abundance. Green and yellow beans are one of my favorite vegetables; delicious, nutritious, and easy to grow.
Like my pole beans, the original beans were climbers. Native Americans planted beans along with corn and squash in a sophisticated, sustainable farming system known as the “three sisters”. The beans climb up the corn stalks, and the squash leaves provide mulch that blocks out the weeds and keeps the roots cool. The beans also provide nitrogen to the soil, and the prickly vines of the squash help keep the deer away.
It’s a fascinating agricultural system that worked nutritionally as well, as the corn and beans together provide a balanced source of the complete amino acids of a protein.
The French and Italians adapted the climber beans to create bush beans, or what we here in Maine call string beans. There are over 130 different varieties of bush beans; green, yellow, red swan, blue lake and purple.
Beans are best when eaten fresh, but will keep for several days in the refrigerator. If you are fortunate to have local Maine heirloom and cherry tomatoes, Green Bean and Tomato Salad is a delicious, simple and elegant way for folks of all ages to eat their beans!
Green Bean & Tomato Salad with Ranch Dressing
For the salad:
- 1 pound wax or green beans ends trimmed
- 1 cup chopped leeks about 1 large
- 1 pint cherry tomatoes cut in halves
- 1 large tomato cut into 6 slices
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
For the dressing:
- ½ cup buttermilk
- 2 teaspoons fresh lemon juice
- ½ teaspoon garlic salt
- 1 teaspoon finely chopped onion
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- ½ cup finely chopped fresh mint or basil
- ½ cup finely chopped chives
- sea salt and fresh pepper to taste
- To prepare the dressing: whisk together the buttermilk, lemon juice and olive oil. Whisk in the chopped onion and garlic salt. Add the fresh herbs, leaving a few for garnish. Season to taste with sea salt and fresh pepper.
- To prepare the salad: Cook the beans and chopped leeks in a large pot of boiling water until the beans are just tender. Drain and cool in a bowl of ice water. When cool, drain and transfer the beans and leeks to a bowl. Add the cherry tomatoes. Toss with 1 tablespoon of olive oil to combine.
- To serve: Mound salad over each tomato slice. Drizzle with dressing. Garnish with remaining chopped herbs. Makes 6 servings.