New Foods From the Familiar

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Category : Seasonal Menu Ideas, September

New Foods MenuWhen you go to a grocery store to buy produce, you don’t usually expect to learn anything about the fruits and vegetables available. The store may have recipe cards nearby, but in general you already need to know what to do with what you purchase.

One of the wonderful things about shopping at local farm stands (small stores located on the farms) and talking to home gardeners is getting to learn about food from the experts–the people who grow the food themselves. To me, that’s a priceless benefit.

For example, my gardening friend Nancy Simmerman recently turned me loose in her bean patch. Green beans are nearing the end of their harvest season, and some of the beans left on the vine were really long pods with large beans inside, and I knew they would be too tough to steam and eat as I usually do with green beans.

I started to pass over them, but it occurred to me that the beans themselves inside the pod are obviously edible and were nearly as large as the dried beans I often use to make soups or chili. I asked Nancy if the shelled beans could be cooked and eaten without the pods. She said they definitely could. I ended up picking as many of the larger, tougher pods as I could find in order to experiment.

To produce dried beans (such as pintos, black beans, kidney beans, etc.) farmers allow the pod to stay on the vine until it dries up. Then the dry pod can easily be removed, leaving the dried beans inside. This time, however, I picked the pods while they were still green, just a little old and tough on the vine. The beans inside were still soft and moist. A little research online revealed they could be used much like dried beans in recipes except that they don’t need any soaking in advance, they won’t swell in size,  and they’ll cook in 25-30 minutes.

Any dried vegetable can be reconstituted by cooking and may have a good flavor, but the fresh version is always more tasty. That’s true of beans, too. I’d just never had fresh beans before to compare.

My friend Lis Marshall at the Full Bloom Farm produce stand on Lummi Island later told me beans prepared that way are called “shellout beans.” Her eyes lit up as she talked about them, and she said they are one of her favorite fall foods. She prepares them very simply, too, just as I had. The beans are sometimes known by other names as well, including “October beans” and “shelly beans.”

Conversations like these are a wonderful part of a locavore lifestyle. The three of us traded tips, appreciated each other’s knowledge and enthusiasm for good food, and shared each other’s experience and creativity. It was all possible because the people growing the food and the people eating the food live in the same area and see each other face to face on a regular basis.

You just can’t buy that sense of community from ConAgra.

This week’s menu:

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