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Thanksgiving: Green beans. November 23, 2009

Posted by ourfriendben in gardening, homesteading, recipes, Uncategorized, wit and wisdom.
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Silence Dogood here. Green beans are a traditional Thanksgiving side dish—like turkey, pumpkins, corn, and potatoes, a native New World crop and therefore appropriate to the day. (I’ll be talking about another regional Thanksgiving tradition, dried corn, tomorrow, and tackling the whole sweet potato issue on Wednesday, leading up to desserts for the day on Thursday, and frugal tricks with Thanksgiving leftovers on Friday. Stay tuned!)

Getting back to green beans, we always had them at Thanksgiving when I was growing up, but Mama served them simply boiled, topped with butter, salt, white pepper, and thinly sliced almonds. I had never heard of the apparently ubiquitous green bean casserole until I moved to Pennsylvania, and have still never tasted one, though that may change this Thanksgiving, since we’ll be celebrating with our neighbors.

I still love green beans the way my mama made them, and I still think “classic” green bean casserole sounds like a bad idea. Not because of the crunchy, oily “French fried” onion topping—hey, both our friend Ben and I love a good, crispy-crunchy, greasy onion ring, bring it on!—but because of that can of cream of mushroom soup, the milk, and the soy sauce. Soup, milk, and soy sauce with green beans? Good grief.

In case anyone besides me has never made a green bean casserole but might want to, here are two versions, from those who should know, Campbell’s, maker of the cream of mushroom soup, and Birds Eye, provider of frozen cut green beans. You’ll note that the amounts of each ingredient differ slightly, even allowing for the 12-serving Campbell’s recipe versus the 4-serving Birds Eye version, but the concept is definitely the same. I’ll depart from the original recipes only in eliminating the brand names.

              Classic Green Bean Casserole

This is the Birds Eye version.

1 10 3/4-ounce can cream of mushroom soup 

1/2 cup milk

1 tsp. soy sauce

ground black pepper

1 1-pound bag frozen cut green beans, thawed and drained

1 1/3 cups crispy French-fried onions

Preheat oven to 350 degrees F. In an oven-safe casserole dish, mix soup, milk, soy sauce, black pepper, green beans, and 2/3 cup onions until well combined. Bake for 25 minutes. Sprinkle remaining onions on top and bake an additional 5 minutes until crispy. Serves 4.

         Green Bean Casserole

Here’s the official Campbell’s version.

2 10 3/4-ounce cans cream of mushroom soup

1 cup milk

2 tsp. soy sauce

1/4 tsp. ground black pepper

8 cups cooked cut green beans

1 6-ounce can (2 2/3 cups) French-fried onions

Stir soup, soy sauce, black pepper, beans, and 1 1/3 cups onions in a 3-quart casserole. Bake at 350 degrees F for 25 minutes or until hot. Stir. Top with remaining onions. Bake for 5 minutes more. Tip: Toast 1/2 cup sliced almonds. Add with remaining onions. Serves 12.

Well, I guess Campbell’s was trying to make a gesture with the almond tip, but still. I remember reading a “gentrified” version of green bean casserole in my favorite cooking magazine, Cook’s Country, but I can’t find the issue, nor could I find the recipe online. Sigh. If I do, I’ll revise this post and include it. Once again, stay tuned.

Meanwhile, there just have to be other options for serving green beans on Thanksgiving. Here’s one I found in Parade magazine. (I love that it’s called “String Beans,” when mercifully most people now wouldn’t even know what that means. Back in the day, green beans had tough, fibrous strings running down the side with the line on it. Before you could cook them, you had not only to snap off the sharp, rough ends—thus “snap beans”—but also to pull off the “strings.” Modern varieties have somehow managed to do away with the tough strings, so now you only have to cut or snap off the ends.)

         String Beans

1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

2 yellow onions, finely chopped

2 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 14 1/2-ounce can diced tomatoes

Kosher salt and finely ground black pepper

1 tablespoon each finely chopped fresh oregano and flat-leaf parsley

1 pound fresh green beans, trimmed

Crumbled feta cheese 

In a saucepan, heat olive oil over medium heat. Add onions and saute until soft and clear, about 10 minutes. Add garlic and cook briefly until soft and golden brown. Add tomatoes, salt, pepper, oregano, parsley, and about 1 cup water. Stir in the green beans and bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover, and let simmer until beans are just tender, about 12 minutes. Taste and adjust the seasoning. Spoon onto a warm platter and top with feta cheese. Serves 8.

Actually, this sounds good. In fact, it sounds like it might make a great topping for pasta or rice, especially if you sauteed some sliced mushrooms with the onion and garlic. But, whoa, it certainly doesn’t sound like Thanksgiving dinner, at least not to me. Yes, tomatoes are also New World plants that should perhaps be given a place, along with bell and hot peppers, on the Thanksgiving menu. But in the salad (and perhaps the sweet potatoes—we’ll be getting to that), not the green beans, thanks very much. 

So, okay, what green bean dish should you be serving with Thanksgiving dinner? I still love my mama’s buttered green beans with sliced almonds. But when push comes to shove, what I usually make is a simple dish of boiled green beans (cooked just long enough to be tender, but still bright green, drained, and topped with sauteed sliced mushrooms in browned butter with salt (we like RealSalt or Trocomare) and lemon pepper. Yum!!! Easy and oh-so-good.

Do you have a favorite green bean recipe? If so, I’d love to hear about it!

             ‘Til next time,

                           Silence

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Comments»

1. Daphne Gould - November 23, 2009

I’m a purist when it comes to green beans. They have to be fresh picked from the garden and lightly steamed with nothing on them. The very thought of putting condensed cream of mushroom soup on them and topping the with canned onion rings makes my stomach upset. I know it is traditional for many families, but I never remember even seeing the dish until I went to my inlaws for Thanksgiving one year (and not the first time, but years down the road). This was probably around age forty. It could be that I saw it and just disregarded the dish. But that was when I learned it was traditional. I rank it up there with little marshmallows on top sweet potatoes. AAAARRRRGGGGGGGGHHHHHHH. :> At least most of the Thanksgiving dinners I’ve attended in my life don’t serve them. I do understand tradition though and I follow mine (cranberry ice I told you about earlier). My tradition always shows up at the Thanksgivings I attend because it wouldn’t be proper without it. I guess we all have our own traditions that we love.

Sigh. Wait ’til I tackle those damned marshmallows tomorrow, Daphne! Whoever thought of such a thing?!! But you’re right, I’m sure that the foods we love at holidays are those we were served with love as children.

2. Lzyjo - November 24, 2009

I’m staying tuned!! LOL! Silence I’m with you’ve and Daphne marshmallows on sweet potatoes?! I couldn’t fathom it and I’ve also never had, nor seen the ubiquitous green bean casserole, only from TV commercials do I know it exists, I had no idea cream of mushroom soup was a key ingredient! My grandma always makes a small amount of steamed string beans with salt and butter, probably frozen since locals are done by that time, they are certainly not a main feature. Sometimes I feel like I don’t know most of America, and maybe that’s a good thing, then again maybe not.

Ha!!! Well, maybe I shouldn’t talk, Lzyjo. When I was growing up, we ate Frenched green beans from a can that were then boiled for half an hour (at least) with onions and bacon grease. And we loved them! It took me the longest time to learn to love real green beans, probably because the first few times I was served them, they were mostly raw, lukewarm and hairy. Eeeewwww!!! Now that I can cook them to hot and cooked through but still bright perfection, I love them, and dread to think what I’d make of a serving of canned green beans…

3. Gail - November 24, 2009

I like Sugar Snap Peas steamed, tossed with butter and almonds…A variation of your Mother’s recipe for sure….Now folks, keep that mushroom concoction away from the beans. thank you! gail

Yum, I LOVE Sugar Snap peas, Gail, and I eat them with butter as well. Next time I make them I’ll have to try them with almonds. Thanks!

4. Janie - November 24, 2009

I am about those beans! I cannot abide any kind of creamed soup on my green beans, and cannot stand marshmallows on the sweet potatoes. Just give me steamed green beans, and baked sweet potato, and I am happy. And my mother used to make mashed potato yeast rolls, that were a tradition, but not one that I carried to my home. I loved to eat them, but not enough to bake them on my own. I don’t think we have any traditions for Thanksgiving, outside of having Turkey. And I don’t want it fried, either. I want it roasted, with fresh leaves of sage slipped under the skin, and stuffed with good dressing made of cornbread. Cornbread with NO sugar. Don’t ask…..

You’ve said it all, Janie! (And I certainly agree, if somebody handed me a couple of hot-from-the-oven potato rolls and some butter, I’d be beyond ecstatic. But please, don’t ask ME to make them while I’m trying to cook Thanksgiving dinner!!!)

5. deb - November 24, 2009

I’m sticking with that green bean casserole. It may be tacky, but we love it.

I suspect our neighbors will serve it this Thanksgiving, Deb, and if so, I definitely plan to try it! Who knows, I may be forced to eat my words. And, please, let’s not call it tacky (we’ll get around to tacky in tomorrow’s post), it’s exactly on-trend as “semi-homemade”!

6. nancybond - November 24, 2009

I’ve never had your traditional green bean casserole, either, though many of my US email friends have it on their holiday tables. I wouldn’t mind tasting it. :) It isn’t traditional fare here in Canada (that I’ve ever seen, that is), but I might just try a recipe some night for dinner.

Let me know what you think, Nancy! I’m curious, too. I always wonder when there are so many aficionados of something that sounds just horrible to me; maybe it’s just knee-jerk tradition, but maybe it’s actually good!

7. nancybond - November 24, 2009

Oh, and I meant to say that, as much as I LOVE sweet potatoes, I can’t imagine them with marshmallows! Again, they might be perfectly wonderful. Hmmm…lots of things to try. ;)

I’d say no on the sweet potatoes, Nancy (as you’ll see in tomorrow’s post), but again, maybe that’s just me. I was raised with sweet potatoes as a savory food, baked super-tender and served with ample butter and salt. From my perspective, you might as well put marshmallows on barbecue. But check out the recipes for yummy sweet potato souffle and sweet potato pone tomorrow!


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