When we were planning my daughter Heather’s birthday this year, we decided on an early dinner—kind of quiet with all her favorite dishes, a gluten-free birthday cake and a table full of family and friends. Really, this is pretty much how we do all birthdays, with the exception of moving the celebrations to the back porch in the summer.
So what were her top picks for dinner? She loves the Creamy Cauliflower Mac n’ Cheese I make, so that was on her list. Since we were trying out some gluten-free Jackson’s Honest Chips from the Blogger Box, I offered to make a new dip. And Heather, while a longtime vegetarian, does love an occasional fillet of grilled wild-caught salmon, so I splurged. But her final request sort of took me by surprise: “You know what I’d really like to have?” she asked. “Remember Grandma’s green beans, when she used to make them in a big pot for an entire day? I’d like those.”
My grandma’s green beans were exactly what you are probably thinking—cooked all day to mush, with potatoes, carrots and onions. But somehow, they were always delicious. What my daughter probably does not remember is the seasoning of bacon fat or ham hocks. As a little girl, she would have gobbled this up and never thought twice (and neither would I back then). Not so much now. Still, I knew what she was after—she was missing my grandma in the kitchen, this amazing woman who let her stir the pot like a big girl and sneak a taste now and then.
Since I had green beans in the freezer from the fall harvest, I decided to give this a go and create a vegan version of Grandma’s Green Beans. Actually, I think I came pretty close, and I think Grandma would have been proud, even sans the bacon fat. The dish opened up the evening to bittersweet memories and funny stories about this one-of-a-kind lady. We do miss her, so having her “at the table” was perhaps the best present of all.
- Two to three tablespoons olive oil
- Three large carrots, scrubbed, trimmed and sliced
- One large yellow onion, diced
- One large fennel bulb, green stems, fronds, core and tough outer layers removed, diced
- One teaspoon sugar
- One teaspoon minced hot pepper (for instance a ghost or jalapeño) or one-half teaspoon red pepper flakes (optional, if you don’t want the heat)
- Two large cloves garlic, minced
- Five to six cups green beans (fresh or frozen), washed, trimmed and cut in half
- Four to five cups vegetable stock (Have an extra cup of stock on hand to add to the pot if the liquid begins to boil away more than you’d like.)
- Two pounds small red potatoes, scrubbed and halved
- Zest and juice of one large lemon
- Two tablespoons fresh tarragon, minced
- One heaping tablespoon miso (I use white miso that is gluten free, but red will work, too.)
- Two tablespoons minced seaweed (I recommend Dulse.)
- Pure toasted sesame oil
- Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
- Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add the carrots, onions and fennel with a good dash of sea salt. Cook for about five minutes, until the vegetables begin to sweat; then, add the sugar and hot pepper. Continue to cook and stir for about five more minutes; add the garlic with a dash more salt and continue cooking five minutes more.
- Once all the vegetables have begun to soften, become aromatic and shiny, add the green beans with a dash of salt, cooking for about five minutes if frozen or 10 minutes if fresh. You want the green beans to become “friends” with everything else in the sauté.
- Once everything is coming together in the pot, add four cups of vegetable stock, bring up to a boil and reduce to a low simmer for 30 minutes. Test for salt and add if necessary, along with the black pepper to taste.
- Add the potatoes with more stock, if you need it. Adjust the seasonings, partially cover and continue to simmer on low for about an hour. Monitor the liquid in the pot, adding if necessary. However, this bean dish should take on a thicker consistency as it cooks and the potatoes become soft and start to fall apart.
- Near the end of the cooking time, when everything in the pot is soft, put the miso and the minced seaweed in a small bowl. Add about a half cup of the hot stock from the pot to the bowl and stir well to melt the miso and soften the seaweed. Add this back into the pot and stir well to get everything combined.
- Turn off the heat and add the lemon zest, juice and minced tarragon, along with generous dashes of pure toasted sesame oil. Stir well and serve.
if you serve the green beans as a side dish with a meat or fish entre, you will definitely have 6 servings. If this is the main course, it's closer to 4.
Like most “grandma” inspired recipes, there was no master set of instructions to follow. My grandmother never wrote anything down, nor did she really measure anything. So my take on her green beans is somewhat “imprecise.” I did make this dish more than once, adjusting some ingredients and amounts. So I’d say that if you decide to make my “Grandma’s” green beans, you might want to think back to your grandma’s green beans and include inspiration from her kitchen, as well. Then let us know how it goes!
A Note About the Vegetable Stock
I had planned on this recipe taking right at four cups of vegetable stock, and you know me—gotta be from scratch. Except that my scratch batch ran out, and I realized I would need at least a cup more to finish this dish. There’s nothing like pot liquor to sop your cornbread in, right? So what to do?
Luckily there was a magic little ingredient in the New Hope Network Blogger Box—Savory Choice Organics Vegetable Broth Concentrate. The Universe always provides. And I was quite impressed with this product. Coming in a convenient little box of four pouches, Savory Choice Organics Vegetable Broth Concentrate makes one cup of rich, low-sodium broth per pouch—just what I needed with no waste. It’s really the perfect pantry staple that will be ready to loosen a sauce, comfort a cold or season some rice. Using the entire box of four pouches gives you a quart. I love smart companies that understand how recipes work when designing their products.
Savory Choice is made by Savory Creations International. Located in Northern California. Savory Creations offers a full range of premium broth concentrates at affordable prices. They sell to restaurants and industry, as well as to individual consumers. That chefs will use these products says a lot, I think, so check them out. Ordering online is available. Their clean label products are naturally gluten free and have zero trans-fats. They make both vegetarian and meat-based broths, including an entire line of organics. I’m sure Grandma would be ok with this handy product.
So lesson learned: it is not necessary or even wise to keep that hard-and-fast rule of always cooking everything from scratch. I know—look who’s talking. But seriously, keeping a small core supply of nutritious and trusted pantry staples in your kitchen will help you stretch leftovers, avoid going out to eat when you could be using up what’s in the frig, and keeping food waste to a minimum (Eliminating food waste is of the main ways to reduce climate change!).
The folks at Delicious Living Magazine offer you this handy list of basic must-haves in the kitchen and advise us all that it isn’t absolutely necessary to make, prep, cut, chop or blend every ingredient by hand. Today’s healthy natural products (many of which are expertly vetted in the DL publication and on their website) offer smart shortcuts for maximum flavor and nutrition benefit. To be ready for any meal—even when time is short–keep these pantry staples on hand for a quick meal prep or re-tool:
- Canned beans (white, black, garbanzo, cannellini)
- Coconut milk
- Canned tomatoes (whole, chopped, pureed) Note that buying high-quality organic chopped tomatoes usually means you are using the less-than-perfect but perfectly good to eat ones that would have been tossed away as food waste—score!
- Bottled red bell peppers—I LOVE jarred roasted red peppers—my go-to for elevating soups, sauces and dips!
- Whole-grain pasta
- Nuts and dried fruits
- Panko or plain breadcrumbs
- Flavored vinegars and oils
- Vegetable or chicken broth
One small but very important caveat when buying canned food: be sure the cans are BPA free. BPA is a plastic coating that is known to leech into food and ultimately into YOU. It causes hormone disruption and has been linked to several types of cancer.