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When I am King I will decree that all runner bean plants will be ripped out of allotments and gardens and the sowing of them banned. I cannot understand why people insist on growing these mealy, tough, stringy things when they could have the far superior French bean. French beans originated in the new world and earned their name after French gardeners perfected the art of hybridising them and producing varieties that were suitable for picking whilst immature, before the seeds inside have developed and the whole pod is edible. If you are lucky enough to have space for some plants they are easy to grow and start to produce beans prolifically from the beginning of August. Their taste is mild but deep and green and pairs well with toasted nuts and seeds. They can use a little lift from the acidity of lemon or vinegar and stand up well to a dose of spice from chilli or ginger. The texture of a well cooked bean should be slightly meaty, tender with just a little bite and a slight squeak when chewed. To eat them at their best don’t be scared to pick them small and make sure to cook them as soon as possible after harvest as their sugars will quickly turn to starch.

Some varieties may develop a fibrous string along the seams of their pods, particularly if not picked when young. These can be easily removed by just nicking the top with a small knife and stripping it out in one movement. Rather than seeing this as a chore, why not choose to experience it as a meditative action.

The first of my two recipes takes the beans back through Spain, collecting some almonds and garlic on the way, and on a return journey across the Atlantic to to be matched with tomatoes and smoked chilli. The second takes them out further east to encounter sesame, miso and ginger.

French Beans | Almonds | Tomatoes | Smoked Chilli

Serves 4 as a side dish

400g French beans, trimmed and de-strung if necessary

Olive oil

2 shallots, peeled and sliced

2 cloves garlic, peeled and sliced

1 chipotle chilli, chopped fine

200g very ripe cherry tomatoes, quartered

50g almonds, sliced

1 tsp red wine vinegar

1 tbsp water

A big pinch of salt

1 teaspoon sugar

Bring a large pan of salted water to the boil.

Drop in the beans, put the lid on and boil on a medium heat for six minutes.

Drain and immediately plunge into cold (ideally iced) water and drain again after a few minutes. Set aside.

In a wide saucepan heat a couple of spoons of olive oil and add the chopped shallot.

Once it begins to brown add the garlic, chilli and almonds and fry for a few minute more, stirring often.

Add the tomatoes, the water, vinegar, salt and sugar and continue to cook for five minutes, stirring and allowing the tomatoes to break down. Add a splash of water if it looks too dry.

Add the beans and stir to coat with the sauce and allow to heat through. Check the flavour and add more salt and a little vinegar if you think it needs it and serve immediately.

French Beans | Miso | Sesame

Serves 4 as a side dish

400g French beans, trimmed and de-strung if necessary

60g white miso

60g water

30g tahini

1 tbsp soy sauce

2 tbsp mirin (optional)

2 tsp rice vinegar

Thumb size piece of ginger peeled and grated fine

1 tbsp each black and white sesame seeds

50g soya yogurt

Juice of half a lime

2 tsp sesame oil

Cook the beans as for the recipe above.

In a medium saucepan bring the water to the boil with the miso and tahini, whisking to combine and to allow the tahini to loosen.

Add the ginger, soy, mirin and vinegar and whisk to combine.

Cook on a low heat for a couple of minutes to allow the flavours to meld.

Whisk in the yogurt.

Toast the sesame seeds in a dry pan until the white ones are just beginning to colour and give off a wonderful aroma.

Add the seeds to the sauce, reserving some to use as a garnish, add the lime and the sesame oil and stir in the beans.

Serve with the remaining sesame seeds scattered on top.

Can be served warm or cold as a salad.


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