Saturday, December 20, 2008

Speedy green beans

Who would have thought growing beans could be turned into a sport, but this week I've discovered the pleasures of bean racing. Perhaps it's not as noisy or as fast as the Indy 500, nor as gruelling and sweaty as an Olympic marathon, but at least bean racing is an honest competition, free of doping scandals – and the winner gets to make babies!

These are not my racing beans, but these climbing beans have inspired me to try growing smaller, dwarf beans, and they're my racing beans. I'll show you them in a moment. However, I have become very fond of humble bean flowers and the way the beans themselves form on plants, so I thought I'd start with a pretty photo of yet another baby bean coming into this world.

This is where the baby beans are coming from, my tower of climbing beans, but it has proved to be only a partial success. Yes, we're getting quite a good crop of 'Blue Lake' beans off these plants, but the (hidden) cutesy willow wigwam underneath all the leaves is at least one foot too short for the plants, and I suspect it's actually two feet too short. So there's a colossal snarl of climbing bean shoots at the top clinging to each other in a fairly sad and desperate manner. So I thought I'd also try growing some dwarf beans in a pot as well this summer and see how they go. They might suit my tiny garden better. And that's when I discovered bean racing.

I had a spare pot about 35cm high and wide, so I popped in three dwarf bush bean seeds and waited to see which one would do best. After a week of waiting, this is what I saw last Saturday, December 13. The rear bean streaking away, the left bean barely awake, and the right bean nowhere to be seen.

By Sunday, the right bean has finally made an appearance, but it seems too far behind already. The back bean is in front but lefty is catching up.

By Monday the right bean is nigh-on out of the running, but there's a chance that left bean could either do something spectacular and catch up with back bean, or a snail, cat, cockatoo or some other third party representing the Wild Kingdom could intervene in an untimely yet fateful way and nobble back bean's early lead.

Fast forward to Thursday and it's still a contest. Beans grow fast, don't they?

Saturday morning, December 20, Bean Finishing Line Day. I felt like awarding the prize to left bean purely because of the way it tirelessly made a contest of things all week (Aussies always support the underdog in any contest). But back bean was bigger and faster, and so...

Ladies and gentlemen, we have our winner, clearly the strongest of the three beans and hopefully also the best cropper, too. Time will tell.

I'm not sure whether the dwarf bean will be as attractive a plant as the climber, but I presume it will produce some equally fascinating flowers. These climbing bean flowers are perhaps not quite as pretty as the white flowers tinted with black streaks which you find on broad bean plants, but they're well worth admiring up close all the same.

These 'Blue Lake' beans have a lovely bean flavour, and they're especially nice to eat straight off the bush as a crisp, free-range gardener's snack. I like eating beans simply, just lightly steamed, but there is one way that I do cook them occasionally that comes from the Middle East. This recipe is from a book called "The Complete Middle East Cookbook" by Tess Mallos, a Sydney food writer. It's one of my kitchen bibles, with recipes from Greece, Turkey, Lebanon, Egypt, Iraq, Iran and all the way across to Afghanistan. This dish is a standard part of Lebanese restaurant menus here in Sydney, and its name of 'Lubyi bi Zayt', translated that means 'Green Beans in Oil'.

Green Beans in Oil

500g green beans
1/4 cup olive oil
1 medium-sized onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, chopped
1 cup chopped, peeled tomatoes
1 tablespoon tomato paste
1/2 cup water
freshly ground black pepper
1/2 teaspoon sugar
2 tablespoons chopped parsley

1. Wash beans well. Top and tail and remove strings if present. Cut into 5cm lengths, or slit them lengthwise.
2. Heat the olive oil in a pan and add the onion. Fry gently until transparent, add garlic and cook a few seconds longer.
3. Add tomatoes, tomato paste, water, sugar and salt and pepper to taste. Cover and simmer for 15 minutes.
4. Add the prepared beans and parsley, cover and simmer for a further 15-20 minutes until beans are tender. Serve hot or lukewarm, but they are also very good chilled.

My tips: depending on the beans used, I sometimes cook them for longer than the recipe says – up to 30-40 minutes, until well done. And these beans really can be eaten cold, lukewarm, warm or hot, and they keep very well in tupperware for several days, too. And the amount of oil is correct. A quarter cup, and I always use the nicest quality extra virgin olive oil I can find. This is a great way to cope with a bumper crop of beans, or at least take advantage of any kind of green bean when they're fresh, cheap, plentiful and in season.


Gerritnow said...

Hey, I love your photos..they are really nice...

patientgardener said...

Did you chuck the other two? I really struggle with chucking surplus seedlings - am trying to be more hard hearted though

Michelle said...

I am jealous! It's been at least 2, maybe 3 years since I've grown green beans. Total crop failure this past summer and at least 5 months before I can start my own races. I'm going to keep that delicious sounding recipe in mind for when my crop comes in.

Jamie said...

Yep, I chucked the other two seedlings. Not much spare space here, unfortunately.

Thanks For 2 Day said...

What a very pleasant (and interesting) post, Jamie. I loved the suspense as the race progressed! I agree with your support of the underdog, but do understand your desire to have the best crop at hand:) I will keep your bean recipe on hand for future reference. I don't grow veggies here very well; all my sunny areas are reserved for perennial flowering plants:/ I do grow tomatoes on my deck--but as a child, I remember growing beans in a cup. We placed them on a windowsill, and daily we would measure their height. Wow, they grew very rapidly and there was always excitement to see the daily changes! Thanks for a fun post! Jan

Wayne Stratz said...

great series of photos on the life of a bean plant. some of my students have a real hard time with thinning seedlings, which I can understand. Killing shouldn't come easily.