Green beans are often referred to as a “boring” vegetable and are often overlooked for their healthy benefits. Green beans provide concentrated amounts of fiber, folate, and numerous minerals and have been repeatedly shown to lower our risk of chronic diseases such as Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary heart disease, and metabolic syndrome.
Fresh and in season, green beans are an affordable option to a healthier diet. Many, however, have a tendency to overcook green beans making them an unpopular vegetable choice.
When properly blanched and frozen, green beans can be an absolute delight at the dinner table.
Studies have shown that quick blanching green beans, followed by either refrigeration or freezing has no significant impact on the amount of healthy beta-carotene found the green beans.
In contrast, the same blanching process did end up lowering beta-carotene in some other vegetables, including peas and carrots. Vitamins B2, C, and E in green beans in this study were also found to be well retained in this quick blanching-plus-refrigeration process.
The Right Way to Blanch Green Beans
Salt and hot water are key components to blanching green beans or other vegetables. It starts with a big pot, a lot of water and a lot of salt until they are thoroughly cooked.
The right amount of each is critical to the finished product and resulting color.
You want green beans, or any green vegetables to be a bright, brilliant green — their final color can launch the flavor and impact the presentation of the entire dish. There is a time honored saying — “we taste first with our eyes” and this is true.
Any vegetables that are overcooked are dark, dull, soft and unappetizing in appearance. The faster a vegetable is cooked, through blanching, the greener it becomes and here is why.
Tips for Blanching Green Beans
Raw green vegetables generally appear dull at first glance because a layer of gas forms between the skin of the vegetable and the pigment (color).
Heat releases this gas and the color then rises to the surface. As a vegetable cooks, acids and enzymes are released — the longer the cooking process the duller the vegetable becomes as its color begins to leach out into the boiling water.
Timing is everything in blanching green beans — you want to cook as fast as possible before losing the color that makes it look appetizing.
3 Steps to the Perfect Blanch
There are 3 important steps to achieving the perfect blanched vegetable.
Step No. 1 – Blanch in a large enough quantity of water in relation to the amount of green beans or other vegetables you are cooking. You do not want to significantly lower the boiling temperature of the water when you add the cold vegetables.
If you lose the boil, the water needs to get back to boiling which means longer cooking time for the vegetable. While the vegetable sits in the hot water, the pigment-dulling enzymes to go to work (these are only destroyed at the boiling point). When you use a lot of water, it means that the pigment-dulling acids released by the green beans will become more diluted.
Step No. 2 – It is important to use a lot of salt (about 1 cup of salt per gallon of water). The water taste should resemble that of the ocean. Salt will help prevent color from leaching into the water and keeping it in the vegetable. Another benefit of adding a large quantity of salt is that the vegetables will be uniformly seasoned when they are done (and not over-seasoned).
Step No. 3 – Stop the green beans or veggies from cooking by plunging them into a large quantity of ice water. Leaving them in the ice bath only until they are thoroughly chilled and then drain them. They can them be stored in a dry container in the refrigerator for a day until ready to use or can be frozen.
Take advantage of the growing seasons and remember to do your vegetables in small batches. While the process takes a little bit of effort, the results are fresh, flavorful and brilliant in color.