Slow-cooked green beans? YUM!

Submitted by Judy on Fri, 09/12/2008 - 4:56pm.

When I think back to my grandmother’s cooking, nothing green comes to mind. Beets, carrots, onions, radishes – those familiar vegetables of Eastern Europe graced her table in America as well. When I asked my mother if she could remember eating any vegetables when she was growing up, she said, “Sure. We had potatoes.”

Oh, I suppose you could say my grandmother had a Victory garden – if you can call winning the war against aphids a victory. She grew roses, not vegetables! Which is not to say she wasn’t fiercely patriotic. For my grandparents, proud to be American citizens, Election Day was a major event, requiring hours of preparation and wardrobe consultation. But my grandmother contributed to the war effort by rolling miles of bandages for the Red Cross, not by harvesting broccoli.

By the 1950s, when I was growing up, the Jolly Green Giant had cut a mighty swath across the land and convenience was in. My generation, however, remembers vegetables as a toll to be paid for crossing the bridge to the treasure on the other side, as in “Eat your vegetables and you can have dessert.” Or so I’m told. No one had to coax us to eat anything in our house.

Ahead of her time, my mother actually steamed a veggie or two. For company she’d present a gorgeous display: a whole head of cauliflower surrounded by bursts of red, green, and orange. But in truth, she did it more for presentation than nutrition. And as for the vegetables she served for family dinners, I suspect she was more concerned about filling us up low-calorically than she was about our vitamin consumption.

Those grandmas of yore who did serve vegetables came from a long tradition of overcooking them. When I interviewed Joyce Goldstein for her cookbook Cucina Ebraica, she suggested a reason. “These are people that lived without ovens,” she noted. “They brought things to the baker to be cooked and picked up later, and some things were cooked a very long time. Vegetables – in those days you never got a crunch in your life!”

That is why this slow-cooked green bean recipe was the last one I tested for my cookbook. I’m a big roasted vegetables fan and love them crisp, but was I ever surprised. The ketchup, though hardly authentic, adds just the right touch of sweetness, and although the green beans were done at twenty-five minutes, I went ahead and listened to Ketty and cooked them for the full hour. Surprisingly, the beans aren’t mushy at all, but pick up the sweetness of the tomatoes. I really love this dish served at room temperature, just the ticket for easy end-of-summer entertaining.

Ketty, 95, now lives in a senior facility in Orange County. Her parents fled their home in Smyrna, Turkey, because of religious oppression and settled in Cairo, where she was born. Then, when she was fourteen, the family moved to Paris. She and her husband, Robert, married in the Philippines lived in Spain during the Spanish Civil War. Her cooking reflects her rich Sephardic heritage.

from COOKING JEWISH: 652 Great Recipes from the Rabinowitz Family (Workman) by Judy Bart Kancigor

1 pound green beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 small onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 medium-size tomatoes, or 4 canned tomatoes, chopped and drained (juices reserved)
2 tablespoons ketchup
1/2 teaspoon kosher (coarse) salt, or to taste
Black pepper to taste

1. Cut off stem end of green beans, and cut beans diagonally in half or thirds. Set aside.
2. Heat oil in a large skillet over medium heat. Add onion and cook until soft, about 4 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring constantly, about 1 minute more.
3. Add tomatoes, ketchup, and liquid from tomatoes plus enough water to make 1 cup.
4. Bring to a boil. Then reduce heat, add green beans, and cover skillet. Simmer slowly until beans have absorbed all the liquid, about 1 hour. (If the liquid evaporates too quickly, add a little water. In the more likely event there is too much liquid, cook uncovered until liquid evaporates.)
4. Season with salt and pepper, and serve warm or at room temperature.

From The Orange County Register/Fullerton News Tribune 9/11/08