There are vegetables and then there are sides. Vegetables are things you eat because they’re good for you, they’ve got vitamins, your mom tells you to. Sides can make or break a meal. In fact, sometimes I forgo the meat altogether and just have a plate full of sides. They’re drool-worthy. They’re the reason Thanksgiving exists.
Southern green beans are a side. Everyone who’s ever been south of the Mason/Dixon line for more than a week’s had them in some form or another and will recognize immediately how they differ from the “vegetable” version of green beans. Southern green beans cook for hours upon hours in water that smells faintly like the sea. They eventually lose their fresh-from-the-ground green color (a desirable outcome, in fact) and there’s usually pork involved.
I’ve made green beans dozens of different ways and I always end up back here. There have been cans of Del Monte, frozen monstrosities, and don’t even get me started on haricots verts. This recipe is how God intended green beans be eaten. I’m fairly sure the Big Guy loves a good meat-and-three.
SOUTHERN STYLE GREEN BEANS
makes enough for 3-4 people
1 lb. fresh green beans (not “string” beans or any kind of “pea”)
1/2 sweet onion, diced small
3 cloves of garlic, crushed
1/4 cup table salt
1 tbsp. olive oil
1/2 tsp. red pepper flakes
1/4 cup white vinegar (apple cider vinegar works fine)
*optional: bacon or a whole ham hock, if you have one lying around
1. Put a large pasta pot full of water (at least 8 cups, preferably 12) on to boil. Make sure it has a lid that fits for later. Trim the stems off the green beans then cut the beans in half down the middle.
2. Add the beans and all the other ingredients to the water and bring to a rolling boil for about 10 minutes. Lower the heat to medium-low – the water should be good and bubbling but not boiling – and simmer, covered for at least 2 hours, up to 4 hours, or until the beans are super tender and almost “mushy.” Serve straight from the pot with a slotted spoon.
If you can’t imagine green beans without some kind of ham involved, do that part first. Before you add the water to the cooking pot simply sear the bacon or ham hock in a bit of olive oil in the bottom, then add all the other ingredients. And if your water gets too salty or evaporated simply add another couple of cups during cooking. It’s hard to go wrong here.