It’s a summer dish in every southern grandparent’s home. It’s served at weddings, funerals and special events. The sight of it makes pseudo-healthy eaters start a conversation about unhealthy southern food and it’s over-cooked vegetables. Every child of the south has memories of watching television, only to have a large bowl of this vegetable unexpectedly placed in front of them. They dare not verbally protest. The snapping sound of each wax green bean’s ends being trimmed are heard with the sound of a television. For a generation of a certain age, such sounds brings back memories of watching their grandparents prepare meals.
Today’s version of slow-simmering green beans is a sloppy dish. Poorly seasoned. Overcooked until mushy. Sadly, even the best southern cooks are known to use the frozen variety, in which it’s texture can’t withstand the slow simmering time. Maybe, it’s a dish meant to be forgotten on the back-eye of the stove as the fried or barbecue meat is carefully tended with care. To be honest, I don’t think slow-simmered green beans are my favorite dish. At catered events, I never protest a server placing a spoonful on my plate. After all, it’s one of the few vegetables being served, along with a dry salad and store-bought dressing.
As kale is the king of the healthy food movement and long-simmered collard greens are bragged about, slow-cooked wax green beans remains a stodgy dish. Younger folks prefer to stir-fry, steam or blanch them. We’re told green beans should stop cooking when they turn a bright spring green, and military-fatigue colored green beans represent an over cooked dish. Even I have converted Dad from cooking wax green beans for a long-time to quickly sautéing them, because the latter technique preserves vitamins.
What’s wrong with having vitamins float in their cooking liquid? When it comes to slow-simmered, southern collard greens, Melissa Danielle mentioned our slave ancestors drinked the potlikker while doing hard-labor in the field. Personally, I’ve been known to place long simmering leafy greens or wax beans in a bowl and sop the juice with slightly sweetened cornbread. My stomach turns when watching people strain potilikker from collard greens or wax green beans down the kitchen drain. They don’t realize they’re throwing away vital nutrients.
After attending another event with bland and mushy green beans, I decided to recreate the dish with flavorful ingredients. This version uses smoked turkey, but ham can be substituted. A chopped turnip is thrown in for a bit of starch. Creating a similar potlikker as collard greens, the wax green beans are slowly-simmered down until tender. This dish isn’t meant to be crispy or mushy. For the right texture, slowly simmer the wax green beans on low heat for no more than an hour.
We served the green beans with oven-fried chicken thighs. This time, the green beans were carefully tended with care, as the chicken cooked in the oven without worry. The bird parts were forgotten until a timer reminded me of their presence. Along with a hunky piece of cornbread, the meal reminded me of visiting family, this time with a vivid memory of slowly-simmered wax green beans with a sweet and sour taste and tender texture.