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Chef's Hat: Bursting with Beans

This has not been one of the best summers in the lakes area. The weather has been hot and humid, the bugs horrendous and storms have ravaged the area, toppling large trees and causing power outages. But despite all that, area gardens are starting to burst with fresh vegetables.

A quick peek in my garden reveals a lot of green beans, actually an overabundance. It's not a tough job to freeze green beans; simply blanch them in boiling water for a few minutes, put them in freezer bags, date the bags and toss them in the freezer.

But really, there is nothing better than going out into the garden, picking a batch of fresh vegetables, bringing them inside, cooking and eating them right away. You just don't get any fresher tasting than that.

So the quest was made to find new ways to cook up those fabulous beans. Indeed, there are dozens of great ways to use beans as side dishes, salads and even as part of main entrees.

It doesn't take much to enhance the flavor of beans. The most common way is to boil or steam the beans and throw in a few pieces of bacon or chopped up ham. I prefer steaming as it keeps more nutrients in the beans, and they also stay crunchier.

As with all vegetables, be careful when steaming or boiling. Overcooking results in the loss of nutrients and flavor and often makes them a bit too mushy for recipes. Don't start cooking and then sit down to watch a movie!

Not a gardener? Frozen beans work in these recipes, and you can also check farmers' markets or your local store for fresh beans. They won't be quite as fresh as picking them from your own garden, but they will still be much better than canned beans.

Enjoy summer's bounty. Happy eating!