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6 fresh and simple ways to cook green beans

Boiled, blanched or roasted: Here's how to prep and cook green beans like a pro.
Green beans on a plate
TODAY Illustration / Getty Images

Fresh green beans done right just scream spring, with their crisp-tender texture and light grassy flavor that serves as the perfect canvas for your favorite spices. Banish those bad memories of overcooked, sad and mushy green beans. Green beans cook up quickly — they just need the right technique to shine in all their green glory.

Green beans
Line up a handful of green beans on a cutting board, and cut off the ends of the whole bunch. Courtesy of Vidya Rao

How to prep fresh green beans

Place fresh green beans in a colander and rinse thoroughly with cool water. To dry, shake them off (if Taylor Swift is playing in the background, even better). Line up a handful of green beans on a cutting board, and cut off the ends of the whole bunch. Turn them around and do the other side. Depending on the recipe you’re using them for, you can cut them into smaller pieces (adding to salads, casseroles, stews or rice dishes) or keep them whole (this works for most side dishes where the green beans play a starring role).

Green beans being boiled
Quickly boiling green beans in salted water is also known as blanching.Courtesy of Vidya Rao

How to cook green beans

You want to avoid overcooking green beans, but you also don’t want to undercook them, or as most commonly happens, overcook the outside while the inside remains tough and kind of stringy. One solution is to quickly boil the green beans in salted water, also known as blanching. Bring a pot of water to a boil and add a good amount of salt (similar to pasta, you want the water to be salty like the ocean to flavor the green beans from the inside out). Drop in your trimmed green beans and cook for about 3 minutes. Drain and put green beans into a bowl of ice water. This is called shocking, and it stops the cooking process. Now they are ready to eat in preparations like salads, you can throw them into your green bean casserole or pasta bake before they go into the oven, or add them in the last couple minutes of cooking skillet potatoes. Once your green beans are blanched, you can also sub them in for canned green beans in most recipes. If you have an abundance of fresh green beans, blanch and shock them before you freeze them.

Green beans in cold water
Shocking the beans with ice water stops the cooking process.Courtesy of Vidya Rao

How to saute green beans in a pan

Saute green beans for a fantastic side dish, especially when they are super garlicky. Heat a pan on medium, and use a neutral oil with a high smoke point, like grapeseed, canola or sunflower oil. Once hot, add your trimmed, whole green beans and a sprinkling of salt. Saute, stirring often, for 6 to 7 minutes, adding garlic halfway through. Add 2 tablespoons of water and immediately cover with a lid. Let steam for about 2 minutes. This is the step that will make sure the green bean cooks all the way through. Remove the lid and give it a stir. Add salt to taste. Additionally, I love to add a spoon of Chinese chili bean sauce for a deep, umami flavor. You can go with a little butter, another sauce like pesto or coconut curry, a squeeze of lemon juice or just eat as is.

Green beans
Add a spoon of Chinese chili bean sauce to sauteed beans for a deep, umami flavor.Courtesy of Vidya Rao

How to roast green beans

Green beans roast up really quickly, and the caramelization of cooking in the oven adds a nice depth of flavor. People who like their green beans soft may also want to opt for roasting their green beans. Preheat the oven at 425F. Make sure the green beans are completely dry after washing. Toss the green beans in oil and your choice of seasonings; you can go simple with garlic and salt, or go with any combo of spices: cumin, coriander and chili powder; za’atar; shichimi togarashi or herbes de Provence. Cook for about 15 minutes.

How to air-fry green beans

The air fryer can easily work its magic on green beans. There are a couple ways you can do this. First, you can go simple and straightforward. Preheat the air fryer at 400. Toss your trimmed green beans in oil and your seasonings of choice, put them in the basket and cook for 6 to 8 minutes, giving the basket a shake midway through. For something a bit more festive, you can make green bean “fries.” Coat your trimmed green beans in an egg wash, then cover in a seasoned almond flour or panko breadcrumb mixture. Spritz with non-aerosol oil spray and cook at 400 for 6 to 8 minutes. Enjoy a crunchy, delicious snack!

How to microwave green beans

While it’s not the preferred method of cooking, you can easily steam cook green beans in the microwave and still end up with a side dish that’s pretty good. Place your trimmed green beans in a microwave-safe bowl. Add about 2 tablespoons of water to the bowl. Cover the bowl with a plate or a microwave-safe lid. Cook for 4 to 5 minutes, until the green beans are fork-tender, Drain the water. The bowl and steam will be hot, so be careful. Add some salt, pepper and some butter or oil, and toss. If you want additional flavor, try adding a bit of sambal oelek chili paste or a dash of soy sauce.

How to cook soft green beans

If tender-crisp green beans just aren’t your thing, there are plenty of preparations for soft green beans. Add green beans to soups and stews; you can add them in the last 20 minutes of cooking or, if you prefer your green beans meltingly soft, add them in earlier with other vegetables. You can also cook them in broth with bacon low and slow for an hour plus, like in this Southern-style side dish eaten over cornbread.

However you like to eat them, just eat them! Green beans are so easy to make and so versatile. Skip the canned stuff and go for the fresh option — your taste buds will certainly thank you.