Grandma's Green Beans

Have you ever gone over your grandma or auntie's house when she's cooking green beans? You always catch her snapping the beans or just finishing cooking, never in the middle. And if you ask for the recipe, I guarantee you they'll leave something out so yours never come out quite right. That's because they don't want you to know how they get the rich, tender, über-flavorful beans that everyone loves. Well I apologize (not really) to all the grandmas, aunties and mothers, because I've finally cracked it.

One key is smoked meat with the bone. Just like in a great stock, the bone adds much-needed richness to humble green beans. The other key is a low amount of liquid. Cooking the beans with the lid off allows most of the liquid — you should be left with mere tablespoons by the end — to evaporate, concentrating the smoky, meaty, oniony flavors.

So don't let grandma's green beans dominate the table any more. Plop down a big bowl of your beans and watch all the women recoil in horror at your mastery of this secret recipe. Yields 4 to 6 servings.

Ingredients:

  • 1½ pounds green beans
  • ½ large white onion
  • 3 cloves garlic
  • 2 bone-in ham hocks or turkey parts
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • ¼ to ½ teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • 2 tablespoons oil
  • ½ cup vegetable stock or water, plus more

Instructions:

  1. Top and tail, and optionally string the green beans. Snap each in half if over a couple inches long. Discard any that look bad or don't snap briskly.
  2. Cut the onion in half, then slice each half horizontally. Slice into strips about ¼-inch wide. Slice the garlic thickly. 
  3. In a pot, sauté the ham hocks, onion, garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes in the oil over medium heat. Cook about 15 minutes, until the onion is browned.
  4. Add the green beans and stock or water and reduce heat to medium low. Cook, uncovered, for 30 minutes, stirring frequently at first, then less once the beans are uniformly wilted. You want to maintain a low amount of liquid in the pot, but if it gets totally dry, add a quarter cup of water or stock.
  5. Once done, season with salt to taste and serve hot.