By Franz Scheurer
I grew up in Switzerland, where as part of the age-old process of conserving vegetables and fruit for the long, cold winters, green beans were sun-dried until shriveled up, looking like some kind of dried and twisted large worms. They then kept indefinitely, stored in a cool, dark place (eg. The cellar) and when the time came to eat them you simply soaked the beans in water overnight then cooked them slowly with onions and garlic, seasoned with salt and pepper and a knob of butter. As with every product, drying intensifies the flavour, and I was looking forward to the winter version of green beans throughout the summer.
Every time I visit Switzerland, I bring a few packets of dried green beans home to Australia with me, and as long as they are commercially packed, quarantine officers have no problems with this. I use them the traditional way, sometimes steaming a Lyonnaise sausage or a slab of smoked pork belly on top, which makes a hearty winter meal with some boiled potatoes with Dijon mustard on the side.
You can imagine my surprise and delight when I found out that the Chinese do exactly the same thing (must have got it from the Swiss!) and dried green beans are readily available in many Chinese grocery stores.
This led me to cook them more often, in larger quantities, as they are now not quite as precious, and I found that if you soak them in water for about 6 hours, then slowly poach them in brown chicken stock with the pressed pulp of a couple of garlic cloves and a couple of red shallots until they're soft and the stock has evaporated, they taste superb and have just the right texture.
For the first time ever, last week, I had some left over. Unthinkable! I put them in the fridge and the next day I wondered how to reheat them. I decided to spread them on an oven tray, sprinkle with extra virgin olive oil and sea salt, then bake them in a 200 C oven until they're crisp, and I ended up with an absolutely delicious dish, that presented beautifully and tasted wonderful.
Cooked this way, you can serve them like French fries as an accompaniment or, in smaller quantities, as a garnish.
Try it one day; you’ll be surprised just how good it really is.