MELISSA BLOCK, host:
With Thanksgiving fast approaching and the family cooks starting to sweat, we're looking for vegetable inspiration. And who better to offer some ideas than the high priestess of the vegetable, cookbook author Mollie Katzen, who joins us from across the country. She's in our kitchen in Northern California. Hey, Mollie.
Ms. MOLLIE KATZEN (Author, "The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without"): Hey, Melissa. How are you?
BLOCK: Good to talk to you again.
Ms. KATZEN: You, too.
BLOCK: You call yourself a leaf geek, but today we're not going to be talking about leaves. You're going to be giving us some ideas of things to do with the bean.
Ms. KATZEN: Yeah. We're going to be a legume geek today.
BLOCK: Legume geek with green beans.
Ms. KATZEN: With green beans.
BLOCK: And you're going to cook for us. What are you going to make?
Ms. KATZEN: For a lot of people, it's not Thanksgiving without the green beans. But usually, that means the casserole coming out of the oven and mushy and creamy and having taken up a lot of space in the oven. So what I want to turn people in the direction of is stove top green beans. Something you can whip together late in the game like right before you sit down.
BLOCK: So you're making what exactly here?
Ms. KATZEN: Dramatically seared green beans is the name of my recipe.
BLOCK: OK, we expect some high drama. And why don't you tell us what you're doing.
Ms. KATZEN: I have had a pan on my stove for a couple of minutes now. It's a big, wide pan and if the pan is really hot, then the beans get seared as they go into the pan. Sear, meaning like a very dramatic and a sudden exposure to heat that kind of gets them sealed in their own flavor and juiciness. And now, I'm going to add some oil, in this case peanut oil, which is a really nice oil. It gets comfortably to a high temperature and I'm going to swirl the pan. And now our moment is coming, Melissa.
BLOCK: The moment of truth and drama.
Ms. KATZEN: The moment of truth and drama, and the green beans are going into the pan. And here they go, into the pan.
(Soundbite of cooking)
Ms. KATZEN: And now I'm just waiting a few minutes so they kind of get settled in and you can either shake the pan or stir it. What I love to use, my favorite utensil for this, is a big tong that's got - it's spring-loaded so I can operate it with one hand, and hold the pan with the other. So now, I'm going to be turning them with the tong. That's plural, I guess that's tongs.
Ms. KATZEN: And at this point, I'm going to add the salt. I didn't add it right away because I wanted them to cook without sweating. You know, when you add salt to a cooking vegetable, it starts to sweat and its inner juices come out and it kind of steams itself a little bit.
BLOCK: And you don't want that right away?
Ms. KATZEN: No, you want a dry cooking process. And leaving the salt out for the first few minutes forces the beans to cook from their own inner juices. They get sealed with the oil and seared in the oil, and then the salt kind of coats them along with the oil after that initial searing process.
BLOCK: And so that's it, Mollie. Just the beans, the oil, and a little salt?
Ms. KATZEN: I'm adding - very late in the game, this is late considering how hot my stove is and how fast these are cooking. Just two minutes into it is already late in the game. I'm adding a tablespoon of garlic. This is to a pound of green beans. I don't like to add the garlic any sooner than this because garlic burns really easily. And there's a really big difference between fresh garlic that's just beautifully cooked, like, for just the right amount of time, and garlic that was in there for like two seconds too long, it got brown.
BLOCK: Yeah, I've made that mistake many times.
Ms. KATZEN: There's that kind of unpleasant bitterness, so the garlic is just going in very, very much towards the end. And then the very last - oh gosh, and the smell is just fantastic, fantastical garlic smell. And the very last thing I'm putting in are the red chili flakes, that dried red pepper, that gives it both a really nice, tawny color finish. And also it gives it that bite.
And now, there's kind of a steam wafting up from the pan. And because the pan is so wide, it really delivers the aroma to me and to my kitchen. And they're just beautiful. I mean, now they're coated with that garlic and with those red pepper flakes and I'm ready to take my tongs and lift them out of the pan. I'll just leave the pan on the stove, I turn it off and I lift them onto a plate.
And, you know, I want people to know that this dish, it's great fresh out of the pan. But it's also really good at room temperature. And I think the more options we have for a food that doesn't need to be like piping hot, direct from the stove for Thanksgiving, the more relaxed the host can be. Because if you're really worrying about everything has to be really hot and fresh from the stove, fresh from the oven, there's just a lot of competition for that in terms of all the different dishes. So the more dishes that have, like, flexibility about how - what their temperature is, the more relaxed the cook can be.
BLOCK: Well Mollie, what if people are really tied to tradition, though, and you know, you mentioned the green bean casserole. What if people really love the green bean casserole with mushroom soup and, you know, the crunchy French fried onions on top?
Ms. KATZEN: Well, I would say that I would never mess with anyone's tradition. You know, that's something that you just have a - you know, very sweet and nostalgic taste memory of and need to have that. I would say, go ahead and make that. Or if you want it to be a healthier version, you could make a green bean amandine that's very similar to what I just did on stove top. But if you really need that can of soup version, go for your traditional foods definitely.
BLOCK: Open up that can of mushroom soup.
Ms. KATZEN: Well, you can if you really have to. And, of course, you have to open up the can of French-fried onion rings to put on the top.
BLOCK: Well, Mollie Katzen, have a great Thanksgiving. Thanks very much.
Ms. KATZEN: Oh, thank you, too, Melissa. Take care.
BLOCK: Mollie Katzen with some green bean ideas from her cookbook, "The Vegetable Dishes I Can't Live Without." You'll find a link to those recipes at our website, npr.org.