A Better Bean

Last week I showed you how I made an off-limits food available again by a good recipe and a smart substitution. This week I’m sharing a better recipe for a holiday supper staple: the Green Bean Casserole.

It’s a simple side dish to prepare, made so by canned cream of mushroom soup, beans and fried onions. All that’s usually needed is a can opener, some milk and some pepper.

For all that the flavor of the dish is palatable to most diners and it does add a token green vegetable to the holiday table, the highly-processed ingredients leave much to be desired. So, this year, I set out to make the dish that we all enjoy in a way that did not make me ashamed to bring it to table.

I began with the onions. From my experience with the Indian Cooking Challenge I’d fallen in love with a certain coating for fried onions that would make the humble ring or blossom blush. With that taken care of, it was simply a matter of devising a substitute for the condensed soup. The answer? A mushroom veloute (aka white sauce made with stock, not milk). While this version takes a few moments longer to prepare, the end result was far superior to the pre-fab original.

Green Bean Casserole from scratch

We opted to use flat Italian or Pole beans as they have more surface area to collect flavor and are easier to spear with a fork. The chili powder in the onion batter can be increased or decreased to taste and adds a wonderful dimension to the finished dish. Of course, if you’re a fan of onion rings you might want to make extras to allow for, uh, quality control 😉

Yes, we still fry the onions–this is, after all, a recipe best saved for holidays–but our sauce is miles better than the preservative-laden canned stuff that would otherwise be used.

A Better Green Bean Casserole

2 lb Green Beans, fresh or frozen

Fried Onions
2 Onions
5/8 cup Gram Flour (besan or garbanzo bean flour)
1 Tbsp Salt
1 tsp Chili Powder
1/2 cup Water, as needed
Canola Oil for frying

Mushroom Veloute

2 Tbsp Butter
2 Tbsp Flour
1/4 cup minced Mushrooms
1 1/3 cup Vegetable Stock
Salt and Pepper to taste

Serves 6-8

Prepare the Onions

Heat oil to 350° Fahrenheit while you prepare the onions for frying.

Peel and quarter the onions, slicing each quarter into quarter-rings. You want pieces up to 2 inches long and no more than 1/4 inch thick.

Combine the gram flour and spices and then the water, a little at a time, until a thin paste is formed, like that of pancake batter. You may not need all the water, then again you may need more. Use your discretion.

Toss the onions in the batter enough that the batter evenly coats all the onion pieces.

Fry in batches (I suggest dropping 3 tong-fuls at a time, depending on the size of your fryer). With either the frying basket or a spider-strainer, break up any clumps of onions that appear to form and fry until the onions are a light golden brown. (Remember that fried foods darken by 2 shades after removing from the fat.)

Drain the onions on paper towels until cool.

Make the Veloute

In a sturdy saucepan, melt the butter over medium-high heat and whisk in the flour to make a roux. Cook the roux over medium heat for a few minutes, stirring constantly, but do not let the roux darken.

Whisk in a small amount of the vegetable stock and stir until smooth. The first addition will cause the roux to bubble up or clump, this is normal, just keep stirring until it smooths back out.

Keep stirring in the stock until half has been incorporated, then add the minced mushrooms. Continue adding the stock until it’s all in, season with salt and pepper to taste and cook until thickened.

**Both the onions and the veloute can be made ahead and stored in the fridge until needed. The veloute can even be frozen for longer storage.**

Assemble the Casserole

Steam the green beans until tender. 10-15 minutes in the microwave does the job well, but use the method you’re most comfortable with.

In a large bowl, combine the beans, veloute and half the fried onions.

Butter a casserole dish and pour the combined ingredients into it.

Bake at 350° Fahrenheit for 25 minutes, until heated through and bubbling. Sprinkle the remaining fried onions on top of the casserole and put back in the oven for 5 minutes, or until the onions are crispy around the edges.

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