In this story
Po-Po, my grandmother, taught me to love fresh beans. Well, technically, bean pods ― beans that are bred and grown to be eaten before the seeds inside are fully developed, while the pod that cradles them is still tender, plump, and fleshy.
A passionate gardener, Po-Po planted the kinds of beans she liked to eat, none of which we found at the local grocer's. She also was an exacting cook who prepared beans tender-crisp and brightly colored ― hardly the olive drab, mushy norm of the mid-'50s.
Her fresh beans grew fast, sometimes rambling, sometimes in bushes. The ones I remember most fondly were dark green, round, skinny, and almost the yard long their name promised. She also grew a bean that was short, plump, and a translucent gold. She would slice the pods into bite-size lengths, briefly boil or steam them, then stir-fry them ― with ingredients like pork and a pungent sauce ― until they were full of flavor, yet still so crunchy they squeaked when chewed.
Times have changed. The beans that Po-Po grew, as well as many others that are equally colorful and tasty, are readily available in farmers' markets and well-stocked supermarkets: long or short, thin or wide, rounded or flat. Some are distinguished by a variety name, others by their physical characteristics like color and shape. And some beans have pronounced flavor, while others are more delicate in taste. Some are chewier than others (though all fresh beans are tender); past their prime, beans get tough and fibrous.
Regardless, the simplest, freshest way to deal with beans is to cook them to crunchy tenderness. Then enjoy them, lightly seasoned or vividly sauced, as a vegetable or salad, with pasta, or in soup. These recipes take advantage of the color, texture, size, and shape of the beans in today's market ― while duly honoring Po-Po's stringent cooking standards.