French beans, often used interchangeably with the terms green beans or runner beans, are a general name given to the picked fruit of just about any type of beans. These commonly include the hyacinth bean, yardlong bean, and the aptly named common bean. The beans are usually picked while not yet ripe, and can be eaten directly from the plant or may be prepared and cooked in a number of ways. French beans are often eaten still inside their pods, and come in two general varieties: pole beans and bush beans.
Pole beans tend to require poles or other forms of support, such as a garden trellis, to grow along and develop. Bush beans, however, do not require support and grow in small bushes similar to other types of vegetation. Both types of beans have typically been cultivated to produce varieties with pods that are larger and preferably have a stronger and more distinct flavor.
Despite the tendency for some French beans to be green in color, the term “green beans” actually comes from the eating of beans that have not yet ripened and dried out, with “green” referring to unripened fruit. Many varieties of French beans are not green in color, and can be purple, yellow, or red. There are a number of different ways to prepare and enjoy French beans, with steaming, stir frying, and baking being among the most common. While they typically have a strong enough flavor on their own, especially sweet varieties, many people prefer a small amount of butter, salt, and pepper on their beans.
French beans are commonly cooked quite simply, by steaming them in a steamer basket in a pot with a shallow pool of water, or in a microwave with a small amount of water added to the dish the beans are in. This type of cooking maintains the flavor of the bean, and though it softens them slightly, they can still retain much of their texture if not overcooked. Frying, especially stir frying, is also quite a common way to prepare French beans, as lightly cooking them in the hot oil can add a certain amount of crispness to the beans.
One especially popular dish that uses French beans is a baked casserole, often made and served in the United States for holiday meals such as Thanksgiving dinner. The beans are usually combined with cream of mushroom soup, milk, some salt and pepper, and French fried onions, then baked for around a half hour. This produces a final casserole that is creamy and hot with a crispy onion topping, while the beans retain their own flavor and soft texture.