orange sesame green beans

Green beans, often called string beans, can rarely be found today with the fibrous string that was once their hallmark; the first stringless beans were bred in the late 19th century. Green beans as well as all other types of beans are derived from a common bean ancestor originating in Peru; migrating Native American tribes spread them throughout South and Central America, and in the 16th century returning Spanish explorers introduced them to Europe. Green beans are the immature form of any kind of bean, picked while the inner beans just begin to form. Also called snap beans, they constitute one of the few types of beans that can be eaten raw. Their impressive nutritional profile serves just as a bonus to their sweetness and flavor; they rank very high in Vitamins K and C, manganese, and many others.

Purchase green beans that feel smooth and firm, look smooth and vibrantly green, and snap when broken. Unwashed fresh green beans should be kept in a bag in the refrigerator, where they will keep for about a week. Immediately before using the green beans, rinse them and chop off both ends (particularly the stem end).

This recipe is my answer to the cravings I get for orange chicken whenever I visit a Chinese restaurant. Don't skimp on the sesame seeds, which make an astonishing difference in the flavor and texture, or the chopped orange segments, which should caramelize until browned and delicious. These can be served as a side dish or over brown rice.

Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: 30 minutes, including soak time
Serves 4-6

2 oranges, zested, peeled, segmented, and chopped
2 tablespoons agave nectar
1 tablespoon Bragg's aminos or tamari
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
2 tablespoons orange juice
1/2 teaspoon ground pepper
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 tablespoon olive oil
roughly 1 lb green beans, washed and trimmed
1/4 cup sesame seeds

Whisk together the agave, Bragg's, balsamic, orange juice, pepper, garlic, oil, and chopped orange and zest. Place the mixture and the green beans in a large, shallow frying pan or wide saucepan. Soak 15-20 minutes, stirring every 5 minutes or so to soak all the beans. Bring the mixture to a boil over medium-high heat, then turn down and simmer, covered, for 10-15 minutes. Uncover and continue cooking until most of the liquid is absorbed and the beans are slightly shriveled and the orange slices are caramelized.

Meanwhile, toast the sesame seeds in a frying pan over medium-high heat, shaking often, until fragrant and lightly browned. Serve the beans plain or over brown rice or quinoa, and sprinkle liberally with the toasted sesame seeds.


grandma's rhubarb bars with orange and cardamom

Most of us know and love rhubarb (aka "pie plant") for its sweet-tart flavor found most often in pies, tarts, and sauces. The leaves of the rhubarb plant are toxic, but the beautiful red stalks are edible. Raw, the celery-like rhubarb stalks have a very strong tart flavor, so they're usually cooked and sweetened (such as in strawberry-rhubarb pie) to soften them and counteract the tartness. Though used as a fruit in cooking, rhubarb technically falls into the vegetable category. Its season varies from April to September with location, but in our yard ripens in July or August. Besides the classic rhubarb and strawberry, rhubarb also pairs nicely with caramel, mint, or orange and cardamom (hence this recipe).

These bars come from a veganized version of my grandma's recipe. I also added cardamom and orange to her rhubarb filling because I had them sitting around and it sounded good. The crust/crumble part is very versatile, so you could try any filling you want, with whatever fruit or spices you have on hand. (For example, raspberry bars sound good, and so do orange-chocolate bars or blackberry-ginger-peach bars.) These bars can be made ahead of time and frozen. I think they actually taste better when they're very cold.

Total time: 45 minutes
Makes 10-15 bars

2 cups sliced fresh or frozen rhubarb (4-6 stalks)
2 zested, peeled, segmented, and sliced orange
1 tablespoon ground cardamom (if you want more traditional rhubarb bars, omit the orange and cardamom but use 1.5 cups of rhubarb)
1/2 cup agave
2 tablespoons arrowroot powder

1 cup sliced almonds
2 cups oats
1 cup Florida Crystals (or another vegan sugar)
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon salt
2/3 cup coconut oil, melted

Grease a 9"x13" baking pan. Preheat the oven to 375F.

For the filing, combine the rhubarb, orange segments and zest, cardamom, and agave in a medium saucepan. Bring to a boil, reduce heat, and simmer uncovered for about 5 minutes. Add in the arrowroot and stir in over medium-low heat for another minute or so, until thickened. Remove from heat and set aside to cool.

Meanwhile, in a coffee grinder or food processor, coarsely grind the almonds (there should still be large pieces) and then coarsely grind the oats. Whisk together the almonds, oats, sugar, salt, and soda in a small bowl. Blend in the melted coconut oil with your hands. Remove 1 cup of the crumb mixture for topping, and place in the freezer to set the crumbs.

Press the remaining crumb mixture in the bottom of the prepared pan. Evenly spread the rhubarb mixture on top, and sprinkle the reserved crumb mixture.

Bake for 30 minutes, or until the top is golden. Cool in pan and place in the freezer. Once completely cooled, cut into bars, and store in a sealed container in the freezer (if you don't store them in the freezer, the crust can get slightly soggy). Take them out several minutes before serving to thaw slightly. They will get less tart the longer they thaw.