Every time I set a dish of these beans on the table, I know one of my kids will ask, “Are those Metje’s beans?” It seems that if ever my mother had a signature dish, her way of making beans was it.
I remember Mom making these throughout my life, in particular mincing the onions directly into the frying pan sometimes (I learned some rather questionable knife skills from her). I’ve always assumed that Mom learned how to make these from her mother; there’s certainly a Belgian flair to this recipe. Not that I ever saw her use a recipe for them, and neither have I. It’s just how we make beans.
Yes, I’ve made some changes to Mom’s method over the years. Sometimes I throw in some yellow beans just for colour variety, like I did this Thanksgiving. Sometimes I use shallots or garlic instead of onion. I might use olive oil in place of the butter, and I’ve tried a variety of vinegars too. Mom always cut her beans into pieces about an inch and a half long, but I prefer to leave mine full length with the little tails still on (now that’s a change that raised Mom’s eyebrows). But no matter what I do, someone will always remark that these are Metje’s beans. As indeed they are.
Isn’t wonderful that someone’s memory can live on every time a simple dish that’s a family favourite is brought to the table?
Belgian-Style Green Beans
As a side dish for 4 to 6 people.
While a large pot of water is coming to a rolling boil, trim and wash about 1-1/2 pounds of green beans (substitute yellow beans for some of the green if you wish). Cut the beans into sections if you like, or leave them full-length. For added flair, leaves the curly tails on. When the water is boiling, add a teaspoon or so of salt, and then the beans. Cover the pot, turn the heat down a bit but maintain the boil, and cook for 4 minutes or until desired doneness is reached, keeping in mind the beans will cook further in the skillet.
While the beans are par-boiling, cut a small onion in half and mince it. Substitute a shallot or a clove or two of garlic if you wish. Pour the beans and their water through a strainer in the sink, and shake as much water from them as you can.
Heat a large skillet over medium high heat, and add 3 tablespoons of butter. When it’s melted and foamy, add the minced onion and cook, stirring well, until the onions are translucent or even beginning to brown. Stir in 1/2 to 1 tablespoon of white vinegar (or, white wine or red wine vinegar). Add the beans to the skillet, season with salt and pepper and mix everything together well, just until reheated.
Make Ahead Directions: While the beans are cooking, cook the butter, onion and vinegar sauce and set it aside to cool. Once you’ve drained the beans, plunge them into a bowl of ice water to chill them quickly. Drain them again, shake off as much water as possible and roll them in a clean tea towel to dry them. Lightly grease a glass or stoneware baking dish (preferably one you can use for serving). Layer in half the beans, spoon half the sauce over top, then repeat with the rest of the beans and sauce. Cover tightly with foil and/or plastic wrap and refrigerate up to one day ahead. Reheat covered with foil in a 350℉ oven for 30 minutes, or until hot.