Runner beans (Phaseolus coccineus) are pretty enough to warrant a place in the garden purely for their ornamental value. Their edible value, however, is what bumps them to the top of my ‘must plant’ list every spring. They produce an abundance of large, tasty bean pods that can be used in the kitchen in numerous different ways.
Bet ya’ didn’t know you could make a phone out of a runner bean. Is there anything this glorious plant can’t do?
Their vines climb rapidly, often reaching 8 to 10 feet in height. They need some type of support, and lend themselves to growing on a teepee made of sturdy branches like I used here. A similar type of structure can be built from bamboo canes, or, they can be trained to climb strings.
There are several different cultivars. The ones shown here with the bright red flowers are Scarlet Runner Beans. I also planted Painted Lady Runner Beans this year. They didn’t grow quite as prolifically for me, but the beans themselves are delicious. I think I may actually prefer their flavor to the scarlet runners. The beans in the photo above are a mixture of the two types, picked early to be eaten as green beans – the scarlet runners are the slightly more slender ones with a darker green color and fuzzy pods, the painted ladies are the shorter, broader ones with the smooth pods.
My favorite way to eat runner beans is sliced into 1″ lengths, lightly steamed, and then sautéed in olive oil. They can also be left on the vine until the pods start to plump up, shelled, and then used like you would use dried beans – just with a significantly shorter cooking time. Or, you can wait to pick them until the pods start to dry out, shell them, and store them as dried beans. The beans themselves are huge, so it doesn’t take nearly as long to shell a meal’s worth as it does with smaller beans. They have a delicious, hearty flavor, and are an excellent addition to soups & stews.
Do you grow runner beans? What are you favorite varieties and how do you cook them? I’m always looking for new recipes & ideas!