You can buy green beans all year long, whether fresh (ideal), frozen (not too bad), or canned (ugh) -- but fresh green beans are at their best and most abundant right now.
How to Choose Good Green BeansIt's easy enough to identify good green beans visually -- smoothness and even color are good; shriveling and brownness are bad. Bend one; if it's fresh, it will snap into two pieces (that's why they call them snap beans). Green beans (and wax beans, their yellow cousins) should be eaten soon after being picked; they lose more flavor each day they sit in the refrigerator.
Preparing Green BeansPreparation is easy; just snap or cut off the stem end (the one that's blunt and brown, not pointy and green) and cut them into bite-size pieces if you like. If your beans are garden-fresh, you can eat them raw in salads or as crudités -- crunchy, juicy, and grassy in flavor, raw green beans are easy to like. Otherwise, green beans taste good after almost any amount of cooking. Boil them for three minutes, shock them in ice water, and you'll have superlatively crisp beans good for salads, snacking, or stir-fries. Boil or steam them a little longer -- up to 12 minutes -- and they'll be crisp-tender, flexible but with a little remaining bite.
But if you cook them for even longer (from 20 minutes to 2 or more hours) -- preferably with fat and other flavorings -- they'll be meltingly tender. (The classic Greek way to cook green beans -- with olive oil, onion, and tomato, over medium-low heat, for at least an hour -- is amazingly good.) Somehow green beans never get mushy, only soft and silky.
Other cooking methods are good, too; you can even microwave them: Put them on a microwave-safe plate, add a couple tablespoons water and a little salt, cover, and nuke on high for 3 minutes. If they're not done, keep going 1 minute at a time until they're as soft as you like.
Go DeepUp for something a little more complicated but incomparably delicious? Deep-fry them. Deep-frying often intimidates novices (and even not-novices) but it's really quite simple. You just need a large, deep saucepan or Dutch oven and a lot of oil (grapeseed, corn, and peanut all work reliably). If your oil is hot enough (drop a bean in; it should float and the oil should bubble around it), the beans won't even soak up very much fat. You can coat green beans in a batter made with 1 1/2 cups flour and 2 cups cold club soda before frying -- they get fabulously crisp and golden. Or try my version of a Chinese classic -- deep-fry green beans, then stir-fry them with sausage, scallion, chile, and soy sauce. This may sound like overkill, but it's not -- I don't have much patience for fussy recipes, but this one is quick, easy, and totally worthwhile.
Make Green Bean RecipesOn hot summer days, however, you may be craving something a little quicker and simpler. In this case, boil green beans, shock them, and toss them with a super-easy blender dressing based on miso and cashews. This salad is rich but cooling -- perfect for summer, but so good that you'll crave it year round.