Louisiana Zydeco musician, Clifton Chenier, sang, ‘”Eh, maman, Eh, maman, Les haricots sont pas salés,” Translated, the Creole French phrase means, “Hey mom, Hey mom, The snap beans don’t have salt.” Today I’m cooking green beans — les haricots verts — but, yes, I am adding a little salt. I love green beans — especially fresh green beans which are picked from a garden in early summer. I have tried various ways to dress up the green beans for the holidays. My favorite recipe idea combines sesame and garlic mixed into the green beans. Plus, I added a few red pepper flakes! Can’t help it. This is Louisiana. It is a very tasty and simple recipe.
You can’t go wrong by serving green beans at a holiday meal. A recent survey (see end of post) showed green beans as the sixth most favorite vegetable of Americans. However, I might rate green beans higher on this popularity scale, especially with kids.
Good quality fresh green beans just aren’t available in months other than early summer. So, I used frozen haricots verts and discovered a brand which is close in flavor to the fresh ones. I tried several recipes to prepare the green beans. Adding fresh sautéed garlic, sesame oil and sesame seeds plus a dash of red pepper flakes and soy sauce was enough to add a flavor “punch” to the green beans while still keeping true to the fresh green bean flavor. These green beans are alot like the ones which you might find on a buffet of a Chinese restaurant. However, I “Americanized” the recipe just a bit. Rather than cooking the green beans in a wok, I steamed them first in water. Then I drained the beans and mixed them with the garlic-sesame oil dressing. Just a much simpler way to prepare this dish, in my opinion. And who has a wok? Cooking with a wok is not always easy, and splattering oil or burning the food can be a “wok” problem.
Les Haricots Verts vs Green Beans
Haricots verts are the same thing as green beans. However, usually haricot verts are skinner and longer than green beans. I tried many brands of frozen green beans and haricots verts. I don’t usually recommend brands. However, the Whole Foods brand was perfect. The haricots verts (green beans) were tender and tasted exactly like fresh ones. I’ll not skimp on this recipe.
Clifton Chenier and Zydeco Music
What is Zydeco music? Clifton Chenier (1925 – 1987) hails from deep in the bayou area of southwest Louisiana around Opelousas. He is a Creole French-speaking native and “King of Zydeco” music. Chenier travelled and performed all over the country. He won a Grammy in 1983 when his popularity peaked. Chenier was honored posthumously in 2014 with the Grammy Lifetime-Achievement Award. “Les Haricots Sont Pas Sales” is one of the tunes which made him famous.
Zydeco music is a funky blend of Caribbean, R&B, blues, rock and roll and native Indian music. Typically it has a very strong beat, played up tempo, in a syncopated manner. The music is centered around the accordion and originally the music was sung in Creole French. A washboard is an intregral part of the band and is included as a percussive instrument. Usually the band also includes an electric guitar, bass, keyboard, and drums. Zydeco music differs slightly from Cajun music. The beat of Zydeco music is much stronger and Zydeco bands usually don’t include a fiddle which is a main component in a Cajun band. And neither are to be confused with “swamp pop.”
The origin of the term “zydeco” is most often attributed to the folk expression “les haricots sont pas sales.” When the expression is spoken quickly in Creole French, “les haricots” sounds like “zydeco.” Hence, “zydeco” translates to “green beans.” The expression, “”les haricots sont pas sales.” (the beans are not salted), refers to the hard times when people could not even afford to put salt pork in their pot of beans.
Does zydeco music still exist? While we were taking a Sunday outing and bike ride in a very rural part of Cajun Louisiana near St. Martinsville years ago, we ran across a horse-drawn wagon moving slowly down the road. There in the back of the wagon sat a man playing a large accordion and singing in Creole French. Around the bend in the road, a picnic lunch was being set up in a field — for a large Sunday crowd. It was a unique glimpse into Creole French culture which I will never forget. Although that event was years ago, I am guessing that these Sunday picnics for family and friends still exist.
When the Covid pandemic subsided in the summer of 2021, we took in an afternoon outdoor concert in downtown Baton Rouge. Here a contemporary zydeco band played the same rhythmic and driving music. Although we were looking into the sun — which made taking photos difficult — you can still see the traditional accordion and washboard being played by band members. Great listening and dance music. So, zydeco music is alive and thriving.
Preparing the recipe using my method is simple. Here are the ingredients for my recipe. I used both canola oil and dark sesame oil. Sesame oil gives a great flavor, but it is not good for cooking. Cook only over low heat. Don’t skimp on the garlic — only use fresh cloves in this recipe. For a Louisiana twist, I added a few red pepper flakes which added a “hot” element. However, these can be skipped if desired. Soy sauce and sugar (not shown in this photo) add an oriental touch. I purchased sesame seeds which are already toasted which saved a step.
Here is my process. Steam the green beans (haricots verts) in salted water until they are cooked and tender. Bring the beans to a boil, add a lid and turn the heat to low. The beans will steam. This took about 10 minutes. Drain well in a colander.
Slice three large garlic cloves. (Don’t mash them.) Heat the vegetable oil and sesame seed oil over medium heat (not hot heat) in a large skillet. Add the sliced garlic and a few dashes of red pepper flakes (optional). Sauté until the garlic has turned nice and light brown and is aromatic. Turn off the heat. Add the well-drained green beans and toss to combine. Take caution, so that the greens don’t spatter the oil. If desired, mix in a two teaspoons of sugar and a little soy sauce.
Transfer to a serving bowl. Sprinkle on toasted sesame seeds. For color, I added a few pieces of diced, canned pimentos.
This is a flavorful way to serve green beans. And I am a garlic “lover.” The recipe has just enough garlic, but not too, too much, to overpower the green beans and sesame. This holiday season, let’s add plenty of vegetables to our meals for the healthy side of dining.
Zydeco Green Beans
- 1 lb frozen haricots verts (green beans), I used Whole Foods Grocery brand
- 1 tsp salt
- 1 Tbsp canola oil
- 1 Tbsp dark sesame oil
- 3 large garlic cloves, thinly sliced
- dash crushed red pepper flakes (optional)
- 1/8 tsp black pepper
- 1 Tbsp soy sauce
- 2 tsp sugar
- 1 Tbsp toasted sesame seeds
- 1 Tbsp diced, drained canned pimento, for garnish (optional)
Method and Steps:
- Add frozen haricots verts to a large pot filled with salted water to an 1″ depth. Bring to a boil. Cover and reduce heat to simmer. Steam green beans until tender, about 10 minutes. If needed, add more water so that the beans don’t burn.
- Remove green beans from stove and drain using a colander.
- In a large heavy skillet, add canola oil and dark sesame seed oil. Heat oils over low temperature.
- Add sliced garlic cloves and crushed red pepper flakes (optional). Stir and cook for 1 to 2 minutes until garlic turns light brown and aromatic. Turn off heat to stove.
- Add well-drained haricots verts. Use caution, as oil will splatter if beans are too wet. Toss and stir to coat beans with oils and garlic.
- Add black pepper, soy sauce and sugar. Cook over low heat until sugar dissolves and beans are warm.
- Transfer to serving dish. Sprinkle on toasted sesame seeds. If desired, garnish with drained, diced pimento.
American’s favorite vegetable
I did a google search to find American’s most favorite vegetable. I located a survey which was done in 2019 and asked 2,000 Americans to name their favorite vegetable. The survey was conducted on the behalf of Dr. Praeger’s, a cardiac surgeon who founded an all-natural, frozen foods company based in Elmwood Park, New Jersey, in 1994. Of course, I don’t know how objective and unbiased the survey was or if the pollsters were independent from the food company. However, the results are similar to what I would predict. Green beans were popular, coming in at #6.
- Corn (91 percent)
- Potatoes (91 percent)
- Carrots (89 percent)
- Tomatoes (89 percent)
- Onion (87 percent)
- Green beans (87 percent)
- Cucumbers (86 percent)
- Broccoli (85 percent)
- Cabbage (84 percent)
- Peas (83 percent)