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Green beans versatile summer vegetable

Green beans are plentiful and at peak right now in local gardens providing the perfect opportunity to make the most of the short season for this fresh, crisp vegetable that can be the perfect ingredient in a variety of recipes.

Whether you're looking for a staple for a hot casserole or want something a little more cool and refreshing in the form of a colorful summer salad, the green bean offers endless possibilities.

One of my favorites is a recipe that's been around forever, but still one of the staples in my menu planning - Tator Tot Hotdish. I typically use canned beans in this recipe, but when summer rolls around, I prefer the fresh. If you like German potato salad then you'll also enjoy the taste of the German-style green beans with their tangy, bacon flavor. The last recipe calls for both green and yellow beans, which are also prevalent this time of year in some gardens.

Canned beans will also work in some of the following recipes but if you have the opportunity to use fresh, do so. They will not only enhance the flavor, but also brighten the color, making for a prettier presentation, especially when you're entertaining guests.

Until next time, from my kitchen to yours, happy cooking.

Tator Tot Hotdish

2 pounds lean ground beef

2 cans cream of mushroom soup

¼ cup cream

1 large onion

Salt and pepper to taste

2 cans green beans, drained, or comparable amount of fresh green beans cooked until tender

1 package of tator tots

Brown hamburger with onion until cooked through. Season with salt and pepper. Add the two cans of soup and cream and heat well. Pour into greased 9x13" casserole dish. Layer green beans on top and cover with tator tots. Bake uncovered in 350 degree oven for 45 minutes to an hour.

German-style Green Beans

1 pound fresh green beans, cut into 2-inch pieces

3 bacon strips, diced

1 medium onion, quartered and sliced

2 tsp. cornstarch

¼ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. ground mustard

½ cup water

1 tbsp. brown sugar

1 tbsp. cider vinegar

Place beans in a saucepan and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and set aside. In a skillet, cook bacon over medium heat until crisp. Drain, reserving 1 tbsp. drippings. In the same skillet, sauté onion in drippings until tender.

In a small bowl, combine the cornstarch, salt, mustard and water until smooth. Stir into onion. Bring to a boil and cook and stir for 1 to 2 minutes or until thickened. Stir in brown sugar and vinegar. Add the beans. Heat through. Sprinkle with bacon.

Roasted Green Bean Salad

2 pounds fresh green beans

3 tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil, divided

¾ tsp. salt, divided

2 tbsp. white wine vinegar or cider vinegar

1 1/2 tsp. Dijon mustard

2 tbsp. fresh, snipped dill or 2 tsp. dill weed

1 ½ tsp. sugar

¼ tsp. pepper

In a bowl, toss beans with 1 tbsp. oil and ½ tsp. salt. Spread in a single layer in an ungreased 15"x10"x1" baking pan. Roast, uncovered, at 400 degrees for 30-40 minutes or until beans are tender and lightly browned, stirring twice.

Meanwhile, in a small bowl, whisk the vinegar, mustard, dill, sugar, pepper and remaining salt. Slowly whisk in remaining oil. Transfer beans to a large serving bowl. Add vinaigrette and toss to coat.

Nutty Onion Green Beans

½ pound fresh green beans, cut in half

1 small red onion, sliced and separated into rings

1/3 cup chopped pecans

3 tbsp. butter or margarine

2 tbsp. brown sugar

2 tbsp. orange juice

1 tbsp. Dijon mustard

½ tsp. salt

Place beans in a saucepan and cover with water, bring to a boil. Cook, uncovered, for 8 to 10 minutes or until crisp-tender. Drain and set aside.

In a skillet, cook onion and pecans in butter until onion is tender. In a small bowl, combine the brown sugar, orange juice, mustard and salt; stir into the onion mixture. Cook 2-3 minutes longer or until sauce begins to thicken. Stir in beans and heat through.

Green Bean Quiche

½ pound green beans (cooked until crisp tender)

½ cup chopped onion

2 tbsp. butter or margarine

½ cup sliced fresh mushrooms

¼ cup diced green pepper

½ cup real mayonnaise

¼ cup sour cream

¼ tsp. salt

¼ cup crushed saltine crackers

6 eggs, beaten

1 medium tomato, seeded and chopped

¾ cup shredded, sharp Cheddar cheese

In a small skillet sauté onion in butter until tender. Add mushrooms and green pepper and sauté until tender.

In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, sour cream and salt. Stir in the green beans, mushroom mixture and cracker crumbs. Gradually stir in eggs. Pour into a greased 9-inch pie plate. Sprinkle with tomato and cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 30 minutes or until a knife inserted near center comes out clean.

Mixed Beans with Lime Butter

½ pound each green and wax beans, trimmed

2 tbsp. butter or margarine

2 tsp. snipped fresh dill

2 tsp. lime juice

1 tsp. grated lime peel

½ tsp. salt

¼ tsp. pepper

Cook beans until crisp tender, drain. Melt butter in a skillet, add dill, lime juice and peel, salt, pepper and beans. Stir to coat and cook until heated through.