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Bloody Mary Beans

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dilly beans

Liquid lunch! That's what we used to call the Bloody Marys at certain favorite hangouts, places that served their tall, spicy-red drinks bristling with an RDA's-worth of tasty edibles, from green olives and celery sticks to shrimp on a stick. But nothing's better in a Bloody Mary than garlicky, dill-y pickled green beans.

The Cafe overlooking Castro and Market used to load up their Sunday morning rations with handfuls of dilly beans; so did Prune in Manhattan and Frankie's 457 Spuntino in Brooklyn, to name just a few.

(Among Lower East Side brunchers, Prune was notorious for chef Gabrielle Hamilton's willingness to stick just about anything grabable--pickled eggs, white anchovies, beef jerky--into her Bloody Marys. But my favorite was always the salad-esque Chicago Matchbox, garnished with caperberries, pickled Brussels sprouts, baby turnips, radishes, and yes, green beans. The house-infused lemon vodka may have helped, too.)

At a recent all-day outdoor barbecue, a jar of these beans disappeared even faster than the Stoli did. I like to use a combination of yellow wax bean and green beans, purely for stripey effect in the jar. Purple beans might seem even cooler, but alas! The color disappears when the beans are heated. Garlic, dill seeds, and a hot pepper or two is the standard combination, but you can go as crazy as you want with additional aromatic flavorings. Coriander, fennel, and celery seed all work well, either by themselves or in combination.


If you'd like to can these for later use, you'll have an easier time getting the beans in (and out) if you use wide-mouth pint or quart jars. Most hardware stores carry a good range of canning jars, but if you're really stocking up, I've found that Smart & Final often has the best prices on cases. You can also train your friends and neighbors to return their empty jars to you once they've finished the delicious jam & pickles that you've gifted to them. Remember, you can wash and reuse jars and rings, but you'll need to buy a new package of flat lids for each canning go-round.

Now, if you're going to go to the (small) trouble of making these excellent beans, why waste them on some nasty corn-syrupy cocktail mix? As I headed to the supermarket to provision the barbecue mentioned above, one of my guests emphatically recommended a popular brand of Bloody Mary mix. Too much hassle to provision all the separate ingredients, she opined, and this stuff was good.

But you know what two of the four main ingredients were? Water and high-fructose corn syrup, neither of which is high on my list of Things to Pay For at Safeway. Instead, I bought a jug of tomato juice, raided the condiments stashed inside the door of the fridge and doctored up the red stuff with the classics: horseradish, Tabasco, lemon juice, and a few jiggers of Worcestershire sauce, no HFCS needed. Or, if you've got too many tomatoes in the garden, or a squishy bag of oozing, end-of-the-day lovelies from the farmers' market, you can whip up a pitcherful from scratch, using the Bloody Mary recipe of hotshot British food star Tamasin Day-Lewis, sister of Daniel.

So, bottoms up, darlings, and here's to starting Sunday right.

Bloody Mary Beans
Depending on the size of your beans, and how firmly you stuff them in, you might fill five jars, or you might fill four. But I'd have five jars on hand anyway, just in case.

Makes 5 jars

2 lbs green beans, trimmed to fit jars
10 garlic cloves, peeled and split
10 small hot pepper pods, optional
1 cup dill fronds, loosely packed, or 2 tbsp dried dill weed
2 tbsp dill seeds
1 tbsp coriander seeds
2 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp celery seeds, optional
2 tbsp black peppercorns
4 cups white vinegar
2 cups water
2 tbsp sugar, optional
2 tbsp kosher or sea salt (iodized salt can make the pickles cloudy)

1. Place 5 wide-mouth pint jars in a large, deep pot. Fill pot with water to cover jars by at least 2 inches. Bring to a boil, and let jars simmer for 10 minutes. Remove jars and place on a clean towel until cool enough to handle.

2. Divide garlic cloves, hot pepper pods, dill weed, seeds, and peppercorns between jars. Divide beans between jars, packing them in tightly.

3. Bring vinegar, water, sugar, and salt to a boil, stirring until salt and sugar are dissolved. Pour boiling brine into the jars, dividing it to submerge the beans completely.

4. Seal jars. Return them to water bath and bring to boil. Once water is boiling, let simmer for 10 minutes.

5. Remove jars to a rack or clean towel and let cool undisturbed for several hours. Check seals, then store in a cool, dry place for several days before opening. The longer they sit, the sharper and more "pickly" they will be.

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