A parcel containing Swiss dried green beans is one of the biggest treats I have ever given award-winning Austrian, French or Northern Italian chefs. Like excited kids, my friends from the Austrian cooking campus ripped open the packages that I gave them when they visited Andreas Caminada. “You’ve got dried seaweed in Switzerland?” said one, as he took a first look. An amusing mistake to make – our neighbours are simply not familiar with our dried green beans. In fact, these beans are as traditionally Swiss as Emmental cheese, Basler Leckerli and Aargau carrot cake. The only difference being that Emmental cheese is also produced abroad, Leckerli can also be found in southern Germany, Austria and South Tyrol in the form of Lebkuchen, and carrots are used in cakes across northern Europe, too. Dried green beans, on the other hand, can only be found in Switzerland. This is despite the fact that green beans first arrived in Switzerland from South America in the 17th century, just like tomatoes, potatoes and sunflowers. And as the drying kiln was formerly just as much a part of village life as the village church, and nowadays the Dörrex dehydrator is one of the most common kitchen appliances in farmhouse kitchens, beans – along with pears, plums, apples and cherries – have become a central component of the popular Swiss drying tradition. Just like fruit, which couldn’t otherwise be stored through until winter, beans were also dried so that they could be used all the way through to spring. This meant that people didn’t have to go without vegetables (or sweet produce like fruit) during the cold winter season. These dried green beans were primarily used as an ingredient for boiled pork belly, marinated pot roast or smoked sausages.
Nowadays, they are also an increasingly popular component of vegetarian cuisine, which tends to focus more on the variety and techniques involved in cooking vegetables. Like pulses, they are experiencing a revival thanks to numerous new influences. You can enjoy them in a dried bean salad or as an ingredient in a dried bean quiche, or even blended with a little sesame paste to make a dried bean hummus. They have been rediscovered primarily by vegetable farmers after years where almost all commercially available dried beans came from China – and were produced exclusively for the Swiss market. The fact that organic farmers in particular have rediscovered this ancient and unique Swiss tradition gives us hope that dried delicacies will encourage direct marketers among the farmers to make further such discoveries. For there are still plenty of them. Like the rediscovery in the Basel region of the “Bottenwurst”, a sausage made with prunes, and the “Chriesiwurst” cherry sausage, which has experienced a revival in Zug in recent years. Dried tomatoes, courgettes and even mirabelle plums have also reappeared in farm shops. Or how about a traditional dried bean stew as featured in the latest book by Ticino chef Meret Bissegger (“Meine Küche im Frühling und Sommer”, AT Verlag). And if you’d rather not include bacon, as is the traditional Swiss way, Bissegger recommends using smoked squash or walnuts. Her number one tip for any chef using dried green beans is to soak them in cold water overnight.
Images source: © Sarah Michel, Ballenberg: Swiss Open-Air Museum.