All of the shell beans listed here are available dried and canned as well as fresh.
Chinese Long Bean
Also called yard-long bean. Very long, rounded green pod bean used in Asian cooking and sold primarily in Asian markets, generally displayed bundled into loose skeins.
Also called Borlotti bean or Roman bean. Although usually sold dried, the cranberry bean, a favorite of Italian-American cooks, is available as a fresh shell bean in some markets. The pod and inner seed should be the color of cream with a good representation of red speckles.
Also called broad bean, English bean or horse bean. This shell bean is available fresh briefly in the spring in farmers' markets. Look for soft, pale green pods packed with pale green beans that resemble lima beans. They have a pleasingly bitter flavor.
Once removed from the pods, the beans should be peeled of their tough outer skin, which is slightly toxic, more so late in the season. To remove it, blanch the shelled beans in boiling water for 1 minute, let cool, then pinch the beans to remove the skin.
If the beans are young and fresh and no bigger than your thumbnail, skinning them may not be necessary, although some cooks find that even the skins of young beans impart too much bitterness. Fava beans are also sold dried.
Small, flavorful, pale green or white shell bean used in traditional French cooking. Flageolets are also sold canned and dried. The fresh beans can be difficult to find in the United States.
Also called snap bean, string bean or runner bean. Green beans are eaten whole, pod and seeds, and taste mild and fresh with grassy overtones. The most familiar green bean is several inches long with a rounded pod. Buy ones that are evenly green and look as though they will snap decisively when broken. To prepare green beans, simply snap off the stem end and remove any strings along the length of the bean.
Also called French green bean or filet bean. Small, slender, dark green, young pod beans favored in France. Delicately flavored, they are more elegant, and commensurately more expensive, than other green beans.
Also called a butter bean, the lima grows in wide, flat green inedible pods. Small beans are called baby limas. Look for green, velvety pods. The inner seed, the sweet-tasting edible portion, should be as green as possible. Avoid any with a white cast. Fresh lima beans may be difficult to find in some regional markets, while dried, canned and especially frozen ones are commonly available.
Also called Italian bean. A green pod bean that is similar to a green bean, but with a slightly broader and more flattened pod and a somewhat more robust flavor and texture.
This is a green bean that is yellow rather than green. It has the same other characteristics as the green bean.
Adapted from Williams-Sonoma Kitchen Companion: The A to Z Guide to Everyday Cooking, Equipment and Ingredients (Time-Life Books, 2000)