The Circus Gardener's Kitchen

seasonal vegetarian recipes with a side helping of food politics

French bean and sesame salad

jump to recipe

Although the era of food rationing in the UK is usually associated with the second world war, in fact it was first introduced in Britain in 1917, during the first world war.

At the time, German U-Boats were regularly attacking supply ships bringing food to the UK from overseas. So successful were these attacks that at one stage Britain was judged to have enough food supplies to last just six weeks.

At the outbreak of the first world war, Britain was producing only around 40% of the food that it consumed, having become heavily dependent on food imported from Commonwealth countries. With so much of that supply line abruptly cut off, food was suddenly in very short supply. In such circumstances it is understandable how food waste was regarded as indefensible, and so it became a criminal offence, with anyone caught wasting food liable to a fine or even imprisonment.

Since those times, Britain has at least managed to produce more of its own food, although the proportion of food we grow ourselves peaked at 78% in the early 1980s, since when the figure has gradually declined until today we produce less than 60% of the food we eat.

Astonishingly, we now live in a time where the UK’s overall food stocks are even lower than they were back in those dark days of war in 1917 when rationing was first introduced. This is primarily because we have become so dependent on supermarkets, which run on highly regimented lines, relying on having only a few days stock of many foodstuffs at any one time.

And yet, compared to 1917, food waste in modern Britain is not only legal but sometimes seems as if it is actively encouraged, whether it is by supermarket buyers rejecting perfectly edible but “ugly” fruit at one end of the production cycle, or by we consumers at the other, tempted by “buy one get one free” offers into buying more than we need and often ending up wasting perfectly good food.

The recent initiative by the French government to criminalise food waste by supermarkets may well prove to be a modern turning point. Since that announcement, here in the UK we have seen Tesco link up with a food redistribution charity to start to address the 55,400 tonnes of food waste the supermarket giant generates each year. Another supermarket, Waitrose, last year successfully started selling cosmetically damaged apples and tomatoes. And there has also been a rise in the number of cafes and restaurants in the UK and elsewhere serving menus based on food that would otherwise go to waste.

Our food supply is less secure than many of us realise, but these encouraging developments perhaps mark the start of a gradual shift in attitude, echoing back towards that once common perception of food waste as unacceptable, which it surely should be in a world where people still go to bed hungry.

French beans growingFrench beans harvestedsesame seedssoy and sesame paste

Right, stripey apron time.

I’ve had an excellent supply of French beans from my allotment plot, the Circus Garden, so far this year, using succession planting to ensure a steady supply. The variety I grow is called Safari, which produces long thin, stringless and tasty beans.

I’ve used them here in a simple dish, which is based upon a recipe by Martin Webb, former head chef at Quaglino’s restaurant in London. It’s a wonderful combination of flavours and textures.

French bean and sesame salad

  • Servings: 4, as a side dish
  • Print


320 g organic French green beans
60 g sesame seeds
30 ml sake
20 ml soy sauce
1 tsp maple syrup


1. Steam the beans for 3 minutes then refresh in a bowl of ice cold water to stop the cooking process. Drain and set to one side.

2. Place a dry frying pan over a low heat and add three quarters of the sesame seeds. Toast for about three minutes, tossing the pan to evenly distribute the heat, until the seeds begin to pop and to turn a light golden brown colour. Tip on to a cold plate and leave to cool for a few minutes.

3. Put the sake, soy sauce, maple syrup and toasted sesame seeds into a blender and process to a paste.

4. Place the beans into a bowl and add the blended paste. Toss to coat the beans in the paste. Finally, sprinkle the reserved sesame seeds over the top of the beans and serve.

Categories: dairy free, gluten free, vegan

Tags: ,

14 replies

  1. You are right. I think we have all become so used to comparatively cheap and plentiful food in this country that it is no longer valued in the same way. Use by/sell by dates also have a lot to answer for. Although theoretically a good thing, they contribute to a lot of unnecessary waste. Great looking recipe again!

    • Thanks Ann

      Yes, “use by” and “sell by” dates, which were introduced with the best of intentions, seem to be widely misunderstood and we often allow them to override our own instincts and judgement when it comes to throwing away perfectly edible food.


  2. One of my favourite side dishes. Yum and great pics ❤️🙌

  3. Perfect for my French bean glut – thank you! I guess this would work with sliced runners as well?

  4. Hi Linda

    Yes, I’m sure it would work well with runner beans too.


    • Steve I made this tonight and it was delicious, thank you. I can see it is going to become a family favourite. I didn’t have maple syrup so I used honey, and I didn’t have sake so I used mirin – I can also imagine it with crunchy peanut butter as a satay type dip – yum!

  5. I love my green beans and this seems like such a delicious way to cook and serve them. Love it.

  6. These look so yummy! And simple! I’ve ate more fresh green beans this summer than I ever have in my life. There’s a documentary out there called Just Eat It. It’s an American documentary but it’s on the abundance of food waste and general practices in the states. You might find it interesting, as I’m sure processes probably cross apply. Just a thought 🙂

  7. Thank you for discussing this very important topic and putting it in perspective. I know some stores have implemented progressive practices to sell less than ‘perfect’ food, but nothing in my area. In the meantime, I have a glut of green beans this year (and cucumbers), so this recipe is most welcome. I will try and get some sake somewhere so I can try it.

  8. Thank you Hilda. I am sure you will enjoy French beans cooked and served this way 🙂



  1. French Beans | Garden Gloating

Leave a Reply