Friday, September 3, 2010

A Perfect Day


Shelling beans. Freshly shelled.


The weather has been perfect for shelling beans: sitting on a shady, breezy porch or balcony, and zipping out the beans in zen-like calm one after the other. A lovely way to spend a quiet afternoon. It has been a little too warm to cook those beans though. Not a problem if the beans are on the dry side and you intend to keep them for the winter, but a bit of a dilemma if the beans are still green. They will keep a few days, well wrapped in the refrigerator, but it is a pity to spend an afternoon shelling them and not being able to eat the fruits of your labour right away. An absolutely perfect day would be hot and breezy while shelling those beans, followed by a good rain to soak the parched earth when you're ready to cook those beans... but I suppose we can't always get what we want.

Beans are such pretty vegetables. Just look at the Roma beans to the left and above: they are rather unassuming when still at the fresh, green stage, but as they mature and dry out they take on lovely pink streaks. While the pods are no longer edible, the colourful seeds inside become amazing powerhouses: those seeds are full of potential for life, for the survival of their own species and anyone who consumes them. When eaten fresh, before the pods completely dry out, beans are a completely distinct vegetable from their dried brethren: the difference is like day and night, the most common example being just-shelled green peas and split peas, or dried soybeans and the ever popular edamame.



Roma beans are not the only colourful and tasty legume currently in season: the hyacinth beans above might be a little difficult to find, but broad beans (also known as fava beans); lima beans (or butter beans);  edamame (green soybeans); and scarlet runners are some of what you can find at the market. Add a few beans in the pod and some crunchy vegetables, and you have a delightful salad.


The following recipe is no different from your everyday bean salad, the kind most often found in cafeterias and chain cafés, the only difference are the beans. And what a difference they make! If you have your own recipe for bean salad, you won't need mine, but do try them with freshly shelled beans, at least once (a year!) in your life. There are no proportions, because all ingredients are optional (except for the beans!), and depend on your taste. Also, a few of the vegetables listed below need to be cooked in boiling water: to save water, use a colander or pasta insert that fits inside your pot, so you can drain your veggies without throwing out the water; if you have neither, try draining your veggies over another pot or bowl to catch the water.



Bean Salad 

Freshly shelled beans, any kind you happen to find, or a combination thereof
Carrots, diced or sliced (depending on size)
Celery or celeriac, cut into chunks about the same size as the carrots
Bell pepper, any colour, diced
Kohlrabi, peeled and diced
Green, yellow wax, runner or whatever pod beans
Green onions
Salt and pepper
Olive oil
White wine, cider, or rice vinegar


Cook the shelled beans in large pot of salted water. The water should taste of salt, but you don't want it to be so salty that you couldn't drink it: the beans will absorb a good part of the salt, so you do not want to over-salt. It will take anywhere from 2 to 20 minutes depending on how green the bean was (if the bean was green, check after 2 minutes; if the pod was papery dry, and the bean quite hard, have a taste after 10).


When the beans are cooked, drain, and place in  a bowl with the vinegar and oil. Standard proportions for a vinaigrette are 1 part vinegar for 3 to 5 parts oil. Do not season with salt just yet, but you can add freshly ground pepper. Add peppers, green onions, kohlrabi, and celery, if using. Set aside.

If you are using pod beans, cut into batons, and cook in boiling water. When cooked, but still crisp, drain, and cool in an ice-bath. Drain again, and set aside.
Cook the carrots, if using, to the crisp-cooked stage. Drain, and add to the rest of the salad.


Stir the salad until everything is evenly mixed up, and taste: it is probably already salty enough - if not add a small pinch of salt- but lacking in something... Cover the salad bowl, and leave to rest in the refrigerator for half an hour or so. Add the green beans just before serving.
Mix and serve.

This salad, like most salads made with crunchy vegetables, improves with age. However, the pod beans will go grey after a day sitting in vinegar, so if you intend to save the salad for much later, either keep the green beans out and add them later, or use yellow wax beans. Also, use your imagination, or whatever you find in the fridge: the sky's the limit.

An imprecise recipe as above can be rather daunting, but cooking is all about feeling and personal likes, and no one knows your likes better than yourself. A friend of mine reproached me for writing recipes that left too much leeway, so I've made some efforts, but a salad like this one really depends  on the person who makes it. All I can do is give you guidelines to hone your intuition.

Bon app'!




3 comments:

  1. wow, these beans are gorgeous!

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  2. I just stopped by after learning about you on A Growing Tradition. Nice blog, nice beans, and even more impressive, such finely sculpted kohlrabi cubes and sliced/diced carrots--nice technique!

    ReplyDelete

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