Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Salads that won't wilt

One of my students asked for the recipe of the salad I served in the recent Tender at the Bone (a.k.a. Meat) class last Thursday. It was a salad of cooked cannellini beans (I used canned) and green beans (I used the snapped haricots verts (slender and delicate green beans) from Costco. It's not much of a recipe, as much as a couple of cooking techniques thrown together:

Opening a can of beans
Sure you can cook them, but that requires planning in advance and in spite of what everyone says, I don't think canned beans taste any worse than home cooked ones. The liquid from home cooked beans is wonderful in soups and stews and the canned liquid sucks, but for a salad it doesn't really matter. So, open a can of bean, drain it in a colander, rinse under cold water and let drip a few minutes.

Blanching green vegetables
This one takes a little practice. Blanching means boiling in water (usually very generously salted) and then removing to a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking as quickly as possible. It's a great way to cook any green vegetable: green beans, asparagus, snap peas, etc. The hardest part is not over-cooking them. After the first minute and a half, taste them every 30 seconds until they just start to loose their hard raw texture. They'll still be very crisp. Drain immediately, and dump into ice water. You have to act very quickly since every unnecessary second is over-cooking them. Here are some tips on blanching:
  1. Use lots of boiling water and lots of ice water to have full control of when the cooking process starts and stops (I use 4 quarts of each per pound of vegetable).
  2. As soon as the vegetable goes into boiling water, cover the pot to return it to the boil as quickly as possible. Once the water boils, you can uncover the pot.
  3. Never put your vegetables into boiling water until you got your ice bath ready.
  4. Never blanch more than one vegetable at the same time in case one is ready before the other. For example, the salad in the picture has blanched green beans and asparagus that were blanched separately. You can do that in the same water, but instead of draining the first vegetable in a colander, remove it with a slotted spoon, tongs, or using a colander insert (if you have one).
Lime Garlic Vinaigrette
1 Tbsp freshly squeezed lime juice (lemon juice will work too)
2 tsp Dijon mustard
1 garlic clove, grated on a microplane zester or mashed to a paste with a knife
3 Tbsp olive oil
Salt and pepper to taste

In a small bowl, whisk the juice, mustard, and garlic together. Add the oil in a slow stream whisking constantly. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Other nice additions
This is one of those salads, I can never make the same way twice. In Thursday's class, we used cannellini beans, blanched haricots verts, finely chopped celery and scallions (minced red onions or shallots work well too). In Saturday's class, I replaced cannellini beans with asparagus. Don't worry about the exact proportions of ingredients. You can improvise with this infinitely, just make sure you add enough salt, pepper, and dressing to make it good. Taste, taste, taste.

Here are some variations on this theme:
  • cannellini beans, celery, basil and/or cilantro salad
  • cannellini beans, radishes, fennel salad (shave radishes and fennel paper thin on a mandoline)
  • cannellini beans, tomato, basil salad
  • seared or blanched asparagus, tomato, feta salad
These salads are very forgiving since they don't wilt. They taste best served immediately, but will still be good a few hours later.


Kate/Massachusetts said...

Thanks for posting this, Helen! I love having vegetable salads available for quick meals. Do you have any suggestions for sprucing up frozen veges? Thanks again!

Helen said...

you can use frozen veggies in this salad. the blanching time will be a little longer than for fresh.

Anonymous said...

So awesome...sounded so good I had to go out and get the haricots vert. Just made it with the cannellini beans, shallot and the dressing. It was excellent.

Anonymous said...

do you salt the blanching water, and if so how much? I've seen various ratios all around, from Ruhlman who suggests a 5% solution all the way down to ones that say add a Tbl or so. It seems confusing!

Helen said...

Yes, salt the boiling water and a lot. The veggies are only there for a few minutes, so you need lots of salt to prevent them from tasting like blah. I don't measure salt for blanching, but Ruhlman's ratio sounds right. keep in mind that it's weight, not volume ration because all salts have different salinity by volume, but 1 gram of any salt will give you the same salinity level. The best description I've heard of how the water should taste is "shockingly salty."