Recipe from Plenty: A Cookbook by Ottolenghi and Tamimi
We all know the old-school way of building a menu: Pick a protein. Choose a vegetable that you like. Prepare a starch. Maybe throw in a salad if you're feeling crazy.
And often, we're old-school. On a typical weeknight, we eat meals consisting of a protein, a salad and a vegetable. It's boring but functional.
But when we're having people over for dinner, we try to break out of that box. And writing this blog is the perfect excuse to do that. It's freeing, in a way, to have a food blog, because any choices you make in what to serve guests, no matter how bizarre, are easily brushed away with, "We thought we'd try this for the blog." So when friends come over, they know there are no sure things since we hardly ever serve something we've made before.
We like to think of building menus the way one might build a band. Yes, you need your Pauls and your Johns, but you need some Ringos and Georges, too. Not every dish can stand on its own and outshine the others. You need -- and you want -- to have strong supporting players that still offer great flavor but don't try too hard to be the Best. Dish. Ever. Plus, as a cook, you need to save your own sanity. We would never succeed in throwing a dinner party if we served five complicated, showstopping dishes (or rather, we might survive, but our marriage might not).
For our dinner with Margie, we knew we already had a showstopping dish before even tasting it, in the Very Full Tart with Roasted Vegetables. It was going to skate by on looks alone.
But we needed a Ringo -- something simple but talented.
With this Green Bean Salad with Mustard Seeds and Tarragon, we found our Ringo.
This recipe uses a technique that's gotten a lot of play recently in food magazines: toasting spices to bring out their flavors. In this case, you heat mustard seed and coriander seed in a skillet with oil until the seeds begin to pop. This brings a bit of flavor to the oil and also amplifies the intensity of the spices.
The oil and spices are poured over blanched green beans and snow peas, and then tossed with more herbs and spices. And that's it! It's flavorful and a wonderful warm-weather dish, since you can serve it hot, cold or room temperature.
Like Ringo himself, the danger with this Green Bean Salad is that when it's up against other standout dishes, it may go a bit under the radar.
But this salad deserves to be Paul.
Or at the very least George.
Notes from Zach and Clay:
- For what it's worth, we didn't use separate pans of boiling water for the snow peas and green beans as the recipe instructs. We just used one pan of water.
- We used frozen peas and omitted the optional baby chard leaves. (We love how they look in the salad pictured in the cookbook, but we didn't have access to baby chard leaves.)
- We didn't have nigella seed so we added a bit of coarsely ground black pepper instead.
1 1/4 cups green beans, trimmed
2 1/4 cups snow peas, trimmed
1 3/4 cups green peas (fresh or frozen)
2 tsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed with a mortar and pestle
1 tsp mustard seeds
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1 teaspoon nigella seeds
1/2 small red onion, finely chopped
1 mild fresh red chile, seeded and finely diced
1 garlic clove, crushed
grated zest of 1 lemon
2 Tablespoon chopped tarragon
coarse sea salt
1 cup baby chard leaves (optional)
Fill a medium saucepan with cold water and bring to the boil. Blanch the green beans for 4 minutes, then immediately lift them out of the pan and into the iced water to refresh. Drain and dry.
Bring a fresh pan of water to the boil and blanch the snow peas for 1 minute only. Refresh, drain and dry. Use the same boiling water to blanch the peas for 20 seconds. Refresh, drain and dry. Combine the beans, snow peas and peas in a large mixing bowl.
Put the coriander seeds, mustard seeds and oil in a small saucepan and heat up. When the seeds begin to pop, pour the contents of the pan over the beans and peas. Toss together, then add the nigella seeds, red onion, chile, garlic, lemon zest and tarragon. Mix well and season with salt to taste.
Just before serving, gently fold the chard leaves, if using, in with the beans and peas, and spoon the salad onto plates or into bowls.