Green beans are not always green. They can also be golden yellow, cream-colored with vivid purple stripes, or even a romantic shade of dusty rose. No matter their color, all green beans are harvested before they are fully mature, when their pods are still tender and edible. Their greenness is not a descriptor of their color but rather of their juvenile nature.
The common bean plant (Phaseolus vulgaris), which can grow as a climbing vine or as a bush, is a native of the tropics and requires a warm growing season. Look for green beans at the market from mid-summer to late fall -- if you find tiny, slender beans that snap in half when bent, fill your basket to the brim! These are the freshest and most tender. Occasionally, you'll come across beans with strings that run down one side. Simply unzip these fibers and toss them away.
You could, of course, eat green beans raw, plucked straight off the plant, but an interesting and wonderful change occurs as green beans are cooked. They shake off their grassy, vegetal fragrance and they begin to smell earthier. A spicy floral scent appears, like the aroma that wafts up from the dirt when you step on fallen eucalyptus leaves.
Because of their curious bouquet of scents, cooked green beans are lovely in a simple salad. Once you have stocked up on beans at the market, the recipe is quite straightforward and takes almost no time. Blanch your beans for two or three minutes, then toss them with kale leaves and lemony vinaigrette. You can adorn the salad with crumbles of semi-soft cheese and wedges of roasted onion if you like, but any favorite cheese and some sort of sweet ingredient will also work well.
Try serving this green bean salad with fried chicken, an ideal partner: crispy, flavorful, and terrific served at room temperature. The beans also don't mind spending a few hours away from the refrigerator, so they are excellent for no-fuss picnics and barbeques.
Green Bean and Kale Salad with Mustard Seed Vinaigrette
This satisfying summer salad combines tender barely-cooked green beans with hearty raw kale. A mustard seed vinaigrette unites these two vegetables, and the whole salad comes together when roasted onions and manouri cheese are added to the mix. Manouri is a semi-soft goat cheese made of whey left over from the production of feta. It has a milky taste similar to that of feta, but it is creamier, milder, and less salty.
1 sweet onion
¼ teaspoon thyme leaves
1/3 cup plus 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
2 pounds small green beans, stems trimmed
1 teaspoon mustard seeds
1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice
¼ teaspoon lemon zest
1½ teaspoons red wine vinegar
1 small bunch (about ½ pound) black kale (also called cavolo nero or dinosaur kale), stems removed, leaves sliced into thin ribbons
¼ cup basil leaves, thinly sliced
¼ cup whole parsley leaves
¼ pound manouri, or other semi-soft goat cheese
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
Preheat oven to 425ºF.
Set the onion, root end facing up, on a cutting board, and slice it in half vertically. Peel away and discard any papery layers. Slice each half into 4 wedges, keeping the root end intact, so that each wedge stays together. Place the onion wedges on a baking sheet and sprinkle them with ¼ teaspoon salt, several grinds of black pepper, and the thyme leaves. Drizzle 1 tablespoon olive oil evenly over the wedges. Using your hands, flip the onions to coat both sides with the oil. Roast the onions in the oven for 16 minutes, carefully flip each wedge, then roast them for another 10 minutes.
Meanwhile, bring a large pot of water, seasoned with enough salt to make it taste like the ocean, to a rolling boil. Add the green beans and cook them until they're just tender but not yet soft, about 2 to 3 minutes. Both purple-colored and green-colored green beans will turn a vibrant shade of green when done. Drain, then spread them on a kitchen towel to cool.
In a small bowl, combine the mustard seeds, lemon juice, lemon zest, red wine vinegar, ¼ teaspoon salt, and lots of freshly ground pepper. While whisking, slowly pour in the remaining 1/3 cup olive oil.
Toss together the cooked green beans, kale ribbons, basil, parsley, and mustard seed vinaigrette. Taste for balance and seasoning, and add another pinch of salt if you like.
To serve, place a handful of green beans and kale on each plate. Crumble some cheese on top, and set a roasted onion wedge on the side. (If you add the cheese just before serving, this salad will keep well for several hours at room temperature. It's lovely after a few hours in the refrigerator, too.)
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