Saturday, May 30, 2015

Green Bean Salad with Mustard Seeds and Tarragon

Spring is a tough time for us farmers market fanatics, when the crown jewels of summer (peaches, cherries, watermelon, corn) are popping up all over supermarkets but the local farm fare remains lovable yet limited. Don’t get me wrong, I jump for joy every time I see a fresh bundle of asparagus, bin of snap peas, sheaf of radishes, or swirl of fiddlehead ferns, but when I get home and lay out all my crunchy vegetables on the counter, my mind goes recipe-blank! I end up eating the peas and radishes raw, like crudités, and they never even make it into dinner. While usually a stickler for hot supper meals, the balmy, humid weather has me uncharacteristically craving cold evening fare. But will a cold salad fill me up for dinner? Ruminating this thought over my not quiet chewing, I couldn’t think of a solid recipe candidate. And now, half of my potential meal is gone.
But alas, the problem is solved with this Green Bean Salad with Mustard Seeds and Tarragon recipe! (I should’ve known that Ottolenghi, master of le vegetable, would have the answer.) After picking up a bunch of fresh tarragon from the greenmarket last week (I was seduced by its intoxicating, anisey fragrance, more on this later), I realized I had absolutely no idea how to cook with the common French herb.  Heading straight to “T” for tarragon in my cookbook recipe indexes, I came across this vibrant, robust salad in Plenty, and what else did I see on the ingredient list? Snap peas and string beans, with the potential to add any or all of my crunchy spring crudité friends. Sold.
What’s so great about this salad is that seasonally, it works right now. Start with your base of winter leafy greens (I know in your mind that season has passed, but they are still abundant at the market, and need your love now more than ever!) such as kale, arugula, spinach, or chard. Next, commit to the crunch: the recipe calls for peas, snap peas, and string beans, but any desired spring munching vegetable will work here.  Finally, err on the side of abundance with the herbs. They are prolific at the market, and a bundle of anything fresh literally defines spring. Tarragon is the first choice here as its mollified licorice scent harmonizes with the earthy greens and sweet peas—a complexity of flavor subtleties that’s as varied as the shades of green in the salad—but lovage, chives, savory, chervil, basil, or mint can substitute.  With its spice-shrouded dressing and lemony zest, the salad is complete here: seemingly so simple, but riddled with flavor intricacies underneath.  But by all means, you don’t have to stop just yet. Those tiny field strawberries, bursting with sugary sweetness, at the market right now? Throw in a bunch to offset the hot red chile. To ensure the green salad filled me up for dinner, I added garbanzo beans and feta cheese; when I made it again the next night, in went diced sweet potatoes and chicken breast.
Just like the vegetables, the dressing of this salad is versatile. Although the tiny whole spice seeds add lovely texture to the dish, no worries if you don’t have them: use ground coriander and mustard seed instead, or, a heap of Dijon mustard, which contributes a nice vinegary punch. If using mustard spice, you may want to add a tablespoon of white wine vinegar and the juice of the lemon as well as the zest to satisfy that acidic tang you expect from a vinaigrette.
As for the tarragon, I can’t wait to keep cooking with this regal herb.  In France, it’s known as the “King of herbs”, and now I get why. The pungent perennial adds flavor to a multitude of dishes, pairing seamlessly with chicken, hollandaise, pestos, aiolis, potatoes, and eggs. Even if you’re not a licorice lover, I urge you to try it—or least take a whiff next time you come across it. The licorice flavor is totally tempered, and the sweet scent is absolutely divine.

Green Bean Salad with Mustard Seeds and Tarragon (derived from Plenty)
Serves 4

1 ¼ cups green beans, trimmed
2 ¼ cups snow peas, trimmed
1 ¾ cups green peas (fresh or frozen)
¼ cup thinly sliced radishes
2 tsp coriander seeds, roughly crushed with a mortar and pestle (or ground coriander)
1 tsp mustard seeds (or ground mustard/ 2 tsp Dijon mustard)
3 tablespoons olive oil (1 is plenty)
1 tsp nigella seeds (optional, I used sumac instead)
1 mild fresh red chile, seeded and finely diced 
½ small red onion, finely chopped
1 garlic clove, crushed
Grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
1 Tbsp white wine vinegar (optional)
2 Tbsp chopped tarragon
Coarse sea salt
1 cup baby chard or other winter green leaves
Optional add-ons: garbanzo beans, feta cheese, diced sweet potato, diced chicken 

1. 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 iced water to refresh. Drain and dry.
2. 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. Add radishes.
3. 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. In a small bowl, combine nigella seeds/sumac, red onion, chile, garlic, lemon zest, lemon juice, and vinegar. Add dressing to large bowl, along with tarragon. Mix well and season with salt to taste.

4. Just before serving, gently fold the chard leaves in with the beans and peas, and spoon the salad onto plates or into bowls.

*If using ground spices and/or Dijon mustard, mix directly into dressing ingredients.

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