This summer I posted about my friend Anca’s wonderful vegetable garden. At that time the two of us had headed into the kitchen to each make our own version of kohlrabi salad using her home-grown purple kohlrabi. Apart from kohlrabi, her garden produced aubergines, lots of different tomato varieties, berries, exotic herbs and many different bean varieties which were then, full of promise, still in their pods.
Now that the beans are ripe and dried, this month we set out with the same intention: to each make a dish with them reflecting our own taste and style. Beans make for wonderful, wholesome stews and dips, but these ones were so pretty we wanted to prepare them in a way that would highlight their looks as well as their flavour. So, bean salad it is.
I love a good bean salad. It’s highly nutritious, very versatile and keeps well in the fridge, so if you make a bigger batch, you can treat yourself or your loved ones to a fresh lunch or picknick the next day. The key to making it attractive is to pair those soft-flavoured beans with fresh ingredients providing contrast in flavour and texture. Start from there and you’ll happily eat different bean salads every season.
So while the salads Anca and I came up with are very different in character, this is what they have in common: they’re both packed with fresh and contrasting flavours and textures.
Anca’s salad is a celebration of the summer produce from her garden, combining sweet grilled pepper, juicy corn, crisp celery and punchy red onion, dressed with a full-flavoured herb oil. The caraway-baked pinto beans she used provide the crunchy, savoury addition. After the children had returned from school, the resulting bowl was empty in minutes. I hope you’ll love it as much as we did!
Before I head to the recipe, just a quick note on the use of the beans. If you don’t have a bean-producing vegetable garden (owning friend) at hand, is it worth the effort to use dried beans for something as humble as a bean salad? As in most matters, I think it comes down to personal preference. Freshly cooked dried beans have more flavour and a firmer texture than canned ones, which is the reason I use them whenever I have the time (or have been clever enough to cook them beforehand). As you can see in the recipe, I usually don’t pre-soak them. In my experience, soaking them doesn’t reduce the cooking time all that much, whereas cooking them from dry makes the cooking process more gradual, making it easier to end up with perfectly tender beans instead of a mushy bulk.
This said, depending on the choice and age of the beans used, the whole cooking process can take up to over an hour. So if you’re short on time, using canned beans is a good shortcut. And then you can suddenly whip up this salad in under 15 minutes! It’s all up to you.
Below you’ll find the recipe for this cheerful, sunny salad. If you’re curious how my salad turned out, check it out here.
Colourful pinto bean salad with fresh herb dressing – serves 4
- 100 g dried pinto beans or 250 g cooked ones. If you can’t get hold of pinto beans, chili beans or red kidney beans are a good alternative.
- 3 bell peppers, red, or mixed colours
- 3 celery sticks, chopped
- 3 tomatoes, chopped
- 1 small red onion, chopped
- 300 g sweetcorn kernels, canned and rinsed, or cut from two freshly cooked corn cobs
- 15 g flat leaf parsley
- 10 g coriander leaves. If, unlike me, you’re not that fond of coriander (as I know is the case for many people), basil or mint, though very different in flavour, make good alternatives.
- 1 sprig hysop (optional)
- 1 clove garlic
- 100 ml olive oil
- 1 tsp. caraway seeds
- pinch of sea salt
Tip the beans into a pan, cover them with cold water and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 45 minutes, start checking for doneness after 35 minutes. Strain and rinse, then keep them in cold water until using.
Meanwhile, heat the oven grill to 300oC, or as high as it gets. Halve the peppers lengthwise, remove the stalks and seeds and place them, cut-side down, on a wire rack covered with aluminium foil. Grill the peppers until the skins blister and turn black. In my oven, this takes 5 minutes, but it might be a good idea to keep an eye on them from the start. Take out the peppers, put them in a glass bowl and cover tightly with cling film. Leave the peppers until cool enough to handle, then remove the skin and cut the flesh into strips.
Roughly chop half of the parsley and coriander leaves and set aside. In a high bowl, mix the remaining herbs with the garlic and the olive oil. Using a stick blender, whizz to a smooth dressing. Season to taste with sea salt and freshly ground black pepper.
Using a mortar and pestle, grind the caraway seeds to a powder. Heat a tablespoon of olive oil in a frying pan. Drain the beans, then fry them with the caraway powder and a pinch of sea salt until crunchy.
Mix the beans with the vegetables, the chopped herbs and a few tablespoons of the herb dressing. Serve with the remaining dressing on the side.