Wednesday, February 16, 2011

green bean salad with fried almonds

green bean salad

I’m pretty sure I had a normal relationship to all things stringy and green when I started this site, but if my archives are any indication, at some point in 2008, something shifted and I became a green bean fiend. It might have even been May of that year, a month that be began with a simple summery salad but by month’s end, I was forcing Alex to endure takeout from a medicore French restaurant up to twice a week, just so I could have their side dish of skinny green beans with a pat of butter, some shallots and tomatoes and a squeeze of lemon juice. (When he cut me off, I simply went into the kitchen and attempted them myself.) I began remembering which restaurants cooked green beans perfectly each time, like the one on 7th Avenue that served them with roast chicken, buried in jus under a pile mashed potatoes and I literally ate them before the salty, crispy skin. I began judging places harshly if my beans flapped or flopped on a plate. I could speak unhealthily at length about various cooking times and what texture they’d leave the beans.

haricot verts
trimmed and tailed

Little has changed since May of 2008, well, except now a certain 12-toothed toddler had joined me in my green bean enthusiasm. We cook a pound at least once a week and eat them with nothing but a sprinkle of sea salt on top. And at least once a week I force us to order takeout from a restaurant just because they make a great green bean salad. And last week, we were able to sneak out to a new pasta restaurant in our neighborhood and look, the pasta was great, but this is what I really remember: green beans, lightly pickled red onions, thinly shaved fennel, slivers of celery and almonds, so well toasted their insides were the color of coffee.

red onion

red onion
fried almonds
shaved

It only took me nearly a week to attempt my own version. I hope you don’t wait as long. This salad is wonderful in so many ways, but to me it stands out for an absense of cheese and/or pork products, two things it seems every restaurant salad is loaded down with these days and it’s not that I don’t like either, I’m just impressed by preparations that think beyond heritage bacon bits and a crumble of upstate goat cheese. If you’re one of those people — and you’re hardly in the minority if you think you are — that dislike celery or fennel, I hope you try it here anyway because they’re just supporting actors in a greater cause, a crunchy bright salad that’s a wonderful lead-in to a heavier pasta dish. I’ll tell you about that one next time. First, I have to board a plane for somewhere warm and islandish. I’ll tell you about that too, er, if we return.

fennel, pickled red onion, almonds, celery

One year ago: Spaghetti with Cheese and Black Pepper [Cacio e Pepe] and Monkey Bread with Cream Cheese Glaze
Two years ago: Devil’s Chicken Thighs and Braised Leeks and Hot Fudge Sauce
Three years ago: Seven Yolk Pasta Dough and Best Chocolate Pudding
Four years ago: Tips for Beaming, Bewitching Breads

Green Bean Salad with Pickled Red Onions and Fried Almonds
Inspired by a salad at Porsena

I realize that this should make four salad portions but confess it only served us two (minus a few beans for the little bean). Your portion size will vary by your level of green bean obsession.

About the almonds, I didn’t get them as toasty as I’d hoped to in the pan but love the finish frying them in olive oil gets you. If you’re as fanatical about those coffee colored almond insides I mentioned above as I am, you might want to start with very well toasted almonds (you can do this in a 350 oven for about 7 to 10 minutes but keep a close eye on them so they don’t burn). You could still finish them in the pan or just toss them with 1 teaspoon of the olive oil, then season them. I realize these almond directions could benefit from another round of testing but I’m getting on a plane in about 9 hours and my brain, it’s already on island time. I get a pass, right?

1 pound green beans or haricot vert (skinny ones)
1/2 a fennel bulb (about 1/2 pound)
1 stalk celery, trimmed
1/2 medium red onion
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1/4 cup water
1 tablespoon kosher salt (I use Diamond brand; use less if you’re using Morton or table salt)
1 1/2 teaspoons sugar
1/3 cup (about 2 ounces) whole almonds
2 tablespoons plus 2 teaspoons olive oil

If you’ve got an adjustable blade slider, time to make it earn its keep! Very thinly slice half your fennel bulb, your celery and your half onion. If you don’t have a fancy slicer, just slice them thinly with a knife. Toss the fennel with lemon juice to prevent browning and also because it makes it extra delicious.

In a small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, water, salt and sugar together. Add the onions and set them aside for about an hour. If you don’t have an hour, 30 minutes will still pickle them to deliciousness but they will only get better with age.

Meanwhile, bring a large pot of salted water to boil. Trim and tail green beans, something I just discovered I could do with kitchen shears. For me, it was a time saver. Boil beans until crisp-tender, about 4 to 5 minutes for regular green beans and about 3 minutes for skinny ones (a.k.a. “haricot vert” — what I used). Plunge in an ice water bath. Drain and pat dry. (If you have no patience for the precision of ice water baths, take the green beans out a full minute early as they will continue cooking as they cool.)

Heat a small heavy skillet to medium heat and add one teaspoon olive oil. Add almonds and toss until lightly browned, 2 to 3 minutes. Season lightly with salt and pepper to taste. Transfer almonds to a plate, let cool, and cut each almond into half or thirds.

Assemble your salad: Toss green beans with most of fennel, all of celery and half of the pickled red onions. Sprinkle two tablespoons of the red onion pickling liquid and two tablespoons of olive oil over the mixture. Season generously with salt and pepper. Taste, adjust seasonings and ingredient levels to your preferences — we found we wanted more fennel, red onion and pickling liquid.

Serve, then eat, eat, eat.


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