One of the things I like most about summer is the abundance of vegetables that can be made into salads. No, I’m not talking about salads consisting mostly of lettuce greens topped with a few lonely chunks of cucumbers and tomatoes and doused in some uninteresting dressing. I’m talking about salads made up entirely of vegetables that, while more typically eaten as stand-alone side dishes, can be combined in innovative ways and livened with inventive seasonings.
Vegetables were definitely on my mind one recent Saturday afternoon as I was pleasantly meandering through the vibrantly photographed recipes of Yotam Ottolenghi’s Plenty More. Ottolenghi is an Israeli-born, London-based chef who has published several wildly successful cookbooks, two of which, Plenty and its successor Plenty More, have focused exclusively on vegetables. I have both, and they are terrific. They’re delicious proof that vegetables don’t have to be limited to playing second fiddle to meat but can be the star all by themselves.
Now, don’t get me wrong. There are times when I crave a big steak or a superbly roasted chicken as much as the next person. Indeed, what would a summer barbecue be without a big hunk of meat slathered in a tangy barbecue sauce? But there are other times where I want the focus to be on the vegetables. Summer, with its grocery store bins and farmers market stalls overflowing with freshly picked vegetables in a rainbow of colors, is definitely one of those times.
Today’s post features an adaptation of Plenty More’s Spring Salad recipe. The original version caught my attention because it includes two vegetables that I adore but which I had never thought to combine in one dish, asparagus and haricots verts (a.k.a. skinny French green beans). It then takes the dish in an entirely different direction by adding sesame oil, sesame seeds and a diced red chile to an otherwise standard lemon and olive oil-based dressing. The result is an unexpected but delicious blending of Mediterranean and Asian flavors in one dish.
However, if there is one regret I have of Ottolenghi’s recipes, it is that they can be intimidating to many cooks with their long lists of ingredients (many of which can be hard to find) and equally lengthy instructions. That’s a shame because there are few chefs who possess Ottolenghi’s ability to devise creative ways to showcase vegetables. I think many veggie-wary folks might become converts if the barriers to entry didn’t seem so high.
So, with those thoughts in mind, I set out to simplify the Spring Salad recipe without losing its essence. I started by making several substitutions. I replaced the haricots verts with regular green beans, since those are easier to find and tend to be less perishable than their skinnier counterparts. I also substituted frozen shelled edamame (soy beans) for the fava beans again because they’re more widely available and easier to use (you don’t have to shell them as you do fava beans).
Moving on to the dressing, rather than figure out what type of red chile to use and then seed, clean, and dice it, I decided to use some Aleppo pepper flakes which I recently discovered and fell in love with. They are milder and more complex flavor-wise than regular red pepper flakes but are just as convenient to use. No worries, though, if you can’t find them. A decent substitution is a mixture of one part ground cayenne pepper and four parts regular (not smoked) paprika.
Finally, I omitted the spinach (more simplification) and nigella seeds (which I had never heard of), and I steamed rather than boiled the vegetables (I find steaming easier to do, plus it preserves more of the nutrients).
The result is a nutritional powerhouse of a salad with vitamins, minerals, and antioxidants galore and that is both visually stunning and delicious to eat. Fortunately, I was able to stifle the urge to devour large spoonfuls of it while taking the photographs for this post. Otherwise, you would have had only my words to convince you to try it and not the enticing images.
Asparagus, Green Bean and Edamame Salad
This salad appealed to me because of its unexpected combination of asparagus and green beans, two vegetables that I love, together with an Asian-influenced dressing. I’ve simplified it to make it a little more user friendly.
1 bunch (1 pound/455 grams) asparagus spears, trimmed and cut into 1-inch pieces*
8 ounces (228 grams) green beans, trimmed
8 ounces (228 grams) shelled frozen edamame
1 regular shallot (about 2 ounces/60 grams), very thinly sliced
1 teaspoon Aleppo pepper flakes (or 2 teaspoons if you prefer a spicier salad)**
2 teaspoons sesame oil
4 tablespoons lemon juice (preferably freshly squeezed from two lemons)
4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 tablespoon sesame seeds (optional)
1. Steam the vegetables: Add about 1 inch of water to a lidded pan and then insert a perforated steamer insert.*** The bottom of the insert should be above the water. If not, pour some of the water out. Bring the water to a boil. When you start seeing steam rising from the pan, add the asparagus to the insert and place the lid on the pan. Allow the asparagus to steam for two minutes. Immediately transfer the asparagus to a colander and rinse under cold water until the asparagus is cool. Repeat the process with the green beans (steam for 5 minutes) and then the edamame (steam for 2-3 minutes). After the green beans have cooled enough to handle, cut them into 1-inch pieces.
2. Prepare the dressing: In a small bowl, whisk together the Aleppo pepper flakes, sesame oil, lemon juice, and extra virgin oil.
3. Place the asparagus, green beans, edamame, and sliced shallots in a large bowl. Add the dressing and toss gently to combine. Garnish with sesame seeds, if desired. Serve immediately.
*To trim the asparagus, you’ll need to remove the tough, fibrous bottom portion from the tender upper portion of each spear. The best way to do this is to grasp the bottom end with the thumb and first two fingers of one hand and then position the thumb and first two fingers of the other hand three or four inches above the bottom. Gently bend the stalk until it breaks, which will likely occur at the point whether the stalk becomes tender enough to eat. Repeat with the remaining pieces. Rinse the upper portions in a colander. Discard the bottom portions.
**If you can’t find Aleppo pepper flakes, substitute ¼ teaspoon of ground cayenne pepper and 1 teaspoon regular (not smoked) paprika.
***You can also use a steamer basket.
Make Ahead: The salad can be made ahead through step 2 and then finished just before serving. If you make the salad entirely ahead, the acid in the lemon juice will dull the color of the asparagus and green beans, but it will still taste the same.
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