Monday, June 29, 2009

The Green Spark: Three Bean Salad with Mint Pesto

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There are those people who like mint, and there are those of us that love mint.

Cool, bracing, just a little bit sweet, it's one of my favorite flavors -- quite often, you'll find a pack of Mentos in my pocket; the freezer in our apartment rarely goes for more than a few days without containing Mint Chocolate Chip ice cream.

All this being said, like many herbs, there simply is no substitute for the real thing, fresh and homegrown. I should know -- for the last few months, I've been lucky to have an unruly, rapidly growing mint plant of my own. In fact, it's been growing so fast that I've been struggling to use it all up, tossing a little in this, a little in that, revitalizing well-trod recipes with its blast of refreshingly green tannins. This isn't just limited to desserts, however; while everyone knows how to use mint in desserts, it can be an inspired addition to savory dishes, such as the one I'm presenting today.

As a quick glance at the sidebar of this website demonstrates, I've tried to organize the recipes here by course and type, and the category of "Side Dishes" has been sorely neglected, something that I hope to rectify over the coming months. After all, what is summer about, if it's not about picnics, and side dishes, and salads; a million different dishes full of spice and crunch and zip?

Anyway, I'm starting that effort today with one of those aforementioned well-trod recipes: two of them, in fact. A new take on both three-bean salad and traditional pesto, this is a great combination and a welcome addition to any summer gathering.

[Editor's Note: Shortly before I went to post this recipe, my father was kind enough to send me a link to a recipe from the website of Rose Y. Colón, a chef and journalist from Miami, Florida, and a former colleague of his. While her recipe (for Edamame Pesto) includes both edamame and the elements of pesto (she purees the soybeans into the sauce to toss with pasta), I can state without reservation that my dish was conceptualized and created without any previous knowledge of Ms. Colón's recipe. What can I say? Great minds think alike. If you have a moment, please visit her website, found here, for many other delicious recipes.]

Three Bean Salad with Mint Pesto
Serves 4

2 Cups Haricot Verts, chopped into 2" pieces
1 Cup Edamame beans, shelled
1 Cup English Peas, shelled

1/2 Cup Mint leaves, loosely packed
1/4 Cup Basil leaves, loosely packed
1/8 Cup Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese (about a thumb-sized chunk)
1/4 Cup Walnuts, shelled
2 to 3 cloves of Garlic
1/4 Cup Olive Oil, extra to taste
Kosher Salt and Black Pepper, to taste

Extra Parmigiano-Reggiano for grating

Start by assembling your ingredients. From top right, heading clockwise: frozen Edamame, fresh Haricot Verts, and fresh English Peas. As seen in the picture at the top of this post, you'll need to shell both the English peas and the Edamame; the thick skin on both is essentially inedible. Because my Edamame were frozen, I had to cook them before peeling them, which is not ideal. At the very least, be sure to peel the English Peas before they're introduced into the hot water.

In three batches, starting with the Edamame, moving onto the Haricot Verts, and ending with the English Peas, blanch each veggie in salted boiling water for no longer than two minutes (if the Edamame are frozen, they can go for an extra minute). You want to just start the cooking process, while being careful to retain the crunch and fresh flavor of the raw veggies. If you're not sure, always err on the raw side. After each batch is completed, toss the veggies into a bowl of ice water to stop the cooking process and set the color.

While the various legumes get cold, prep the Mint Pesto in your food processor (a blender works just fine here, in a pinch). Feel free to play with the ratio of mint to basil -- some people will like a higher percentage of mint, but the 2-1 ratio above will please most crowds. Start with the above and feel free to add additional leaves (the increase in liquid volume will be negligible).

You'll notice that I use walnuts in my Pesto; the Pasta Burner doesn't really care for pine nuts, so I've gotten used to subbing them out. The switch works particularly well here -- the walnuts make for a creamier consistency, and they round out the other flavors in the final product well.

Add everything but the Olive Oil into the processor, turn it on, and drizzle it in slowly to make an emulsion. This makes a relatively thick paste; if you want a thinner sauce, feel free to drizzle in more oil until you reach a consistency that pleases you.

Drain the vegetables from the ice water, peeling the Edamame (if you used frozen).

Toss all the veggies well with the sauce, and adjust the flavor with Kosher Salt and Pepper. The final product:

This is one of those dishes that just begs to be made in early summer, a marriage of herbs and vegetables at the peak of their season. Nearly all of the ingredients can be found locally or grown in your backyard, and any number of different legumes can be substituted in. Simply use what's fresh and what looks good at your local market; I promise you that this will disappear from any picnic table in a flash.

Next weekend, we'll be back with a great Senegalese recipe, an intersection of France and Africa on one plate. Be sure to check back then.

Video: Rowan Atkinson -- "Mr. Bean Goes To A Restaurant"

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