Summer Night Dinner Project: Cool Beans and Greens

IMG_0442During the summer, it seems the weekends are busier and full of fun, leaving little time for big dinner projects. It’s often the weeknights where some spare moments can be found in the kitchen, and dried beans are made for those moments. I have posted about dried beans before, mostly about how useful they are for soups and stews. They are also a great addition to a salad, turning it from a side to a dinner with almost no effort. Since the weather is heating up, and the salad greens are rolling in from the CSA and Farmer’s Market, I thought I’d share one of my favorite go-to salads with beans.

Dried beans are one of a busy cook’s best friends and secret weapons. All they need is a little prior planning. They soak overnight (or all day, if you start them in the morning), and cook in a simmering pot of water all by themselves quite contentedly, with no help from you, while you are doing other things. They are so much less expensive than canned beans, and you can control the salt level more easily if you cook and salt them yourself. They have a more pleasing texture than canned beans, and their flavor is fresher and cleaner; no “tinny” flavors here. Once they’re cooked, they can be popped in the refrigerator to chill, awaiting salad instructions.

IMG_0436Wow, somebody got a lot of product placement in this photo. ;) At any rate, here’s the cast of characters for my salad. The salt and pepper are not in the photo, but you didn’t need to see them to know they belong here, right??? So, let me introduce my friends tonno (tuna in olive oil-much more flavor than water-packed; and there’s not that much oil in there), capers, shallot, lemon, basil, cooked and chilled cannellini beans, pepperoncini, and extra-virgin olive oil. This salad is fast, simple, and filling, with light seasonings perfect for a hot summer evening when you’re not sure what you want to eat.

IMG_0438Another great thing about this salad is no exact measurements are needed; it’s all to your taste. Want fewer beans? Use fewer beans. Want vegetarian? Don’t use the tuna. Like a lot of heat? Use more pepperoncini. One of the best parts of cooking for yourself? You find out what you like and how to get there. Here in my bowl I have two cans of light tuna packed in oil, a quart container of cooked, chilled cannellini beans, a minced shallot, a palmful of drained capers, and three minced pepperoncini. The oil from the tuna cans is in there, and I drizzled some of the brine from the pepperoncini jar over everything, too.

IMG_0439Next, I squeezed the lemon out over the bowl, catching the seeds in my hand. I didn’t zest the lemon, but you could. I was too hungry. I poured a good stream of olive oil over it all, salted liberally, ground lots of black pepper over, and mixed. Tasted. Salted a bit more. If you’re not confident, go light on the olive oil at first, stir everything together, and taste. If it seems too acidy or a little flat, add a bit more oil. It adds body as well as flavor. Last to jump into the bowl was the basil, sliced into very thin ribbons (chiffonade, if you’re feeling fancy). If you’ve never done this, it’s so easy and looks so fine: stack your basil leaves one on top of the other, then, starting at the stem end, roll them up into a log. Start slicing thin ribbons off the end of your basil log, and there you go. Lightly separate the ribbons from each other, but be gentle; basil bruises so easily. Sprinkle over the salad. Or you could just tear the basil into little pieces. I’m not coming to check.

As you can see from the opening photo, I served my bean-tuna salad over salad greens with a sectioned tomato. I dressed the greens with olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Not pictured is the toast I made to go with it. It’s toast. I think you can handle toast. I ate mine right away, but if you have time to store it in the refrigerator for a bit, the flavors will just get better. It makes a big bowl, so it could even be dinner for more than one night. Or lunch the next day.

Summer is here, and the living is easy, if you keep cool beans and greens around. Chill out with some beans.

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