Sunday, July 18, 2010

Higher Learning Salad

I have always thought of myself as a person who doesn't discriminate. I think most people do. However, all day long, we are making choices based on our previous experiences. If you were to have asked me yesterday if I was a fan of green beans, I would have shrugged and said 'They're okay I guess'. My lack of enthusiasm for them has a long history, filled with canned bean sludge and slivered almond nightmares. There was a time when I loved green beans. When I was little, I used to eat the fresh beans that my grandfather had grown in his garden. My brother and I would sit around a bowl and snap the ends off of the fresh velvety beans, crunching into the imperfect ones after we had declared them unfit for the dinner table. They were so fresh that they would cling to my tongue, and they had a crunch loud enough to drown out the sound of the television. As the years went on, I had one after the other disappointing green bean experiences, and once the memory of that delicious watery crunch wore off, I had to accept that most of the green beans I encountered were dull, limp, and starchy.

As of today, my opinion of beans has once again changed. As part of a farmer's market project I am working on, I had to come up with some sort of demonstration to do with kids using fresh vegetables. I went with making green bean "french fries", which are not actually fried, but rather raw beans placed in a little french fry container that the kids could decorate with crayons. I asked them to come up with a name for their bean snacks, and to write some information on the back that they thought would encourage other kids to try their product. They wrote things like "beans help you to see" (I told them that beans contain lutein, which is a carotenoid that may improve vision) and "beans beans good for your heart" (they didn't finish the song on the package, but we had a good laugh about it).

The idea was that the kids would realize that all of the stuff written on food packages was invented by someone who is trying to sell the product. Additionally, I was hoping to get the kids thinking about some of the finer points of the beans, so that they might like them better. I also brought along some toasted sesame oil and salt to toss the beans in, and some french dressing (because, similar to ketchup, french dressing is mostly sugar with a hint of tomato, and I thought it might be good to have in case the kids hated the green beans). As it turns out, these precautions were totally unnecessary. The beans sold themselves to the kids, and then the kids re-sold me on the beans, in their original plain form.

I bought four different varieties of beans: green, yellow, purple (which turn green when you cook them) and pole beans. The pole beans were mostly for educational purposes. I was going to use the pole beans (which have strings that you have to peel) to show the kids how historically, green beans had strings on them. I didn't imagine that these would be all that tasty, since most of the farmers who sold them insisted that pole beans are meant to be stir-fried and not eaten raw. After I pulled the string off of one during our first round of demos, a little girl reached forward and demanded I let her taste the pole bean.
"I wanna try THAT one."
"No" I said "I don't think you'll like this on..." The little girl had swiped the pole bean out of my hand and snapped a bite off of it as though it were a candy cane.
"MMMMM" she said, and her face lit up. "That one is REALLY good!"
"It is?" I said. "I mean. Yes, of course it is. See, beans taste great and can be eaten as a snack raw, so that you don't even have to ask the adults if you can use the oven." I went on with my demonstration. After all the kids left, I tasted what was to become my new favorite vegetable. The pole bean. It has the nutty richness of a soybean, but with a less pea like flavor, it has a soft velvety flesh and is less sticky than the bush snap bean variety.

While the kids all agreed that the raw beans were good by themselves, they really liked them tossed in sesame oil and salt. I made this salad with the beans that I used for today's demo.

Simply Nutty Green Bean Salad
2 cups mixed purple, green, yellow and pole beans, fresh (so that they snap)
1 cup sliced cherry tomatoes

Toss with
1 Tbsp toasted sesame oil
sprinkle of salt
1/4 tsp soy sauce
1 tsp rice vinegar
pinch of sugar

Christina's vote: "All the world's a stage for this salad"

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