It Pays to Be Picky With Beans

 , The New York Times  |  Updated: August 28, 2014 12:09 IST

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It Pays to Be Picky With Beans
I have had a lifelong fling with beans. It all began with green beans "amandine." At our house, fresh-frozen French-cut beans, cooked to the perfect shade of bright green, were heaped with slivered almonds sizzled in margarine. That was a little bit of heaven.

From my very first bowl of pinto beans, I was besotted. Dried black beans, cannellini beans, ojo de cabra beans, borlotti beans: they all mesmerized me. Imagine my delight in discovering that they could be eaten fresh in the summer from the pod, like peas, and that most of these fresh shelling beans could be cooked to a creamy softness in 30 minutes.
I can be a pain at the produce stand now. There I am, rummaging through piles of yellow wax beans, inspecting each one and choosing only the very smallest, still bright yellow with a tinge of pale green at the stem end. It can take a while to harvest a half-pound. Then it's the same routine with the stack of green filet beans; each one needs individual approval. And the flat beans, also called Romanos, get the same attention. I want them on the slim side, before they begin to bulge.

New-crop shelling beans in the pod are easier to judge. They just need to look gorgeous, plump and fresh, like the crimson-podded cranberry beans, or the green and purple black-eyed pods. Some vendors sell little bags of shucked specimens, which cost more but save labor. To get two cups of shucked shelling beans you'll need two to three pounds of pods. I don't mind shucking my own.It is such a hot day; I am going to make a bean salad and a tomato salad for dinner and a fruit salad for dessert. But my bean salad will be a far cry from the classic Yankee three-bean type, which is mostly not very lovable. A mixture of red kidney beans, garbanzo beans and drab, soft green beans (all from cans, heavy on vinegar and sugar) is fine for camping or during a power failure, but not at the height of bean season.

My bean salad will be delicately dressed in a Japanese-inspired vinaigrette, enhanced with pickled ginger and sprinkled with black sesame seeds. It will be harmonious, beautiful and mouthwatering. I do hope all this attention to leguminous minutia doesn't make me sound like a food snob. Perhaps just a picky, bean-loving cook, trying to get all the details right.

Mixed Bean Salad With Pickled Ginger
Time: About 1 1/2 hours
Yield: 6 to 8 servings

For the vinaigrette:
Juice of 2 limes (about 4 tablespoons)
2 tablespoons white miso
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
2 teaspoons rice wine vinegar
1 teaspoon brown sugar
2 teaspoons soy sauce
1 teaspoon toasted sesame oil
1/4 cup mild vegetable oil, such as safflower or peanut
Salt and pepper, to taste

For the salad:
1 1/2 cups raw fresh shelling beans, such as cranberry beans, butter beans or black-eyed peas, from about 2 pounds beans in the pod (may substitute frozen edamame or baby lima beans)
Salt and pepper, to taste
2 pounds small green beans, yellow wax beans and Romano beans, or a single type, topped and tailed
4 scallions, thinly sliced
2 tablespoons julienned pickled ginger (see note)
2 teaspoons toasted black sesame seeds, for garnish

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1. Make the vinaigrette: In a small bowl, put lime juice, miso, mustard, rice wine vinegar and brown sugar. Whisk together, dissolving ingredients, until mixture is creamy, a minute or so. Add soy sauce, sesame oil and vegetable oil and whisk again. Taste, adding salt and pepper.
2. Put the shell beans and a good pinch of salt in a small saucepan with just enough water to cover. Simmer gently for 20 to 30 minutes, until tender. Let cool in cooking liquid. (If using frozen beans, just drop in salted boiling water for one minute, then drain.)
3. Fill a large saucepan 3/4 full with well-salted water and bring to a boil. Add green beans, yellow wax beans and Romano beans and simmer for 2 to 3 minutes, until firm-tender. Drain and spread out on a towel to cool. (If the different kinds of beans vary greatly in size, cook in separate batches.)
4. Assemble the salad: Put green-bean mixture in a large shallow salad bowl. Drain shell beans and add to bowl. Season with salt and pepper. Dress lightly with half the vinaigrette and toss gently. Leave for 10 minutes and taste for seasoning. Add more vinaigrette as necessary, but only enough to coat. (Any remaining vinaigrette makes a nice dressing for a green salad.) Scatter scallions and pickled ginger strips over salad. Sprinkle with sesame seeds.
Note: To make your own pickled ginger, use a 2- to 3-inch chunk of peeled ginger, preferably thin-skinned young ginger. Slice it paper-thin, lengthwise, with a sharp knife or mandoline and put it in a small jar. Add 2 teaspoons sugar, 1 teaspoon salt and 3 tablespoons rice wine vinegar. Stir to combine ingredients, making sure ginger is submerged. In about an hour, ginger will be ready to use (and perhaps faintly pink); it will keep indefinitely in the refrigerator.

© 2014 New York Times News Service

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