When the temperature soars to 90 F and above, I’m looking with a vengeance for any way to avoid turning the stove on. Sometimes even grilling or eating outdoors sounds too warm. Shades are pulled; lights are dimmed or off and yes, the AC is on, on, on during the day. I know; it’s not perfect. BUT! It is the perfect time to be able to reach into the refrigerator and just pull out dinner right along with a can of lemony sparkling water to top off a little cold Chardonnay. If it’s all in one bowl and ready to slip onto our plates, I’m even happier. Sometimes that’s a salmon pasta salad or, if we’re really lucky, it’s a quiche defrosting from the freezer or our chilled no-cook Spicy Cucumber-Feta Soup. This week it’s a silky-crunchy and perky bean and chickpea salad I’ve named PESTO BEAN SALAD. This is nothing in the world like your great aunt’s potluck 3-Bean Salad, no matter how much you loved or hated it. (I’ve never made 3-Bean Salad myself but who knows what lies ahead?) Homemade or jarred pesto is the simple summer sauce and there are enough vegetables to satisfy every mother on the planet. Fresh mozzarella lends a chewy, decadent, fatty note and since I added cherry tomatoes, there’s more than a nod toward my adored caprese. Today, a friend asked about leftovers; would this hold a few days in the fridge? “It’s lovely,” I told her. I haven’t even needed to add more dressing or seasonings. A big stir has been all it’s wanted. Can’t ask for much more in July.
Why a bean salad? First off: Beans are a superfood. I mean, literally; they are. And not just because I love them or because they’re inexpensive, though I do and they are.
Beans are considered a “superfood” because they are one of the most nutritious foods you can eat. As a result of their high fiber content, beans help to protect against diabetes, cardiovascular disease, and maybe even some cancers. The soluble fiber in beans can help to lower the harmful LDL-cholesterol, and help to regulate blood sugar levels. It can also help us to feel satisfied after we eat, and therefore help with weight control. The plant protein content in beans helps improve the dietary quality of a meal, and can take the place of meat. ~UMass Chan Medical School
Next, beans are easy and filling. Canned beans (often on sale/stock up!) make quick dinners of all kinds, but particularly in the summer when a hearty salad is sometimes all we need. Both dry and canned beans are shelf stable, adding to their value. Last, beans are versatile. There are many varieties and more preparations than I can begin to think of. Most cultures eat beans of some sort. Beans with rice or beans and pasta or bean soup or even the infamous UK beans on toast are staple meals for many people in our world including Americans. How do you like your beans?
I keep a variety of canned beans in my pantry for fast meals or to stretch a little bit of soup but there’re always dried beans, too. Some nights a bowl of slow cooker beans topped with salsa and/or served with cornbread is all the dinner we need. So if you’d rather cook your own beans (3 cans of beans = 1 lb dry), here’s one of my go-to methods below. While this one is for black beans, you can sub your preferred variety:
Slow Cooker Black Beans: INGREDIENTS: 1-lb black beans (unsoaked), washed/picked over; 2 quarts water; small onion cut in half, 3 cloves garlic; 2 teaspoons kosher salt; 1/2 teaspoon each ground black pepper and crushed red pepper; a few springs of cilantro (optional), and a quick drizzle of olive oil. DIRECTIONS: Stir together all ingredients in the slow cooker and cook on high for about 6 hours at altitude or until tender. (May be less at sea level.) Taste and adjust seasonings.
So whether you open your cans or simmer a pot, there’s little doubt you’ll enjoy the final result as a side or a main dish when you try this:
Pesto Bean Salad
- 2 (15-ounce) cans cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 (15-ounce) can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- Kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and crushed red pepper
- ¼ cup EACH: red onion and cucumber cut into small dice
- 1 large plump clove garlic, minced
- ½ cup EACH: diced yellow bell pepper, celery, and fennel
- 20 small balls fresh mozzarella (bocconcini) cut in half or diced from the slices in a log of fresh mozzarella–about a cup
- 16-18 cherry tomatoes –about a cup
- ¼ cup sliced kalamata olives
- ¼ cup basil pesto, homemade or purchased
- 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
- Zest of one lemon
- ADD THE BEANS AND CHICKPEAS to a large bowl. Sprinkle with ½ teaspoon kosher salt, ¼ teaspoon black pepper, and a generous pinch of crushed red pepper. Stir.
- ADD THE ONIONS, CUCUMBER, GARLIC, peppers, celery, fennel, mozzarella, cherry tomatoes, and kalamata olives to the seasoned beans and mix well.
- DRIZZLE IN THE PESTO and red wine vinegar and sprinkle with the zest of lemon. Stir until thoroughly combined. Taste and adjust seasonings including salt, pepper, crushed red pepper, pesto, and red wine vinegar.
- SERVE AT ROOM TEMPERATURE. If making ahead, store undressed salad in refrigerator, waiting until just before serving to add the pesto, vinegar, and lemon zest. Cover tightly and store in the refrigerator 4-5 days, stirring well before serving again. (Taste and season again if needed.) Do not freeze.
CHANGE IT UP:
- Your choice of fresh vegetables to use here is nearly endless. Think additions or switches like zucchini, summer squash, cooked/diced sweet potato, broccoli and cauliflower, carrots, grilled corn, etc. Don’t skip the onion and garlic, though, unless you absolutely must.
- Vary the flavor profile. Go Greek: Use feta cheese and a Greek vinaigrette. Think Mexican-Argentinian style: Stir in tiny chunks of Cheddar or crumbled cotija and chimichurri sauce.
- Try sliced pepperoncini or capers in place of olives.
- For a vegan version, skip the fresh mozzarella and instead of pesto (which contains cheese), use a basil vinaigrette. I like David Lebovitz’ version.
- Want some meat in this? Diced ham or chicken, some crispy crumbled bacon or prosciutto would work well. Maybe tiny bits of smoked salmon.
- Need to expand this lots but have no more beans? Pasta and beans is a forever happy combination. Add cooked small-sized pasta like macaroni, orechiette, conchigliette (shells) or cavatappi. You’ll need more pesto and seasonings, as well as additional vegetables. Rice, too, is a perfect mix-in if you prefer it.
- Like other beans? Use them instead. If you choose pintos, black beans, or a mix, consider the above-mentioned chimichurri sauce in place of the pesto along with the Cheddar or cotija.
- Simply Recipes Pesto recipe here. This is similar to the NYT one I use, for which you need a subscription.
- Buying pesto? Read up here. The only one I’ve ever bought is the Kirkland brand, sold in the cold section of COSTCO near the cheese. I usually have plenty of basil to make it fresh.
If you liked this, you might also like one of my other hot weather favorites:
LIFE GOES ON:
Our milkweed is in full bloom, attracting this gorgeous creature who isn’t a monarch or a traditional swallowtail but maybe a tiger swallowtail? If you know, leave me a note in a comment! Otherwise, forgive my awful iPhone video skills and enjoy a minute of fluttering.
Thanks for (not) cooking along with me in my kitchen this warm week. Stay cool,