Late Summer Green Bean Salad

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Labor Day weekend has arrived and this salad is an ode to the end of summer. Schools are back in session, nights are beginning to feel a bit more crisp, the humidity is starting to break.  Labor Day also signifies that many fruits and vegetables are either at their peak of sweetness, like those cherry tomatoes you’ve watched ripen under the sun all summer long, or making their final round – i.e. green beans.  Green beans are often one of the first summer vegetables we harvest and if planted just right, will continue to reproduce through August.

One of my favorite ways to prepare green beans is Asian style.  Perhaps it’s a vestige of growing up in New York City and our Sunday night Chinese order-in ritual which always included dried sautéed string beans, or my love of green papaya salad, which often includes a few diced green beans and tomatoes doused in fish sauce and sweetened vinegar.  Here I’ve combined many of my favorite Asian flavors with green beans and tried to balance the sweet, salty and acidity just right.  This is a great picnic salad for your Labor Day cook out or a dinner side dish with rice and seared or panko-crusted tofu, or grilled meat.  And once you get the hang of this dressing, you’ll want to pour it over just about everything.

So here’s to the fruit we wait for all summer long, and the vegetables that keep on giving.

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Late Summer Green Bean Salad

Tips and Tricks

  • Quick pickling is super easy and a great way to cut the sharpness of raw onion in salads.  Pickling sweet red onions with a little sugar and rice vinegar goes great in slaws, asian noodle salads and potato salad. I also love quick pickling radishes, cucumbers and jalapenos as a side for roasted meat or tacos.
  • Blanching is a great technique when you want to take out the harshness of a raw vegetable such as late summer green beans while preserving their crunch.  It also brings out the brightness of your green vegetables without loosing their nutrients.  Be very careful not to over blanche (i.e. boil) your vegetables.  It’s always best to air on the side of caution and take them out after 20-30 seconds. They can always go back in.
  • The dressing for this salad is extremely versatile and can be used on almost salad.  Remove the sesame oil and add some diced chili and a few squeezes of lime and you have a Vietnamese or Thai style dressing.  The basic components of sugar, rice vinegar and fish sauce are a core balance in asian dipping sauces, marinades and dressings.  Use this over Vietnamese noodle salad, or even your favorite green salad.  If you’re vegetarian or gluten-free, you can substitute the fish sauce for soy or Tamari.

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Ingredients:

Quick pickle red onions

  • 1/3 large red onion, thinly sliced
  • 1 tablespoon cane sugar
  • 3 tablespoons rice vinegar

Salad

  • Approximately 1 and 1/4 pound of green beans, trimmed and cut into thirds on a bias
  • Cherry tomatoes, kept whole if small, halved if large
  • 1/2 cup cilantro, just leaves kept whole
  • Black or white sesame seeds, sprinkled to finish

Dressing

  • 1 clove of garlic, finely chopped
  • 2 tablespoons plus 1 teaspoon rice vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon of fish sauce
  • 1 teaspoon cane sugar
  • 1 teaspoon of toasted sesame oil

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Prepare pickled onions by combining the sugar and vinegar in a bowl and stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Add your sliced onions and toss to ensure they are fully coated in the vinegar.  Set aside, and toss again every once in a while to ensure that all the onions are evenly marinated.  These will be ready by the time the rest of the dish is prepared but make sure to do this step first.

Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add trimmed and cut green beans. Test after 45 seconds. They should have still have a nice crunch.  Do not leave them in for more than 60 seconds.  Add the warm beans to a large mixing bowl with your cherry tomatoes.  Drain the pickled onions from the sweet vinegar and add to the beans and tomatoes. Toss gently.

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Add half of the dressing and a few sprinkles of sesame seeds.  Toss the salad – hands are best.  Then add the cilantro leaves and remainder of the dressing.  Toss again and taste.  Flavors will enhance with time.  When plating in a serving bowl, add another sprinkle of sesame seeds.

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