Cooking Class: Don't know beans?

They're a good source of protein and fiber - and with greens, they make a light but filling meal.

bean salad 88 (photo credit: )
bean salad 88
(photo credit: )
I love the Mediterranean culinary custom of combining legumes and greens, as such compositions are not only appealing, but also nutritious. Think of Lebanese lentil and spinach soup, Egyptian green fava bean stew with beef and chard, or Persian mung bean and spinach soup with dill. Yet let's be frank - on blazing sunny days, except for people like my late father-in-law, who insisted on having his bowl of hot Yemenite soup no matter the weather, who feels like eating or cooking hot soup? Almost by chance, I found that beans and greens can also be enjoyed as tasty salads. On a very hot day, I was preparing our standard salad of lettuces topped with diced raw vegetables - a sort of green salad mixed with Israeli salad. Often I garnish our salads with nuts, but this time I wanted the salad as a main course, and so it needed a component with more protein than nuts have. I added a small amount of cooked red beans that I had in the refrigerator to make a bean-studded green salad rather than a mostly-bean salad. The beans provided a pleasing textural contrast to the greens and were delicious with the fruity extra-virgin olive oil I used in the dressing. And the salad was satisfying enough to constitute a light summer entree. Since then, I've often made summertime salads following this formula, like a spicy Indian-inspired spinach salad with yellow split peas, a salad from Cyprus of marinated fennel with fresh fava beans, green beans and black olives and a Provencal pistou-dressed green salad with chickpeas and tomatoes. Occasionally I add a few cubes of feta or goat cheese to my greens-and-beans salads. I like the Turkish white bean salad of Meri Badi, author of 250 Recettes de Cuisine Juive Espagnole, a book on Sephardi cooking; she flavors the beans with lots of chopped parsley, fresh onion, olive oil and vinegar and a garnish of hard-boiled egg wedges, tomato slices and black olives. These salad elements contribute substance and interest when tossed with refreshing diced romaine lettuce or mixed baby greens. There are good nutritional reasons for composing salads this way. According to Dr. Barbara Rolls, author of The Volumetrics Eating Plan, choosing "high satiety food," or food that helps you feel satisfied at the end of a meal yet is not high in calories, is a good strategy for losing weight or avoiding gaining. She advises choosing foods high in fiber, which helps people feel full, and to eat adequate amounts of lean protein. Rolls notes that people tend to eat about the same weight of food every day, and that they feel just as gratified if they eat water-rich vegetables. With a higher ratio of such vegetables in their bowls, people consume fewer calories for the same size portion. Big salads with plenty of greens and a modest amount of beans are perfect for this purpose. CHICKPEA SALAD WITH FENNEL, PISTOU AND TOMATOES Favorite flavors of the French Riviera - olive oil, lemon juice, tomatoes, black olives and fennel, as well as a pistou of basil and garlic, in other words, a parve pesto - combine in this dish to turn humble chickpeas into an elegant salad. Marinate the fennel, if you have time, to soften it slightly. Makes about 6 servings
  • 2 400-gr. cans chickpeas (garbanzo beans) or 3 to 31⁄2 cups cooked chickpeas, drained
  • 3 Tbsp. Lighter Pistou (see next recipe), bottled pesto or chopped fresh basil
  • 1 to 2 Tbsp. strained fresh lemon juice
  • 2 to 3 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper
  • 2⁄3 cup trimmed, thinly sliced fennel or celery stalks
  • 11⁄2 cups diced ripe tomatoes
  • About 6 cups mixed baby lettuces, rinsed and dried well
  • Black olives (for garnish) Mix chickpeas, pistou, 2 teaspoons olive oil and 2 teaspoons lemon juice. Add fennel, salt and pepper. Marinate, if desired, for 1 or 2 hours. Add tomatoes to chickpea mixture. Taste and adjust seasoning. Mix lettuces with remaining oil and lemon juice and season with salt and pepper. Either toss them with the chickpea mixture, or spoon the lettuces into 4 shallow bowls or plates and top them with the chickpea salad. Garnish with olives. LIGHTER PISTOU This version of pistou, the French cousin of pesto, has less oil than usual and is actually a basil-garlic essence. I find a mini food processor convenient to use, as it can blend the ingredients with the small amount of oil. For dairy meals, you can add 2 to 3 tablespoons freshly grated Parmesan cheese. Makes about 1⁄3 cup
  • 11⁄2 cups medium-packed fresh basil leaves (about 45 gr.)
  • 4 medium garlic cloves, peeled
  • 1⁄4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper Rinse basil and pat dry. Chop garlic in a small food processor. Add basil in two batches and chop finely. Return all of basil to processor. Add olive oil in 4 batches and process after each. Scrape down sides and puree again so mixture is well blended. At serving time, season to taste with salt and pepper. SPINACH SALAD WITH RED BEANS Use ready-to-eat salad greens and any kind of canned beans to make this salad in no time. Makes about 8 servings
  • 1 small red onion, cut in very thin half-slices
  • 1 large sweet yellow or orange pepper
  • 8 cups spinach leaves, rinsed
  • 2 cups iceberg lettuce
  • 11⁄2 cups cooked red, pink or white beans or a 400-gr. can of any kind of beans, drained
  • 3 to 4 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • 4 to 6 tsp. Balsamic vinegar
  • 1⁄2 tsp. dried thyme
  • 1⁄2 tsp. dried oregano
  • Salt and freshly ground pepper Separate onion slices into half-moons. Quarter pepper lengthwise around core. Cut pepper pieces in crosswise strips about 8 mm. wide; cut in half if long. Combine with spinach, lettuce and beans in a large bowl. In a small bowl whisk oil with vinegar, thyme and oregano. Add to salad and toss. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Faye Levy is the author of Healthy Cooking for the Jewish Home and of Feast from the Mideast.