In idle moments I sometimes like to consider which is my favourite vegetable. Definitely something green as I always feel a meal is incomplete without a bit of verdancy on the plate. But is it broccoli - not only delicious but lends itself to the fantasy that I am a giant, pulling up and eating whole trees? Or asparagus, so perfect but available so briefly?
Both are contenders but so is the relatively humble green bean. I love a green bean. I just came across a nice piece from a couple of years ago in which Bee Wilson extols their virtue but points out that the Kenyan sort are so readily available that we don’t always appreciate the British ones when they’re in season.
Yet they’re in shops right now and worth making the most of!
It’s true that summer beans are delicious with no more than a slick of butter and a grinding of black pepper but I thought they were worth fussing over a bit too. Hence this salad which would make a good accompaniment to chicken or lamb or as part of a mezze-ish spread.
I’ve specified half a bulb of garlic (about six cloves) to be roasted for the dressing but I’ve taken to just sticking one or two whole bulbs in the oven whenever I’m using it for something savoury and keeping the cloves in a small airtight container in the fridge. That way I’ve always got the sweet and mellow cloves on hand for blending into dressing and marinades, mashing with potatoes, stirring into mayonnaise etc.
Fine Bean Salad With Tahini Dressing (serves 4 as a side)
- 350g fine beans
- ½ garlic bulb
- 1 red onion
- 1tsp cumin seeds
- 1tbsp sesame seeds
- 200g cherry tomatoes
- 1tbsp olive oil
- ½ tsp chilli flakes
- 3tbsp light tahini
- 1tsp honey
- 1 preserved lemon
- Preheat the oven to 200C/gas mark 6. Chop the onion in half and then into roughly 1cm slices. Separate the slices into layers and scatter onto a baking tray. Drizzle with olive oil, season with salt and pepper and toss to coat them evenly.
- Slice the cherry tomatoes in half and place them, cut side up, on top of the onions (which should act as balancing aids). Sprinkle the tomatoes lightly with salt and the chilli flakes.
- Separate the garlic into cloves and find a little space for them at the side of the tray. Put the whole lot in the oven and cook for 20 minutes.
- Top and tail the beans. Boil them until tender but still with a bit of a bite (about five minutes). Drain and set aside to cool.
- Toast the cumin seeds in a dry frying pan until they begin to smell fragrant then remove to a pestle and mortar and grind. Use the same pan to toast the sesame seeds until golden.
- When they are cool enough to handle remove the garlic cloves from their skin and put them in a food processor with the ground cumin seeds, tahini, honey, preserved lemon (cut into quarters) and 75ml water. Blend until smooth. This gives a spoonable dressing but if you prefer something more liquid then add a little more water. You’ll need about half of it here (it’s hard to make in smaller quantities) but the leftover will keep in a jar in the fridge for at least a week.
- Arrange the beans, side by side, in a dish. Spoon over the dressing so as to make a stripe that leaves the ends of them naked. Then arrange the onions and tomatoes on top of the dressing in another stripe. Sprinkle the whole with sesame seeds and finely chopped parsley and serve. (Of course you don’t have to be so fussy with the presentation. You could just toss it all together in a bowl and it would taste just as nice. Although don’t want to go lining up the green beans I would advise mixing them with the dressing then topping with the tomatoes and onions, otherwise it really will look a bit of an unappetising mess.)
Ifs And Ands
- The dressing and topping would work well with other green veg. Sprouting broccoli would be particularly good when it comes into season. It would be nice with roasted butternut squash too.
- Or as a dip for pitta bread and crudites.
- I bought some pumpkin seed "butter" from a health food shop the other day which turned out to be horrible on toast but works OK in dressings. You could replace the tahini with any seed or nut butter and then top the salad with matching seeds/nuts.