Thursday, September 28, 2006

Thai Green Bean Salad -- Eating in Season

The people of France know how to eat well. I hear they shop at street markets every day to pick up fresh produce, spices, and other ingredients. When I was in college I tried to emulate this lifestyle as much as possible. It was refreshing to eat what I happened to be craving that day, walk to the store (as much as half an hour away by foot), and buy what I required. I quickly noticed that our society here in America does not generally embrace this method of grocery shopping. Often I would cringe at the shopping carts brimming over with packaged food in front of me in line. Over the years I came to the conclusion that waiting in line like that was a huge waste of my time and sanity.

Since my appetite for organic and more exotic foods has increased exponentially, my preferred market for grocery shopping is only reasonably reached by vehicle. Always the fuel conscious individual (even back in the late 90’s when gas was cheap), I cannot justify driving to the market without combining it with another errand that takes me to that general vicinity. Therefore, I have, out of necessity, adapted to planning my menus a week or so in advance, compiling a list, and nearly filling a half-sized shopping cart. Gone were my days of reckless shopping spontaneity. Or so I thought.

Lately I’ve begun to try to buy more seasonable organic produce and use my finds as inspiration for my menu selections. This adds nouveau spontaneity to my shopping adventures, as well as my culinary explorations. Some times I know what I can make with the produce du jour, sometimes I’m not prepared with a recipe, and will eagerly ferret one out of my various recipe resources. This past week I couldn’t resist the organic green beans, even though I generally have disturbing memories of over-cooked green beans from childhood. But I knew the perfect recipe for them, a Thai vegetable dish that I first tried this spring when Chinese long beans were on sale.

For every recipe that I am familiar with there are certain ingredients I can count on in my cupboard, and certain ones that need to be bought fresh. Usually I am pretty good about remembering the ingredients that I need to buy without a list, but often times I overlook one or two. The first time I tried this recipe with the green beans, I had not looked at the recipe in over a year, nor had I cooked it yet. However, the recipe title was reassuring enough that I felt I had a good chance of remembering the necessary produce. Sure enough, the green beans, cherry tomatoes, and asian eggplants were the only ingredients not in my cupboard already. Not only was my shopping a success, but so was the finished product.

I would consider this to be a cold Thai salad. I found this recipe at Epicurious. What it lacks in stomach-filling properties, it more than makes up for on the palate. It goes well over warm rice. I’ve tried it with both white and brown basmati rice and I have to recommend the brown rice, which adds some earthy flavor to the meal. I must chastise myself for not serving this more over the summer months, because it is quick to throw together and satisfying on a warm night.

Tangy Eggplant, Long Bean, and Cherry Tomatoes with Roasted Peanuts

½ pound long thin Asian eggplants (about 2)
½ teaspoon vegetable oil
1 ½ Tablespoons fish sauce
4 teaspoons brown sugar
2 teaspoons fresh lime juice
½ pound long beans or other green beans
10 cherry tomatoes
2 Tablespoons fresh cilantro leaves
1 Tablespoon roasted peanuts

Cut eggplants at a 45 degree angle in ½ inch thick slices. Brush both sides of the slices with olive oil and place on a baking sheet. Broil on high 3 to 4 inches from heat for about 4 minutes, or until slices begin to brown. Turn slices and repeat.

While the eggplant is broiling, mix fish sauce, sugar, and lime juice in your medium or large serving bowl. Stir until all the sugar dissolves.

Once the eggplant has broiled, add to the fish sauce mixture and combine until the eggplant is well coated.

Now blanch the beans. Boil lightly salted water in a medium sized pan. Cut beans into 1 ½ inch lengths. Add to the boiling water for 2 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath (ice plus water). After 2 minutes of boiling, immediately drain the beans and add to the ice bath. Drain and add to the eggplant mixture.

Cut your cherry tomatoes into bite-size slices. Coarsely chop cilantro. Finely chop peanuts. Add tomatoes, cilantro, and peanuts to the eggplant mixture and mix well.


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