I like to think of myself as a vibrant person. My closet looks like a Crayola box. I don't think anyone has ever described me as a shrinking violet. I have no qualms getting on stage and singing with a band, even if I have a terrible voice. And usually I don't get too pumped up about eating a beige-y plate of food. But last night I made an exception and I'm glad I did.
I was walking around the neighborhood and came upon a box of enormous lemons with a FREE sign taped to it. I don't know what they fertilize lemon trees with around here but they're as large as grapefruits! And the trees just overflow with fruits, so it's not uncommon for people to share. I grabbed one and contemplated what I could make with it during the rest of my walk.
I had the good luck of working with this chef on a business project last year and would often find myself eating in her Boston restaurant as we strategized. But honestly, most of the time all I could contribute were a few moans of delight over how amazing every single thing was I put in my mouth. One dish in particular transported me to Spain. It was a composed salad of gigante beans, preserved lemons and grilled squid. It reminded me of a beautiful little dish you'd find in the Basque region, where they call tapas pintxos, meaning little pinches of food.
I love all things Spanish. I could easily live there. Maybe I will one day (more than for just a summer, although I'd take that again). A friend gave me a beautiful cookbook, which is a little bit like food porn for me, with stunning and dramatic photographs of tapas. I decided to thumb through it after my walk and came upon a recipe for a salad that had the same bones as the squid salad that still makes me salivate. To my pleasure, it called for a lemon vinaigrette dressing in lieu of preserved lemons (yea, free lemon!), cannellini beans (which are much more accessible than gigantes), and Manchego cheese (one of my faves). It also didn't call for squid, which was good because I've never worked with squid before and am not even sure what I would do with it if someone plopped some down in front of me. Plus the recipe required no cooking, which is always a bonus!
The dish is basically a beefed up romaine salad with white beans, apple, avocado, Manchego, and toasted hazelnuts. It turned out to be very crisp and light (thanks to the Grannie Smith apple, fresh basil and lemon vinaigrette), but was incredibly satisfying (thanks to the beans, cheese, avocado and nuts). It is super tasty too . . . not to mention healthy (another bonus). You'll be so happily devouring this you won't even mind that the dish you're eating is basically a less than vibrant monochromatic palette. Just pour yourself a glass of albariño wine, turn on some flamenco music and pretend you're hanging out at a tapas bar in San Sebastian. There is nothing beige about that.
White Bean Salad with Manchego, Avocado, Apple and Lemon Vinaigrette
Adapted from Pintxos
1 head romaine hearts, roughly chopped
1 large rip avocado, halved, pitted, peeled and cut into 1/2-in dice
1 large Granny Smith apple, peeled, halved, cored and cut into 1/2-in dice
1 can (14 oz) white/cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
3 oz Manchego cheese, cut into 1/4-in dice or shaved
1/4 cup fresh basil leaf chiffonade
1/4 cup toasted hazelnuts, skins removed and chopped
1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice
1/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
1 tsp Dijon mustard
Splash of honey or agave syrup, if the lemon juice is too tart
Kosher salt and ground pepper to taste
In a bowl, combine the lettuce, avocado, apple, beans, cheese, basil and hazelnuts and toss gently to mix. Whisk together the lemon juice, mustard, olive oil and salt and pepper to taste. Toss gently with the salad and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve right away so the avocado and apple don't darken.
Serves 2 as large main dishes or 4 sides.