Twice as Tasty

Herbed Bean Salad

Warm creamy beans and fresh mozzarella melt slightly into their bed of greens in this hearty spring salad

By Julie Laing
Photo by Julie Laing.

Homegrown springtime salads become progressively leafier as weeks pass but remain stubbornly green until summer vegetables start to ripen. Radishes are about the garden’s only early topping with a burst of color beyond the green tones of asparagus, peas and scallions until chard becomes tall enough to reveal rainbow stalks and strawberries begin to redden.

As my spring salads progress from the last week’s sprinkling of arugula to a thick bed of it under long asparagus stalks, I pull varied textures and colors from shelves rather than the soil. This recipe piles warm, filling shell beans and fresh cheese on early-season shoots and leaves.

I like the pairing of creamy cannellini beans and soft mozzarella, especially when I’ve made the cheese myself. I cook dried beans when I’m thinking ahead or grab the lowest-sodium, unflavored canned ones at the store. For even brighter bowls, you could substitute red kidney beans or pinto beans, but they won’t be quite as creamy. In my garden, hearty red sorrel self-seeds and appears before more delicate French sorrel recovers from its winter dormancy, so I make its baby leaves the touch of red instead.

Warming the beans in the dressing coats and softens them, a step I think worth taking. They won’t stay hot long, but by immediately tossing them with the other ingredients, the cheese melts slightly and the greens just start to wilt, instantly picking up the dressing’s flavors.

In my kitchen, this salad becomes an excuse to make quick mozzarella. I often substitute recipes from my cookbook, The Complete Guide to Pickling, for store-bought ingredients, with homemade mustard thickening the dressing and last season’s pickled nasturtium seeds replacing capers. As spring progresses and chives blossom, I pick the purple flowers and infuse them in vinegar, turning it lavender and flavoring it lightly. The pickled flowerheads can even garnish the beans.

Herbed Bean Salad

Serves 2

3 tablespoons white wine vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

2 tablespoons capers, drained (optional)

2 teaspoons prepared mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1 15-oz can or 2 cups cooked cannellini beans, drained

4 ounces baby greens, such as butter lettuce, arugula or spinach

4 ounces fresh mozzarella, cut in bite-sized pieces

2 tablespoons chives, minced

2 tablespoons sorrel, cut in thin strips

In a small jar, combine the vinegar, garlic, capers, mustard, salt and pepper. Screw on the lid and shake briskly until the salt dissolves. Add the oil, reseal and shake again until creamy.

In a sauté pan, start to warm the beans over medium heat; pour on the dressing. Cook for one to three minutes, stirring, until the beans are warmed through. Turn off the heat; taste and adjust the seasonings as needed. Transfer the beans to a bowl and toss them with half of the greens and the mozzarella.

Divide the remaining greens among two bowls. Top each with the bean mixture, garnish with the chives and sorrel and serve immediately.

Julie Laing is a Bigfork-based cookbook author and food blogger at TwiceAsTasty.com.