I was a ridiculous child. Stubborn, bookish and bossy, I never hesitated to express my opinion. I got into trouble for speaking out in classrooms (“But Mrs. Weaver, I don’t want to do that next”) and for making a face whenever my little brothers ate some food that I thought was disgusting. Take fresh green beans from my grandmother’s garden, for example. Our green beans came in a can at home and I wanted them in a can at Grandma Virgina’s, thank you. My mother would sigh, tell me I’m crazy and crank open a can of Green Giant.
I came to my senses and stopped eating canned green beans years ago, but I never replaced them with fresh green beans. You know that little squeak you hear when you bite into a cooked, fresh green bean? My younger self did not agree with food that squeaks, and I’m not sure my adult self does, either.
That said, I couldn’t pass up these multi-colored string beans from Kansas City’s River Market last Saturday. Surely I could find a way to make these enjoyable, I thought. Then I zoomed over to Trader Joe’s for a “quick” grocery run, but of course I couldn’t find everything I needed there. Not one to give up, I found myself at a second, third and fourth store. Maddening, right?! By the time I got home that evening I was so cranky that I felt like taking a tequila shot for each of the four stores that don’t carry tahini.
Fortunately, I didn’t need any of those ingredients to make this improvised end-of-summer quinoa salad. I’ve seen quinoa at big grocery stores lately and green beans shouldn’t be hard to come by this time of year. I used a technique similar to that of last week’s broccoli pasta: sauté the green beans for a few minutes, then cook them all the way through by steaming in a bit of water. You’ll end up with squeak-free, crisp-tender blackened beans, which contribute tons of flavor to the finished salad.
Before I go, I feel compelled to tell you that something was missing from this salad when I photographed it, but I couldn’t figure out what that something was. I finally recalled the classic almonds-with-green-beans combo from my grandmother’s table and threw some slivered almonds in a pan to toast. Almonds make all the difference, so even though they aren’t shown in the pictures, please add them at the end as directed. And hey Mom, look! I’m eating real green beans and not taking tequila shots. Your little girl is all grown up.
- 1 cup quinoa, rinsed under running water in a fine mesh colander for a couple of minutes
- 1 pound long green beans, aka haricots verts (roughly 3 cups)
- salt and pepper
- 3 garlic cloves, minced
- 1/4 cup water
- 1/2 medium red onion, sliced into very thin strips
- 1 cup cherry tomatoes, chopped
- 2 corn on the cobs, stripped
- 1/4 cup olive oil
- 1 1/2 to 2 small lemons, juiced
- 2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
- 1 tablespoon chopped fresh basil
- sea salt and black pepper
- 1/3 cup sliced almonds (highly recommended)
- crumbled feta (optional)
- In a medium saucepan, combine 2 cups water and the quinoa. Bring to a boil, cover and simmer for 15 to 17 minutes, until the water is absorbed. Remove from heat, fluff with a fork, cover and set aside.
- Chop off the straggly ends of the green beans. Cut them on the bias (diagonally) into 2- to 3-inch long pieces.
- Heat 2 teaspoons of olive oil in a 12-inch cast iron skillet over medium heat until shimmering. Add the green beans and a sprinkle of salt and cook, stirring occasionally, until spotty brown (4 to 6 minutes).
- Use a wooden spoon to push the green beans from the center of the skillet. Add another teaspoon olive oil and the minced garlic. Cook the garlic until fragrant, about 30 seconds. Stir the garlic into the green beans.
- Grab a baking sheet to cover the pan and keep it handy. Add the red onion to the pan, followed by the water and cover until the beans are bright green and crisp (about 2 minutes). Uncover the pan and increase heat to medium-high. Cook until the water evaporates and the beans are lightly browned (3 to 5 minutes) and remove from heat.
- Transfer the green beans to a big mixing bowl. Add the cooked quinoa, chopped cherry tomatoes and corn kernels. Whisk together the dressing ingredients in a small bowl and pour it into the salad bowl. Toss to combine. Add salt to taste. If it doesn't taste like an end-of-summer party, add another squeeze of lemon and maybe a dash of red pepper flakes.
- In a skillet over medium-low heat, toast the almond slivers until fragrant and golden. Top the salad with toasted almonds and feta, if you'd like, and serve.
Make it vegan: Skip the feta.
Make it nut free: Leave out the almonds, although it is a highly recommended topping!
Storage suggestions: This salad keeps well in the fridge, covered, for a couple of days.