Bowl of bean salad with a slice of lime on top placed in a blue rimmed bowl beside a fork on top of a linen napkin

A Hearty Spring Red Bean Salad inspired by Vishwesh Bhatt

These past couple weeks in Durham have been a veritable paradise weather-wise and that is leaving me with a huge craving for some hearty and healthy salads, which is why I'm so excited to be sharing this recipe at the Carrboro Farmers' Market this weekend!

North Carolina farmers are surely having a similar sentiment these days, a lot of the local farmers' markets are quickly transitioning from late-winter vegetables like hearty greens, sweet potatoes, kale, and late-crop winter tomatoes to spring delights like spinach, green garlic, spring onions, and tender lettuce.  So, I wanted to share a dish that is a perfect analogy for this optimistic transition from one growing season to the next, which led me to one of my favorite cookbooks from 2022, Vishwesh Bhatt's I Am From Here.

Those who know me, know that I love to actually read cookbooks much like a literary work - certainly so many modern cookbooks are intended to be both these days.  What I love about I Am From Here is the intertwining narrative of his immigrant experience in relocating and coming into adulthood in the American South after having spent his adolescence in Gujarat, India.  His writing takes on oft-considered sacrosanct notion of what it means to be southern in the deepest sense of the word. 

While this term is usually reserved for those native to the Southern states, Bhatt asserts that there is a valid case to be made with an expansive definition of the word - one that is based on having tethered one's values, work, identity, and relationships to a particular region that they love.  He connects his identity as an Indian immigrant and southerner by outlining the ingredients that are core the the regional cuisines of both the land of his birth and his adopted home in Oxford, Mississippi.  The recipes in the book echo this notion, spanning everything from the traditional recipes his grandmother made during his childhood to dishes gleaned from his professional experience as a chef in the modern South.

When I read I Am From Here, I think of how our Southern culinary traditions in the Triangle have been informed and developed by immigration patterns in our region, rendering us more sophisticated and adventurous eaters and enriching our culinary landscape in myriad ways.  So, I wanted to honor that richness through adapting a recipe from Bhatt's book to combine the Indian tradition of blooming (or frying in oil) dried spices with a bean that is a staple in Central American kitchens and then topping all that with a warm dressing that must be poured over the beans and vegetables in the Southern tradition of a "kilt" salad. 

Much like the book, this salad is a bridge from culture to the next, highlighting the produce of one season to the next.  I hope you enjoy it. 

Hearty Southern Spring Bean Salad

Adapted from Vishweth Bhatt's Sprouted Red Pea Stir-fry in I Am From Here 

Serves 6

Frijol Rojo de Seda (Red Silk Beans) are the perfect size and texture for this dish.  You can find them easily at any Latin food store such as Compare Foods in Durham, NC or Food Lion in Chapel Hill.  If you cannot find them, dried red kidney or black beans will also work well. Canned beans can also be substituted, but cooking your own dried beans is pretty easy and totally worth the additional effort.

1 pound Frijol de Seda (Red Silk) beans*, cooked and drained

4 tablespoons neutral oil such as peanut or canola

2 teaspoons brown mustard seeds

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon turmeric

1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper

2 tablespoons green garlic, thinly sliced

2 teaspoons fresh ginger, minced

1 small serrano chile, minced

1/2 medium size red onion, diced (about 1 cup)

1 bunch fresh spinach, chopped

1/2 cup chopped cilantro, finely chopped

1 tablespoon salt, divided

1/4 cup lime juice (about 2 limes)

1/2 teaspoon sugar

Fresh black pepper, to taste.

1/2 cup roasted peanuts, chopped (optional)

Cook the beans:

If using canned beans, skip this section.  You just need to drain the beans and wash with cool water to remove any residual canning liquid from them.

 1.  If using dried beans, pick beans over looking for stones, shriveled beans, or other debris.  Place beans in colander and wash off any remaining dust or dirt using cold water.  Place cleaned beans in a large bowl and then cover with 2-3 inches of water.  Leave beans to soak for 8 hours or overnight.   

2.  Once soaked, drain the beans and place in a large pot.  Cover them with water to 2 inches above the beans. 

3.  Bring water to a gentle boil and place lid on top, allowing beans to simmer.  After 30 minutes, add two teaspoons of salt to the pot.  Continue simmering beans anywhere from 30 minutes to 2 hours, depending upon the size of the bean.  To check for doneness, simply take a fork and squish a bean to the side of the pot.  If it's soft, but not mushy, the bean is done.  Try a bean to make sure it's not still grainy on the inside.  If creamy and to your liking, remove beans from the stove and drain.  Set aside to cool.

Make the spiced oil for the dressing:

Be sure to have your spices and ready to add to the pan before you begin as toasting dried spices requires consistent attention to avoid burning them.

1.  Heat the oil in a small skillet or saucepan.  Add brown mustard seeds and cook until they start popping.  About 30 seconds.

2.  Add cumin seeds, turmeric, and cayenne pepper.  Cook, stirring until fragrant, about 20 seconds.

3.  Add green garlic, fresh ginger, and serrano chile.  Cook, stirring until fragrant.  About 10 seconds.

4.  Remove spiced oil from the pan and set aside. 

Assemble the salad:

1.  In a large bowl, add cooled beans, onion, spinach, cilantro and mix to combine.

2.  Add spiced oil, lime juice, sugar, and 1 teaspoon salt and black pepper (or to taste).  Mix to combine.

3.  If desired, sprinkle chopped, roasted peanuts on top of the salad.

Serve with additional peanuts and lime on the side.  Enjoy!



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