The first salad was invented by Og, the Neolithic caveman. At some point, he realized that he was a very poor excuse for a hunter, and often brought edible plants back to eat when he came up empty. His other cave-mates took to calling him salad-head, which undoubtedly was Cro-Magnon talk for “very unsuccessful hunter”. The Neanderthals next-door began to make up jokes about him. So to save face, he developed the Gatherer part of Hunter-Gatherer. He experimented with mixing different kinds of edible plants and herbs, and they became quite popular, especially with the cave-women, who were very conscious of their weight, figures, and appearance. He further reasoned that if he could grow the plants closer to the cave, he wouldn’t have to work so hard to harvest them. He began to invent gardening. This was too much for the Neanderthals, who despised anything that sounded healthy. They moved and were never heard from again. Meanwhile, Og planted beans, because there were lots of them around, and they were easy to grow, delicious, and also could provide entertainment, in the form of weird sounds, a few hours after eating them. This led to the invention of the worlds first joke…”pull my finger…..”. By mixing the green plants and beans, Og came up with a never-ending supply of different foods, that were christened salads, in honor of Og’s nickname. The rest is history….
In reality, beans were one of the first crops ever cultivated. There is evidence that peas were cultivated in Thailand as far back as 9750 BC. and beans were grown in Mexico and the Americas as long ago as 8000 years. Beans were found in Egyptian Pyramids that were over 4000 years old, and still edible. Beans were obviously an integral part of the human diet all over the world, for a very long time. The early farmers also took the next step, and grew grains as well. Grains are also easy to grow, and store. In addition, it was soon discovered that grains mixed with beans were a complete food, with all the needed proteins to stay healthy. Humans were no longer dependent on meat alone. It is little wonder that there seems to be a symbiotic relationship between beans, corn, rice and potatoes. Native Americans have been planting squash, beans and corn together (known by a lot of us as “the three sisters”) for thousands of years. It is a certainty that various bean salads were made, and enjoyed very early on, but it would be the 19th Century AD before there were any official written instructions on how to make a bean salad.
To make a bean salad, it is helpful to know about the different kinds of beans you may be dealing with. There are several thousand different species of beans, so it would be impractical to try to list them all, but here are a few of the most common varieties you would most likely use for salads:
- Pintos-in my opinion, the King of Beans. These are a medium-sized, brown speckled bean, with a slightly earthy taste, and wonderful creamy texture. They work great in salads, soups, refried beans, as a side dish, or just in a large bowl by themselves, with lots of cornbread and a few slices of onion. My bean of choice for any kind of chili.
- Black Beans-my second favorite bean. Small and black, to purplish-black, with a very musky, earthy flavor that hints of mysterious and exotic far away places. A staple in Latin cuisine, they work well for Mexican salads, as refried beans, soups, as a side dish, or just served with yellow rice and tortillas. They are also sometimes called Turtle Beans.
- Navy/Great Northern Beans-these two beans are interchangeable in any recipe. One is slightly smaller than the other, but they taste almost identical. They are a medium, tan-colored bean, with a wonderful buttery taste, and creamy texture. They go especially well with ham. They are wonderful in soups, salads, as a side dish, and can even stand on their own.
- Green Beans-probably the most popular bean around, these little green guys can enhance even the most boring entrée. There are several varieties ranging from small and thin, to big and wide, but for the most part, they are interchangeable. They have a very ‘veggie’ taste, slightly sweet, and a soft, but slightly ‘woodsy’ texture. Some varieties are tougher than others, and more fibrous, so you may want to test cook some ahead of time to avoid surprises. They work in soups, salads, casseroles, and as a side dish.
- Adzuki Beans- a deep reddish, small bean with a very sweet taste, and a delicate texture. Works best in Asian dishes and salads.
- Anasazi Beans- a two-toned red and cream-colored, smallish bean, with a slightly sweet taste, and a meaty texture. Anasazi beans can be used as a substitute for pinto beans. They turn pink when cooked.
- Black-Eyed Peas/Crowder/Cow and Field Peas-these are all similar enough in appearance, and taste to be interchangeable. A small cream-to brownish-colored bean with a black ‘eye’. They have a soft creamy texture, and a musky, earthy taste that goes very well with pork, and ham. They can be used in soups, salads, as a side dish, and can even stand on their own. In some parts of the the world, Black-Eyed Peas are eaten on New Years Day because it is believed they will bring you good luck in the new year.
- Chick Peas/Garbanzos-a small whitish bean with a crunchy exterior, and a somewhat ‘nutty’ taste. These really shine in Italian and Mediterranean salads. Hummus is made from chick peas.
- Kidney Beans/Red Beans-these are the beans used to make Red Beans and Rice, a Cajun staple. They are a medium bean with a somewhat bland flavor, that picks up a lot of the surrounding flavors. Sometimes used in chili, they can be used as a side dish, in salads, in soups, or by themselves with rice.
- Fava Beans- a large cream-colored bean with a buttery-earthy flavor, and creamy texture. Great in soups, salads, or on their own.
- Lima/Butter Beans-a large bean that ranges in color from pale greenish, to cream colored. Has a similar taste to fava beans, but a little sharper. Wonderful buttery texture.
- Yellow/Maricopa Beans-another of Mexico’s gifts to the world. A small bean resembling Navy beans, but with a beautiful pale golden hue. One of the prettiest beans there is. These little jewels have a taste that is almost dead in the middle of great pinto beans and great black-eyed peas, with a semi-firm, but still creamy texture. They are very addictive. You’ll find yourself looking for excuses to eat them. They are outstanding in salads, soups, casseroles, or just in a bowl with lots of corn tortillas, or even fresh-baked sourdough bread. My 3rd favorite bean.
- Split Peas-small greenish peas with a sweet flavor, and very creamy texture. They work best in soup, but can also be used as a side dish, or in salads.
- Mung Beans-not usually used by themselves, but are sprouted. The sprouts are outstanding in salads, soups, and even on sandwiches. They have a wonderful crunchy texture, and a sweet, earthy flavor. Especially good in Asian dishes.
- Lentils-small, flat beans that can be red, brown or green. They have a very pronounced ‘woodsy’ flavor, and firm texture. At different times in history, they have been lauded as a gift from Heaven, or a food fit only for the very poor. They work very well in soups, salads, casseroles, and can even work as a side dish.
- Soy Beans/Lupini, and Flageolet Beans-almost never used in salads…..
The key to a good bean salad is to cook your beans properly. There are only two acceptable ways to cook beans; boiling, or pressure-cooking. There are those that attempt to cook beans in a Microwave oven, but this should be punishable by law. With a very few exceptions, microwaves are only good for re-heating, or ruining food. If you are going to boil your beans, most varieties will require pre-soaking overnight, or by the ‘fast-soak’ method, in order to cook properly. The exceptions are lentils, green beans, split peas, and blackeyed/crowder/field peas. They can be cooked immediately. To soak your beans, place them in a container large enough to cover them with at least 2 inches of water (they will swell). Cover them with water, and a lid, and set them aside for at least 8 hours. It’s a good idea to inspect your beans before soaking, looking for bad beans, or rocks. Discard anything that doesn’t look right. To fast soak beans, heat a large pot of water to a roiling boil. Add your beans to the water, and allow the water to return to a full boil. Now, turn off the heat and let the beans soak at least 10 minutes, drain, and proceed with your recipe.
If you plan to use onions, and/or garlic/carrots/celery/green peppers, or bacon/salt pork/ham hock, heat a little oil in the bottom of the pot you plan to cook the beans in, and lightly sauté the veggies until they turn translucent, and the meat is cooked. Then, add your liquid and beans. The proper ratio of water to beans is 2:1. In other words, 2 cups of liquid for every cup of beans you plan to cook. Allow at least 2 hours for the beans to cook, more if you have hard water. Start checking them after 90 minutes or so. Be sure to keep an eye on the liquid, and add more whenever needed. You want the beans to stay covered with liquid. As far as adding salt, it is up to you. It is one of the biggest arguments in the culinary world; to salt, or not to salt. I seldom do, because it is easy to add salt to taste after cooking, but I have done it both ways, and never noticed much of a difference.
Pressure cooking is the best way to cook beans. It preserves the nutrients, flavor and character of the beans better than any other method, and you can skip the soaking stage. Follow the instructions for your pressure cooker, or recipe. The new electric pressure-cookers are especially neat. You can just load them, set the timer, and forget about them until you are ready to eat. In 45 minutes, or so, you will have a pot of absolutely perfect beans. You can even load them in the morning, and have beans ready when you come home from work. Most of them will hold the beans on ‘Warm’ for 24 hours to 2 days.
Once your beans are done, you need to let them cool so you can handle them. Once that is done, you are ready to create your bean salad masterpiece. Like jazz music, there are no rules. Anything goes. There are no fixed rules on how to make a bean salad. Here are a few standard recipes to get you started;
White Bean and Tuna Salad
16 oz. cooked, drained, and cooled Navy or Great Northern Beans (canned is OK, right from the can).
5-6 oz. canned tuna in oil (sardines work good, too)
1 cup chopped parsley
1/4 cup diced onions (green, or red onions are OK)
For the dressing;
3 Tbsps Extra-Virgin Olive oil
2 Tbsp lemon juice
salt and pepper to taste.
Rinse the beans well, in a colander, under cold water, until there is no more foam showing. Allow to drain.
In a small mixing bowl, whisk the olive oil, lemon juice, salt and pepper together until well mixed.
Transfer the beans to a large mixing bowl and gently toss with the dressing. Allow to marinate.
While the beans are marinating, drain the tuna, and chop the parsley and onion.
Add the rest of the ingredients to the beans and dressing, and toss very gently (you want the tuna to stay a little chunky).
Serve with Club, or Ritz-style crackers, or fresh-baked bread.
Black Bean and Corn Salad
16 oz. cooked black beans, drained and cooled (canned is OK, right out of the can).
1/2 cups of corn (canned, or frozen and defrosted)
1/2 cup chopped green onions
2 large fresh jalapeño peppers, seeded, de-veined, and chopped (pickled is also OK)
3 large, firm tomatoes, cut into 1″ chunks.
1 avocado, peeled, seeded and cut into 1″ chunks
1/2 cup of fresh chopped cilantro
1/4 cup of fresh chopped basil
2 Tbsp lime juice
1 tbsp Extra-Virgin olive oil
1/2 tsp sugar, or Splenda (to tame the acidity of the lime juice and tomatoes)
salt and pepper to taste
In a large mixing bowl, toss all the ingredients together. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving. Garnish with lots of salsa and tostada chips.
Enhanced 3-Bean Salad
1-14.5 oz. can each of wax beans, green beans, black beans, red, or kidney beans, and garbanzo beans, drained.
1 onion, chopped
1 bell pepper, chopped
For the dressing
3/4 cup red wine vinegar
3/4 cup sugar, or Splenda
1/2 cup Extra Virgin olive oil
1-1/2 tsp dried cilantro
1/2 tsp dry mustard
1/2 tsp dried tarragon
In a small sauce pan, over medium heat, add vinegar, sugar or Splenda, oil, cilantro, dry mustard and tarragon. Stirring slowly, heat the dressing until the sugar or Splanda melts. Set aside.
Toss beans onion and bell pepper together in a large mixing bowl. Add dressing and toss until everything is well coasted. Chill for at least 2 hours before serving, tossing once again just before bringing it out.