Slummin’ It

Last week was a pretty lousy week at Chez Parr. Lilli was very sick – she’s doing much better now, but no parent wants to end up at Children’s Hospital at midnight on a Sunday. Rich spilled coffee on his Mac which meant he had to use my Dell all week – a miserable experience for both of us. And the cherry on top was the candidate for mayor I was supporting – canvassing, making phone calls, baking cookies and lasagnas – lost.

Bed head Lilli

Everyone has a comfort food. I’ll admit to being pretty happy Saturday morning after discovering the pound of mini-chocolate peanut butter cups I’d stuck in the freezer’s side door who knows how long ago. I stopped myself before it got too ugly; chances are another bad week is bound to happen again. But sometimes you need something you can eat with a fork and sit at a table like a lady.

This salad comes from a former roommate of Sylvie’s. I hesitate to use its real name here for fear of offending someone, but it’s really a pretty perfect description. The last time I made it was probably close to six years ago, but this is what we had for lunch today, along with half a bag of mini-Tater Tots that were magically on sale at Star Market. I found the iceberg lettuce on the super sale rack at Russo’s (two heads of lettuce for 98 cents? I couldn’t walk away from that one). I knew I had a can of diced tomatoes in the pantry, so after Russo’s I zipped over to Target for kidney beans, Catalina dressing (on clearance, another sign of destiny), orange shredded cheese (yes, it has to be orange) and a bag of Fritos. I would have preferred to have bought a one-serving size bag of the corn chips, but sometimes you have play the hand you’re dealt. I think a can of sliced black olives would work well with this, if you’re feeling all fancy.

white trash salad

So, as my celery, walnut, date and pecorino salad rested on the counter, and my tofu marinated in miso and red curry paste, and the delicata squash roasted in the oven, I crunched a cup and a half of Frito’s on top of this salad. It was just what I needed.

White Trash Salad

Ingredients

One head of iceberg lettuce, shredded

One can of diced tomatoes, drained in a colander

One can of kidney beans drained and rinsed and dried

Two scallions, chopped

1 cup of orange shredded cheese

¼ cup Catalina dressing

1 ½ cups broken Fritos

Directions

On a large platter, layer all ingredients as ordered. Serve with a side of Tater Tots.

Perfect Strangers

For nearly 10 years now, my friend Dan has traveled the world. First there were several years of Peace Corps in Ukraine and Uzbekistan, then a stint backpacking through Southeast Asia. After a pit stop at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, he’s now working with Burmese refugees in Thailand… I think; it’s hard to keep track.

Along the way, Dan has sampled some Fear Factor-worthy delicacies: crickets, cockroaches. He tells a story of a sheep that had the misfortune of ramming his host mother. In response, she killed it, made it into soup, and served it to Dan for lunch.

So I was a bit surprised at Dan last summer when we attended a neighborhood BBQ. He went a little gaga for the three-bean salad. It started out innocently enough: a small serving on his paper plate next to a hot dog. And then he went back for seconds, and then thirds. He spent a good chunk of the afternoon lingering by the bowl, as though he was guarding it.

At some point, I pulled him aside and said, “Dan, it’s three bean salad. What’s going on with you?” It turns out that Dan, the world-traveler, had never seen it before. After assuring him that this exotic delicacy could be found behind the deli counter in every supermarket in America, I convinced him to walk away from the bowl.

(In Dan’s defense, substitute “Molly” for “Dan”, “Rich” for “Molly” and “cheese plate” for “three-bean salad,” and you have pretty much every dinner party we go to. But I digress.)

As it turns out, I didn’t get a chance to make him his bowl of three-bean salad before he flew to Thailand. But last week, when I received a pound of wax beans and a pound of green beans in my CSA box, I knew the time had come to revisit this often-overlooked but delicious cookout favorite.

Dan’s coming back to the States for his brother’s wedding in August. And although the batch I’ve made here won’t last until then, I’ve assured him that there will be three bean salad waiting for him upon his arrival stateside.

Three Bean Salad

I’ve made this bowl of salad with beans bought directly from the farmer, but it can be made with canned beans in the winter time; heaven knows that’s how they do it at the local grocery store. But right now I am loving the fresh version of this dish.

Think of this recipe as a good point of departure. You can always add a can of chickpeas and make it a four bean salad. A green pepper, diced, would be great as well. Some chopped celery would also be excellent. And sliced black olives… you get the picture.

Ingredients

1 pound fresh green beans

1 pound wax beans

1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed

Half a red onion, chopped into 1-inch pieces

1 cup white distilled vinegar

½ cup oil

¾ cup white sugar

1 teaspoon salt

Directions

  1. Set a large pot of salted water to boil.
  2. In a large bowl, combine the vinegar, oil, sugar and salt.
  3. Chop the onion and add that to the brine. Adding the onions to the brine at this early stage helps lessen their bite, so definitely do this step now.
  4. Trim the beans. I prefer the Cook’s Illustrated method of lining up the ends of a handful of beans on a cutting board and chopping off the heads with one cut, then doing the same to the other ends.
  5. By the time you’ve cleaned your two pounds of beans, your water should be boiling. Place the beans in the pot and set a timer for five minutes. While the beans are cooking, empty a tray of ice cubes into a bowl and fill it with cold water.
  6. When the five minutes have passed, quickly transfer the beans into the icy bath to blanch them.
  7. Once the beans have cooled off, grab them by the handful and roughly chop them into 1 to 2 inch pieces.
  8. Add the chopped beans and the drained and rinsed kidney beans to the onions and brine.
  9. Toss.

Marinate the bean salad for at least an hour. Longer is better; it will taste better in a day or two.