In the fall and winter I really enjoy cooking with beans. I make lentil soup or sometimes black-eyed pea soup for New Year's. I love chili with beans. And I particularly enjoy bean salads, either warm or cold, as side dishes or mixed into green salads for a healthy lunch. Black beans and cannellini beans are some of my favorites to cook with, but I'm always looking for other types of beans that I haven't tried before.
There are many varieties of beans and I've been on a trek to discover them all, especially heirloom ones. I recently discovered French flageolet beans and loved them right away. The unique feature of this bean, besides its pale green color, is that they keep their shape very well after cooking and, if soaked overnight, they cook up quickly—in about 30 minutes. Their firm texture is what makes them perfect for this French-style bean salad.
In this recipe I play with Mediterranean flavors like fennel, garlic, lemon, and olive oil. I use fennel stalks and fronds, which most people would otherwise discard after using the bulb. (I usually use the fennel bulb in a roast chicken recipe and use the stalks for this salad. Then I pair the two dishes to make a meal.) The fennel adds a sweet anise flavor to the salad and the carrots lend additional sweetness. Lemon as well as red-wine vinegar add tartness. Serve this bean salad warm or cold, as an appetizer or side dish to fish, chicken, or meats. You'll enjoy the bright and fresh flavors.
Flageolet Bean Salad with Carrots and Fennel
1 cup dry flageolet beans, soaked overnight
1/4 cup olive oil
1 small yellow onion, finely chopped
3 garlic cloves, finely chopped
2 small carrots, sliced diagonally on a quarter turn
2 stalks fennel, sliced
1 tablespoon lemon juice
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
fine sea salt
freshly ground black pepper
1/4 chopped fennel fronds
Drain and rinse beans. Add to a pot and fill with water 2 inches above level of beans. Bring to a boil and lower to a simmer. Partially cover and cook until tender, about 30 to 35 minutes. Drain beans.
Warm 2 tablespoons oil in a large sauté pan. Add onion and sauté until soft and translucent, about 3 minutes. Add garlic and sauté until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add carrots and fennel and sauté until lightly colored, about 3 minutes. Add more oil if pan gets too dry. Add 1/2 cup water. Cover and cook on low heat to steam vegetables until tender but still crisp, about 8 minutes.
Stir in beans and rewarm. Off from heat, add lemon juice, vinegar, and remaining 2 tablespoons olive oil. Season with salt and pepper. Garnish with fennel fronds. Serve warm or cold. Yield: 4 to 6 servings as an appetizer or side dish.