Once upon a time*, in a land called California, there lived a young girl who didn't eat her vegetables. Oh, I suppose she ate some vegetables, but at most green things (and yellow, and red, and orange things, or at least vegetables in those colors) she wrinkled her nose and cried, "eww!" She was, to put it mildly, a very picky eater. The only vegetables that she would eat without a fuss were green beans and, most improbably, broccoli.
As you might have guessed, that young girl who didn't eat her vegetables grew up to have a blog called Beyond Ramen. Yes, internets, I was once a terribly picky eater. Surprised? I suppose it's not uncommon for us to have awfully narrow tastes as a child, and then to grow up and out of that narrowness. Still, I feel like my transition from closed-minded food hermit to adventurous, "I'll try anything at least once" foodie is... unlikely.
And as surprised as readers might be to hear that I was such a picky eater, I imagine that my parents are perhaps even more so to hear and read about the sort of things that I now cook (and write about) without hesitation. Butternut squash soup? Chickpea salad? Pastry cream**? Aromatic baby food?? It would have floored them to see me eating such food, let alone voluntarily whipping them up for myself and then writing to tell the world about how delicious I thought they were.
In a strange way, I think that that unlikely (and ongoing) transformation is part of why I blog about food in the first place. In addition to my love of sharing good food with people, there's a sense that if even I like it, it must be good, so I must share it with the world! Perhaps in the process I'll show some kale hater (or squash hater, or what have you) that you can like these things under the right circumstances, and I've found that that's especially the case when you cook it yourself. I'm certain that the broadening of my tastes owes a great deal to my starting to cook for myself regularly about eight (!) years ago.
But I've digressed a bit--or quite a lot, actually. Anyway, green beans. Because green beans were the one veg that my parents could reliably get me to eat, we ate a ton of them, typically steamed and plain. Given my propensity to turn up my nose at anything unfamiliar or "interesting," I don't know if I would have gone for them any other way, so the ubiquity of the steaming method was likely born of necessity rather than a preference on my parents' part. Fortunately my parents, unlike the antagonists of the vegetable horror stories they told me about vegetables cooked into drab, limp oblivion, ably steamed our green beans--and broccoli--until they were tender, but retained a fresh taste and color, and still held their shape nicely.
I still love them that way, steamed or boiled and plain, but as with anything good, one can reach a point of too much. I needed something different. Of course, because plain was more or less the only way I had ever had them, other than the occasional stir-fry, I was not exactly flush with ideas. Eventually I started putting them in salads, with some tomato and some lemon juice and olive oil. Then I added toasted nuts. Then mustard. Then garlic and herbs.
At this point I had myself a smart little side dish: crisp, tender green beans with tomato, a hint of garlic, a lemony-mustardy vinaigrette, perhaps some salad greens, and some fresh herbs. This alternative was quickly assembled--as quickly as the plain green beans, since the water still had to come to a boil--but it felt like a more grown-up version of the old stand-by. My green beans had grown up.
There are plenty of ways to make this dish, of course--I've listed only the ingredients that I choose most often. Sometimes I substitute red wine vinegar for the lemon juice, or omit the herbs or garlic, or whatever I feel like. In these pictures, I've left out the greens and the nuts, and it worked beautifully. It's really one of those "make it your own" dishes, and I encourage you to play around with it so that it suits you.
* Anyone else out there hear or read those words and immediately, in your mind's ear, hear an orchestra strike up with the music from Into the Woods? "I wish!"
** Yes, there really was a time when I wouldn't eat pastry cream. It was a texture thing: I thought puddingy/custardy things were icky, and only copious amounts of chocolate could convince me otherwise.
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Monday, August 3, 2009