Cranberry Bean Salad with Caramelized Leeks and Fresh Herbs

by Liz Caskey on February 5, 2013

My casero at La Vega takes the time to shell kilos upon kilos of cranberry bean. She always greets me with a hearty smile.

I landed last Tuesday, on my birthday, in Chile. Since I moved to Chile over twelve years ago, one of the things I relish every late January is celebrating my birthday in mid-summer. I spent most of my childhood with ice skating birthday parties since it was too cold to do anything else. All it took was migrating 5,000 miles south to turn my winter birthday into a summer one. Hello cute sundresses, drinks on a balmy terrace, and beach outings.

Back home, the only thing I want to eat is the summer’s fresh fruit and vegetables. And cranberry beans.  Chileans wait all year to eat porotos granados, cranberry beans, that come into market after Christmas. Nestled in hot pink shells, a bright shade of cranberry, these tender legumes come as soft white or pastel green. They are cooked briefly, about 20 minutes or so and become toothy, tender, and don’t “inflate” your belly like the dried variety. Porotos granados are considered a summer delicacy and traditionally are made into delicious stews. However, another simple recipe I particularly love is Chilean classic bean salad. This salad is sold in many markets “pre-assembled” that is thrown together with paper-thin tempered onion, chopped cilantro, and a squeeze of lemon or light vinaigrette and sea salt.

Since it’s been hot, I have lately been craving this salad with some crunchy greens like arugula, tatsoi, or red lettuce. The key to this recipe is to cook the beans in salted boiling water with aromatics like bay leaves or basil sprigs until they are al dente with a creamy texture. Instead of raw onions, I prefer to feed my caramelized leek addiction, which adds a note of nutty sweetness and complexity to this dish. We have copious amounts of basil right now (they sell whole bushes in La Vega) so I typically chop up a trio like parsley-basil-chives, but feel free to improvise here. If you’re in winter, parsley-sage-thyme could be equally yummy and you could serve this warm, not chilled with sauteed spinach instead of fresh greens.

These days, I eat plant-based about 80% of the time so I find this incredibly satisfying with a big green salad is a great meal on its own. However, this also pairs incredibly well with grilled fish which I like to indulge when entertaining our clients at home (like the picture below). If you think it’s sacrilege to caramelize leeks in olive oil and not butter, by all means, go for it and adapt to your heart’s content. If fresh cranberry beans are not in the cards (I have only seen them in San Francisco farmers markets), Rancho Gordo in California, has them dried. They are not exactly the same as fresh but still very tasty.

1 kilo (2.2 pounds) fresh cranberry beans

1 sprig basil, or 1 bay leaf

3 large leeks, cleaned of grit and dirt

6 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided

¼ cup dry white wine

4 tablespoons basil leaves, chopped in chiffonade

4 tablespoons Italian parsley, minced

3 tablespoons chives, minced

2-3 tablespoons red wine vinegar

Sea salt and black pepper to taste

¼ cup crushed Chilean hazelnuts, or European hazelnuts (optional)

In large pot filled with lightly salted water (add a large pinch of sea salt), bring to a boil. Add the beans and spring of basil or bay leaf. Cook for 20-25 minutes until al dente. They should have a toothy shell but creamy inside. Drain, refresh with cold water and let cool.

Halve leeks lengthwise and thinly slice crosswise. In a large bowl of cold water wash leeks well and lift from water into a large sieve to drain. Dry completely with clean kitchen towel.

In a large saucepan, heat 3 tablespoons of olive oil over medium heat.  Add the leeks and a sprinkle of sea salt. Cook leeks over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until some begin to turn golden, about 20-25 minutes. Deglaze pan with white wine and cook, stirring occasionally, until liquid is evaporated and most leeks are golden. Remove from heat and let cool slightly before adding to reserved cranberry beans.

In a large mixing bowl, combine the beans, leeks, fresh herbs, red wine vinegar and remaining olive oil. Season to taste with sea salt and fresh black pepper and mix well. For best flavors, let rest 15 minutes before serving.

Serve with sprinkle of crushed hazelnuts over mixed greens.  Beans stay good in refrigerator for 3-4 days.

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