Simple Sides: Smashed Green Bean and Asian Pear Salad
Children in this country consume an estimated 12 percent of their calories from fast food, and 20 percent of all American meals are eaten in the car! The consequences are predictably unhealthy. Competing schedules in the day-to-day lives of a busy modern family make it difficult to share a home-cooked meal together, but not impossible. In fact, with a bit of planning, cooking together can become a fun family event and learning opportunity. This feature will focus on providing a child or a group of children, working together under the supervision of an adult, with one uncomplicated, healthy, and delicious side dish recipe. The dishes will be centered on seasonal fresh produce items; the recipes will always contain tasks that will allow even the youngest kitchen helper to contribute to the family meal. Parents should always read through each recipe carefully to judge the division of labor based on age and ability and to identify where adult attention might be needed.
Many of the recipes presented here will seem very basic; this is by design. We hope these simple preparations will provide the culinary foundation and confidence to inspire kids to try more challenging recipes as their experience and confidence in the kitchen develops. Melissa’s encourages parents to find the time to gather as a family unit at least once a week for a dinner that everyone pitches in to prepare. It’s a wonderful way to teach a child basic culinary skills, and, more importantly, cooking with your children will build memories in all your hearts forever. “No one is born a great cook, one learns by doing” – Julia Child.
Here’s a fun, simple and delicious bean salad recipe that also contains a few very basic culinary lessons your young helpers can add to their kitchen proficiency. Plus, the kids get to do some green bean smashing! The dish will demonstrate how to turn the combination of oil and seeds into both a flavorful salad dressing and a toasted salty topping. The recipe also requires the kids to learn the two-step process of cooking fresh green beans: blanching first, followed by an ice bath, under supervising eyes.
The seasonal star of this dish is the new fall crop of Asian pears, one of the most overlooked fruits in the retail produce department. The texture and flavor of Asian pears do not improve after picking. Unlike European pears that are best eaten soft ripe, Asian pears should be enjoyed while still firm when they have a crunch like an apple, though much juicier. The skin coloration is quite attractive, ranging from golden yellow hues to bronze browns tinged with green.
While Asian pears can be cooked, the crisp texture and quenching nectars are lost by the heat of the oven. The thin-sliced raw fruit added last in this recipe, lightly coated with the tart lemon dressing, is the best way to enjoy this fruit. Asian pears also make a perfect cheese platter component; the sweet, juicy flavor pairs really well with blue cheese or smoked Gouda.
Recipe fun part: smashing the green beans. While the standard blanching (boiling) time for green beans is about two minutes at a full boil, I would go a little longer to get a slightly more tender bean that will smash a little easier under the applied pressure of the rolling pin under small hands. This will improve both the texture and a more “smashed” appearance on the plate. Note: eye appeal should be emphasized as important as any other ingredient on a plate.
The only stovetop work necessary is that of roasting the pumpkin seeds. Hot oil needs to be supervised closely. The dual culinary lesson here is creating a slightly pumpkin-flavored oil for the dressing while toasting the seeds for garnish! Pumpkin seeds are a good source of many nutrients, offering high levels of essential vitamins and minerals in a small serving. Roasted and salted, they are also addicting, so you might want to increase this measure a bit to allow for the predictable sous chef pilferage that will no doubt occur during this process!
Smashed Green Beans & Asian Pear Salad
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
¼ cup raw pumpkin seeds (Pepitas)
Salt & pepper, to taste
⅓ cup lemon juice
2 teaspoons lemon pepper
1 pound green beans
1 medium Asian pear
1 cup (lightly packed) parsley leaves, chopped
What the supervising adult should do
Supervise the cooking of the pumpkin seeds in oil. If your helper is too young for stovetop work, prepare this ingredient ahead of time. Culinary lessons: Blanching, ice bath, dressing emulsion.
What the kids can do
Cook the pumpkin seeds with the oil in a small saucepan over medium-high heat, occasionally stirring, until oil around the seeds is sizzling and the seeds are golden, about 4 minutes. Strain pumpkin seeds through a fine-mesh sieve into a small bowl; retain the oil. Spread the pumpkin seeds on a plate to cool.
Whisk lemon juice and lemon pepper in a large bowl; season with a dash of salt. Gradually stream in reserved oil from the pumpkin seeds, constantly whisking until incorporated.
Working with a handful of green beans at a time, line up beans and trim off both ends, then slice them in half crosswise. Blanch (cook) green beans in a large pot of boiling salted water until bright green, about 2 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer green beans to an ice water bath to stop the cooking process.
Once cooled, spread a handful of beans at a time in a single layer on a cutting board, then split them open with a rolling pin. Transfer to a large salad bowl, toss with the lemon-oil dressing to coat, set aside at room temperature for at least 1 hour to marinate.
Lastly, cut the pear into quarters, slice each quarter into thin wedges, then halve the wedges again. Chop the parsley.
When ready to serve, add the pears and parsley to the green beans, toss well to combine.
Plating: Top each serving with a sprinkle of pumpkin seeds.