Sunday, May 25, 2008

Why I Don't Grill and a Recipe for Take-Along Five Bean Salad

I don't grill. That is, I don't grill outside on a charcoal or gas grill. I grill inside with a grill pan or under the broiler. When warm weather comes around, outdoor grilled food is something I crave, so I renew my relationships with my master griller friends and hope they're kind enough to invite me to dinner on the patio. Hey - I'll bring the Tanqueray, the dessert, and my Five Bean Salad (or Tabbouleh if lamb is on the menu). I'll even throw in the tonic water and the limes, but I leave the grilling to the experts. By the way, I make the best damn Tabbouleh on the planet - better than a Lebanese grandmother!

There's a spot on my little deck for a grill and acquiring one is easy enough - that's not the point. My track record with grilling isn't stellar. It started out pleasantly enough but culminated with setting the Peony bush on fire. I should mention that I really wasn't all that unhappy to lose the bush. The flowers, of course, were gorgeous but the ants loved their sticky nectar. The bush was right outside my daughter's bedroom window, where the ants would congregate on the sill and make their way inside. Of course we couldn't bring the blossoms in the house because of the ants, so we had to enjoy the pink blooms while sitting in the yard.

Right before Memorial Day in '89, we bought a charcoal grill. It was a red "kettle" and it cost $69. We bought a well-known national brand of charcoal and lighter fluid and went about completing the picture of the quintessential suburban family (we already had the dog and the station wagon). The grill sat in front of the Peony bush. We grilled all summer - burgers, fish, chicken, pork chops, New York strips, bratwurst, you name it - we grilled it. I made up foil packets of summer veggies and grilled fresh pineapple before it was fashionable. I marinated, planked, skewered and basted. Having planted nasturtiums that spring, we had the flowers in our salad. We drank quite a bit of Molson Golden that year, too. It all seemed pretty good.

Then one day toward the end of the summer, my former husband came home with a cheap brand of charcoal and lighter fluid (he had a very hard time resisting a "bargain"). We fired up the grill and threw on the burgers. We tried to eat the ones that hadn't morphed into hockey pucks but they tasted like kerosene. Then suddenly, the grill and the Peony bush were consumed in flames. Houston, we have a problem. The back yard smelled like the tarmac at O'Hare International on a hot day. The southbound neighbors started yelling over their tall fence (they had recently installed a pool). The northbound neighbors - an elderly couple - came running out if the house in a panic with a kitchen-sized extinguisher. The dog barked incessantly: "Get the Sheriff! Get the Sheriff!" My spouse donned a mitt and from a relatively safe distance, threw the cover over the kettle (that was quite a toss), while our neighbor shot foam at the Peony bush. The launch-pad temperature blaze, deprived of oxygen, died. The paint on the grill had peeled and fallen off in big chunks and the kettle itself was twisted nearly beyond recognition. It was over. Hands on her hips, my daughter said, "Well, I think I've had enough of this!", and stomped into the house where she proceeded to eat three bowls of cereal for dinner. Too embarrassed to put the grill out for the garbage collectors, we stored it in the basement - a grim reminder of the "incident". It was very, very sad.

Yes, I know - I should get over it and invest in a little gas grill - but I'm afraid of propane. I'm considering, however, attending space camp at the U.S. Space & Rocket Center in Alabama where I can learn to become a "Mission Specialist" in only eight days. T-minus 10, 9, 8, 7...


This salad has a long list of ingredients but comes together quickly. Feel free to add or subtract whatever beans, vegetables or fresh herbs you wish. It's a large salad, so I like to divide it into two portions and put the crumbled feta in one half (not everyone is fond of feta). You can substitute 1/2 cup chopped fresh cilantro for the basil and add a teaspoon or two of ground chipotle or ancho chili pepper and a teaspoon or two of ground cumin. If you use fresh corn kernels, blanch them in boiling water for one minute and drain. If you don't want the salad too garlicky, just rub an exposed clove around the bowl and discard.

3/4 pound fresh green beans, trimmed and cut diagonally into
1-1/2" pieces
1 15 ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 ounce can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 15 ounce can yellow wax beans, drained
1-1/2 cups corn kernels (fresh, canned, or frozen)
1 large red bell pepper, diced
1/2 medium green bell pepper, diced
1/2 cup green onions, sliced
1 medium red onion, diced
1 small clove garlic, minced
1/2 large cucumber, seeded and diced
2 stalks celery, sliced
1 medium jicama, cut into matchstick pieces (optional)
1/4 cup brown sugar
1-1/2 cups chopped tomato or 1/2 pound cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
1 large bunch (about 16 leaves) roughly chopped fresh basil
1/2 pound feta cheese crumbled (optional)
1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil (or vegetable oil)
1/3 cup fresh lime juice or red-wine vinegar
1 tablespoon Mrs. Dash Original Blend
1 tablespoon fresh thyme or 1 teaspoon dried thyme
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
4 strips thick bacon, drained and crumbled (optional)

Bring a medium pot of water to a boil and add the green beans. Cook for 3 minutes and drain. Allow to cool.

In a very large bowl, combine the beans, corn, red and green bell pepper, green and red onions, garlic, cucumber, celery, jicama and sugar and toss to mix. Add the basil, tomatoes and optional feta and toss gently. Add the olive oil, lime juice, and seasonings and toss well once more. Taste and adjust the seasonings. Chill at least 3 hours (but not more than 8 hours or the beans get soggy) before serving so the flavors can meld. Add the optional bacon and toss again just before serving. Serves 12.

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