The Chickpea & Tomato Salad That Presented a Moral Dilemma

August 25, 2016

Recipe writing is fraught with moral dilemmas. A dialogue in a writer's mind goes something like this:

Do I really need to tell people to purée the mixture in a blender and then strain it, which will make the final recipe much better but dirty a bunch of dishes and take yet more time out of my reader's day? Or do I fib a little and tell readers to simply mash the mixture with the back of a fork? The recipe might not be the same but more readers may give it a try which means more readers will get in the kitchen (personal mission justification alert!). Oh, and more readers will get to know my work.

Purity is in constant battle with popularity.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

Let's call this conflict the Paula-Wolfert-Rachael-Ray dilemma. Paula never makes it easy for her readers, which is why her early recipes were 30 years ahead of their time and her books have a rabid but quite small following. Over the decades, more do-good writers cautiously followed in her path and began taking risks by calling for, say, a tagine or paella pan. And eventually, grocery stores started stocking the seemingly exotic ingredients like couscous and sumac that Paula wrote about as everyday staples.

Shop the Story

Rachael, on the other hand, values her readers' time above all, and finds ways to make her recipes accessible and likable to everyone. Rachael has sold a lot more cookbooks than Paula.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Well, dear friend, you could have ordered several kinds of beans from Rancho Gordo, but I kind of like that you made it easier for everyday cooking. And it also seems to me that the dish would be pretty darn good made with ripe tomatoes, if no green ones are available. Altho of course, again, it will be different from the original. I think this sounds amazing!”
— ChefJune

I'm more of a Paula Ray recipe writer. I want to write great, memorable recipes—but I want you to make them, too! (Am I needy?) I thought about this as I worked to recreate this tangy bean salad that Merrill and I had at Il Buco Alimentari, a restaurant in Manhattan. There, the salad is served as a side dish with a mix of tiny heirloom beans, chickpeas, green tomato, scallions, and herbs. I looked at all those delicate little beans and understood that if I asked readers to source 3 or 4 varieties and instructed them to cook each bean separately, my readership would fall off a cliff. This salad is better with the mix of beans, and prettier to the eye. But I didn't want to lose you. And frankly, I was busy—like you!—and not in the mood to hustle over to Kalustyan's to source 4 types of beans myself.

Photo by Mark Weinberg

So I settled on chickpeas, which are widely available in grocery stores. I don't soak the chickpeas, I just throw them in a pot and simmer them. Ninety minutes and a load of laundry later, they're ready. The real star of this salad, and what caught my eye on the menu, is the green tomato. This you cannot find a cheat or substitute for. The crisp, zippy tomato, made even livelier with red wine and sherry vinegar, acts almost like a pickled vegetable, brightening the sweet girth of the chickpeas. Calling for green tomatoes means I've chosen some purity over popularity; I'm forcing you to go to the farmers market. Are you still reading?

I didn't ask Il Buco Alimentari for the recipe. I created it from memory, an unreliable source. The beans are different, perhaps the seasonings as well, and moral decisions were made along the way—but I think you will like it.

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • S. Newhouse
    S. Newhouse
  • KMicken
  • liz schneider
    liz schneider
  • Greenstuff
  • Sondi Hardy
    Sondi Hardy
Amanda Hesser

Written by: Amanda Hesser

Before starting Food52 with Merrill, I was a food writer and editor at the New York Times. I've written several books, including "Cooking for Mr. Latte" and "The Essential New York Times Cookbook." I played myself in "Julie & Julia" -- hope you didn't blink, or you may have missed the scene! I live in Brooklyn with my husband, Tad, and twins, Walker and Addison.


S. N. September 10, 2016
"The truth the whole truth and nothing but the truth" anything less is a lie! - You mention your inspiration but this is NOT that, you degrade the original by comparing your short cut. I'm sure this is fine but don't mention the other. I want the real thing and all the details - I can abreviate short cut on my own knowing this will NOT be the same thing. A perfect example is Serious Eats from Chicago, "it" WAS great, what exists now is NOT the same.
Amanda H. September 11, 2016
Is it really worth getting so worked up about a salad? And why don't you try it -- a number of readers have liked it!
KMicken September 10, 2016
When the recipe calls for "green tomatoes," does that mean tomatoes that are green when ripe -- such as Green Zebra -- or unripened tomatoes? Thanks.
Amanda H. September 11, 2016
Unripened (although it would also be good with Green Zebras!).
liz S. September 10, 2016
The internet will never give you Mrs. Rombauers' comments, which are the true wisdom in the original Joy of Cooking. Some of us like to go back to those ladies who taught readers about cooking.
Greenstuff August 26, 2016
Looks great! But for those of us with cupboards already filled with a quiver of beans and who do have some time to cook up several batches--any thoughts on the mix?
Greenstuff August 26, 2016
I should probably note that I have all of Paula Wolfert's cookbooks and have never even seen one of Rachael Ray's!
Amanda H. August 26, 2016
I'd use any small, creamy white beans, like baby limas or navy along with the chickpeas. And I'd cook them separately so you can get the cooking times right!
Sondi H. August 25, 2016
I like the moral dilemma, and the story. I have a pantry full of exotic ingredients I bought for one recipe and can't bear to throw them out. I'm busy and I want to make great food. This sounds awesome, and I can't wait to try it.
ChefJune August 25, 2016
Well, dear friend, you could have ordered several kinds of beans from Rancho Gordo, but I kind of like that you made it easier for everyday cooking. And it also seems to me that the dish would be pretty darn good made with ripe tomatoes, if no green ones are available. Altho of course, again, it will be different from the original. I think this sounds amazing!
EmilyC August 25, 2016
Paula Ray -- this made me laugh! And I love this article. I always find your recipes to have a high return on investment, and I'm sure this one is no different.
702551 August 25, 2016
It's not a moral dilemma. No one can please everyone all the time. You write for a certain segment of the audience, just like Frederic Chopin didn't write operas and James Joyce didn’t write spy novels.

I see you left out your reasoning from the actual recipe.

That's a shame, you could have put it in the headnote or in the instructions.

Apart from this post, there's no way a future reader of that recipe will know that there's actually a better way to make the dish and your reasoning for simplifying it. You've withheld information that might lead them to raise expectations (something Tony Bourdain extolls).

Most authors of online recipes still don't get it, probably never will. You can write two versions: the quick and simple “here's what attention-deficit order twentysomething Millennials would do” version, and the unabridged ”here’s how your great-grandmother would have made it” version.

This is the difference between a few recipe writers (mostly at Serious Eats) and all other recipe writers. People like Kenji state *WHY* something is being done and what happens if try something else. They sometimes provide shortcuts.

It's the reader's call whether or not to do a procedure faithfully the way it really should be done, or to cut corners for the sake of convenience/time/whatever when this level of information is provided.

Clearly, Serious Eats is addressing the kitchen geek type of reader. That’s not whom every recipe author wants to address.

Food52 can write to a certain audience, but it seems a bit odd to be so apologetic for the exclusion of information for *ONE* recipe via separate article.

Personally, I think you would be better off thinking about what part of the Internet audience you are trying to reach, and proceed from there concerning how you write a recipe.
ChefJune August 25, 2016
cv - I also liked the story and in order to preserve it, I copied and printed it out to go along with the recipe. FWIW, Amanda is a pretty darned good recipe writer. Have you seen the New York Times Cook Book?
702551 August 25, 2016
No, I haven't seen the New York Times Cookbook, but then again I haven't paid much attention to cookbooks over the past 10-15 years.

In fact, I pruned a third of my cookbook library a few years ago (donated to the city library) and there's definitely another culling in the next few years.

As much as I liked printed cookbooks decades ago, my viewpoint has changed. Online or electronic versions are better because photos and videos are basically free (not like print). Also, with indexed searching, having a bunch of recipes in an article clipping service like Evernote is better than ten cookbooks with individual indexes.
PHIL August 25, 2016
cv , you do like to pontificate
702551 August 25, 2016
Isn't that what the Internet is for?
PHIL August 26, 2016
For some I guess