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The Chickpea & Tomato Salad That Presented a Moral Dilemma

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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.

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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.

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.

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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.

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Chickpea and Green Tomato Salad

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Serves 4 to 6
  • 1 1/2 cups dried chickpeas (or other small dried beans)
  • 2 garlic cloves, lightly smashed
  • Salt
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • Coarsely ground black pepper
  • 2 small (or 1 large) green tomatoes, cored
  • 1 teaspoon chopped fresh thyme leaves
  • 1 tablespoon chopped parsley
  • 2 scallions, thinly sliced

Tags: Tomato Week