Last Saturday, I held an afternoon party in honor of a retiring colleague who will be much missed from our department. Seventy-five people received invitations; fifty showed up. Sherry and I handled the kitchen. Rosamaria managed the front of the house — really, the deck and garden where all the guests stood sweating in the shade, swilling beer, wine, and iced tea. I organized the food around an easy meat dish: fifteen pounds of slow-cook pork butt (shoulder) previously marinated for twenty-four hours in a paste made of achiote paste, chipotles with adobo sauce, cumin, lemon juice and dijon mustard. The accompanying salads adhered to the vaguely Mexican-spices of the pork. In addition to this salad, my pal Sherry and I made Alice Waters’ Coleslaw and a crunchy celery, cucumber, red bell pepper and red onion salad in a cumin dressing, recipes for which will follow in separate post. For dessert, Rosamaria brought a delicious carrot cake and I made two of Dorrie’s brownie recipes, to be served with vanilla ice cream. That was the first time I’d ever made brownies and I realized that they’re not as easy as they seem. I wasn’t altogether happy with the results. But the meal came off well, I think. I didn’t have as much leftover pork as I thought I would.
This salad, in particular, deserves accolades.
As it appears in the cookbook:
1/2 c (about 2 oz) green (hulled) pumpkin seeds or pine nuts
1/4 c extra-virgin olive oil
1/4 c water
1 1/2 T fresh lemon juice
1 small garlic clove, minced
1/2 tsp ground cumin
1/2 tsp salt
2 T finely chopped cilantro
3/4 lb haricots verts or slender green beans
2 small tomatoes (1/2 lb total), halved lengthwise, seeded, and cut lengthwise into 1/4-inch wide strips.
Toast pumpkin seeds in a dry small heavy skillet over moderately low heat, stirring frequently, until puffed but not browned, about 6 mins. (If using pine nuts, toast until pale golden, about 7 mins.) Transfer to a plate to cool.
Reserve 1 T seeds. Purée remaining seeds in a blender with oil, water, lemon juice, garlic, cumin, salt, and 1 T cilantro until smooth.
Cook beans in a 4-quart saucepan of boiling well-salted water, uncovered, until just tender, 4 to 6 minutes. Drain, then plunge into a bowl of ice and cold water to stop the cooking. Drain beans again and pat dry.
Arrange beans on a platter and drizzle with two thirds of pumpkin seed dressing. Top with tomatoes and remaning dressing and sprinkle with remaining 1 T cilantro and reserved pumpkin seeds.
My experience making the salad for the first time:
Toasting the pumpkin seeds is as easy as toasting pine nuts in a cast-iron skillet. You have to keep an eye on it and keep the seeds moving around the pan so that they don’t burn. The recipe predicted they would puff up, but that did not happen when I did it. I settled for lightly browned, in spite of the warning in the recipe. Sherry also warned that blackened pumpkin seeds are bitter. So, I was careful. Once I had transferred the seeds to a plate, I waited until they were much cooled, but not quite room temperature. I think it’s true that hot toasted seeds get pasty when put into a grinder. Then again, I’m not sure it matters in this case, since the dressing is supposed to be thick and pasty.
Since my blender is missing a part, I used a food processor instead. The difference between using a blender and a food processor is texture. Blenders make sauces and soups smooth in texture. Food processors chop. For this salad, I prefer a chunky paste made up of bits of seed and cilantro leaves to a smooth, creamy paste that a blender would produce.
When blanching the beans, it is essential not to overcook them. Vigilence and tasting is required. I think I overcooked the beans this time.
I did not put the tomatoes in this time, but I will not fail to the next time I make this recipe.
I have no doubt that I will make this recipe often. It’s another winner in an outstanding cookbook.