May 04, 2013


It’s been a little while. My writing chops feel rusty. I can practically hear the words halt and screech as they try to make their slow way from my brain to my fingertips.

There are some small (and some not-so-small) things to catch you up on. For one thing, I toured the great American Southwest recently. There is no better place, really, to let your words completely leave you. So that’s what I did: feet up on the dash, dusty shoes, bad gas station coffee, amazingly good, frequently hilarious, company by my side. We used images instead of language to document the trip; and that, I think, was a very good call.

I had planned to come home and describe the food that we ate: green chile stew in New Mexico, enormous (I mean, ENORMOUS) steaks in Arizona, all sorts of tacos from Los Angeles to Santa Fe to Denver. But the food, for me, this time around, felt less crucial.

More memorable: how we almost got stuck in a prison town in Colorado; the midnight dashes to try to find an empty bed in a hotel, ANY hotel (except for the one in that aforementioned prison town); the stray dog that we almost took home with us in Monument Valley, who we fed bread and cups of water to from the car; watching the light in Monument Valley change the entire landscape to dramatic hues of red and purple as night fell; sunning on the rocks in Slide Rock State Park and dipping our toes in the ice cold, clear water; the red rocks that creep up the hills all over Sedona; the way that the Grand Canyon feels, really, with its striated blues and reds and pinks, too vast to even begin to visually comprehend it until it’s photographed; train tracks at sunset as we left the Grand Canyon; a volcano that looked like a sunset; open fields with yellowed grasses; turkey vultures swooping everywhere in one desert landscape after the next; sharp slanting light; the most amazing, vast night sky that hangs over the desert all across this part of the world; gnarled Joshua trees and views all the way to Mexico; laughing when the only place to eat in town is called the Yippeeee Ei O Steakhouse (and laughing again when they bring out steaks the size of your head and enormous bowls of “cowboy beans”); a dinner party with the best of friends.

This is just a taste. Turns out, I could go on and on.

As with any road trip, the monuments, the grand stops—though beautiful, though often breathtaking—are really not what make the trip. It’s the smaller things—moments of laughter, simple exchanges, one fleeting gesture from your companion—that take precedence in the mind once you are back home again. These moments are better understood through images; the way that the photographs feel—if you look really, really hard, you can get a glimpse of the state of mind of the photographer.

When I got home, I felt, among other things (nostalgic, happy, tan, for example), vegetable deprived. I’ve been making up for it in the past few weeks with salads like this one. It’s very, very simple: a white bean salad with fennel, spring onions, and oil-packed tuna. It fulfills all of the things that I look for when I need a vegetable fix, a quick dinner, and something cool to temper the heat of the weather outside. It’s also the kind of meal that one could easily achieve with just a quick tour of the pantry.

A couple key things that make this salad worth writing about: the garlic must be mashed with the side of your knife and a healthy heaping of salt. This is a trick that I learned from my Lebanese family. When you treat the garlic in this way, it becomes almost a paste; the pieces swim around every corner of your vinaigrette and make their way into each spoonful. Next, it is imperative that you employ good-quality tuna in this salad; it should be packed in extra-virgin olive oil. It should be firm and flake elegantly.

Other than that, this salad is easily mutable. Add (more or less) whatever you have on hand that will be crisp and refreshing (radishes, for instance, I think would be very good here).

Something dreamy happens when the smooth creaminess of the beans melds with the sharp acids of lime juice, crisp fennel, fresh spring onions, and aromatic garlic.

I recommend it.

Something else I recommend: a long trip through the solitary wilderness, an old Polaroid camera, silence under the stars.

White Bean Salad with Fennel, Tuna, and Spring Onions (not to be confused with “cowboy beans,” whatever those are)

3 cloves garlic

1 red spring onion
1 small fennel bulb
1 can white beans (Cannellini or Great Northern)
1 can tuna packed in extra-virgin olive oil
Juice of 1 lime
Red wine vinegar
Olive oil

A note on substitutions: If you don't have fresh spring onions, half of a regular red onion, or a handful of scallions, would work well. Lemon juice may be substituted for the lime juice. Poached shrimp would be lovely in place of the tuna, or omit altogether for a vegan meal. I wouldn't go without the garlic or fennel. 

Drain the beans and rinse them under cold water; place in a medium-sized bowl. Trim the fennel bulb, reserving the fronds. 

To trim the fennel: slice a thin layer from the bottom of the bulb, and cut off the stalks and fronds; cut the bulb in half, and remove the inner core. Slice the fennel thinly and add it to the bowl with the beans. 

Chop the garlic roughly, then add a healthy pinch of salt right on top of the garlic. Continue chopping and then mash the garlic with the side of your knife until a rough paste forms. Add it to the bowl. 

Dice the onion and add it to the beans, fennel, and garlic. Tear a small handful of fennel fronds into the bowl, and toss with the juice of 1 lime. 

Dress the salad with a couple tablespoons each of red wine vinegar and olive oil. Flake the tuna and some of its oil into the salad and toss gently. Adjust oil and vinegar to taste. Season with salt and pepper. 

The salad is delicious right away; it is also, perhaps, even better if the flavors are allowed to come together in the refrigerator for an hour or more. 

1 comment:

  1. Made me a little teary eyed - beautiful as always, Vera. Makes me want to head out on the road right now. xo! -Michelle :)