>> Sunday, January 18
This has a long backstory, which is in no way important to the recipe. Feel free to skip to the bold recipe title below if you don't feel like reading it all.
The Balkans seem to hold a special place in most travelers' hearts, and I am not unlike the rest. The last leg of my travels in the Balkan states was a long hitch-hike from Svoge (northern), Bulgaria down through Macedonia, Albania, and back up the coasts of Montenegro and Croatia, to finally land in Ljubljana, Slovenia. In March, the weather was decidedly mixed, and while hitchhiking, accommodations are never secure. After a day of solid hitchhiking, well into the night, and a night of climbing through the windy, orange streets of Ochrid, Macedonia to my final resting point in the castle gardens, I was hard-pressed for some comfort food.
I woke up the next morning to the call of the morning prayer from a Mosque behind me. A strong, male voice sang out the words just as pink first-light tinged the grass beside me and crept up the trunks of the freshly-blossoming cherry trees. I was dewy and chilled, but not uncomfortable, and when I stood up, the vast dark emptiness I had ignored below me in the night was not a flat expanse of valley as I had imagined, but a huge lake surrounding the high knoll I had slept on. I laughed out loud in amazement and stretched my limbs slowly in the morning sun, savoring every billow fresh air that blew towards me from the water below.
Wait, what does this have to do with beans, salad, or buckets? Let me explain. I had left Bulgaria with the following food items: a jar of tahini; a bottle of lemon juice; 1 head of garlic; dried basil, cinnamon, and many bags of hungarian paprika; a jar of honey; a bag of seeds; 2 kilos of fresh dates; carrots; an onion; and a plastic bucket with a snap on lid, which had originally contained Bulgarian strawberry jam, but now held a bunch of friend polenta and veggies, nearly finished. Looking out over Lake Ochrid, with a few more long days (and nights) ahead, I realized that once again my plans of eating a few carrots a day and some seeds was not going to cut it. I was hungry in a deep and needy way, like most travellers seem to get after just a few days on the road. Everything tastes better, and food is always welcome.
So I set out on a mission to find some more hearty, travel-friendly foods. I came out of a weird little shop with 2 cans of white beans (remembering that they contian a lot of iron, more than most other beans even), a horseradish, a green cabbage, and some vinegar of an unidentifiable variety (I challenge you to decipher Macedonian food labels!). I finished my polenta that morning, and by midday I sat over my bucket in Tirana, Albania and carved up the vegetables. I added a can of beans, tahini, lemon, water, vinegar, garlic, basil, and paprika, shook it all up thoroughly, and kicked back to enjoy one of the most satisfying meals of my life. Every day after, I made a new version of the same salad, adding chickpeas one day, sesame seeds the next. When I finally met up with my boyfriend in Ljubljana, I was greeted by immediate laughter,
"Nice to see you found a friend!" he smirked. Confused, I looked to where his gaze fell, and realized he was speaking of the little plastic bucket I clutched in my hand, where I had carried it ever since the first white bean salad to protect it from getting lost or broken on the way. I grinned and chucked it at him.
"You have to try this salad." He took a bite and his eyes widened (I kid you not!). The bucket was finished in minutes, and later that night, as we began to get hungry again, we picked up the bucket and knew immediately what we would make. Why, another white bean salad, of course...
Infamous White-Bean Bucket Salad
Ingredients: (obviously, they can vary widely, and I can't stress that enough. With that in mind, here's one nice combo)
- 1 can (or 1 1/2 cups home-cooked) white beans
- 1 medium carrot
- a few leaves of a dark green, like spinach, beet greens, chard, or kale
- 5 yummy little radishes, or a few inches of horseradish
- 1 small green cabbage
- 1 head fennel
- 2 tbsp roasted pumpkin and/or sunflower seeds (garnish)
- 2 tbsp lemon juice
- 4 tbsp toasted sesame oil
- 4 tbsp rice wine vinegar
- fresh, chopped/dried basil, 2+ tsp
- 2-3 cloves garlic
- 1/2-1 tsp sweet Hungarian paprika
- salt to taste, pinch of black pepper
- dash of cardamom powder
- water (opt.)
- Press garlic and combine with all dressing ingredients. Mix well, and set aside.
- Drain beans and place in a bowl.
- Add thinly sliced radishes and carrots (longer, narrow strips look very nice)
- Finely chop the fennel. Slice very thinly enough cabbage for about 3/4 cup, and the greens.
- Add the above to the bowl and combine everything.
- Add a little salad dressing at a time, combing as you go to see how much you want. it doesn't have to be drenched, it's also very nice just moist. Or, well, lots of dressing is good too, as you like!
- garnish with seeds and fresh basil
As always, fantastically delicious with Erin's favorite: Tahini Whip