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A&E >  Cooking

Smash your vegetables for a salad that packs a punchy citrus-soy dressing in every bite

Smashing a crisp vegetable, such as green beans and radishes, makes for a more intriguing end product – a delightful jumble of textures, shapes and flavors. Dressing settles into nooks and crannies, while other parts stay crisp. It’s also just plain fun to do.  (Laura Chase de Formigny/For the Washington Post)
Smashing a crisp vegetable, such as green beans and radishes, makes for a more intriguing end product – a delightful jumble of textures, shapes and flavors. Dressing settles into nooks and crannies, while other parts stay crisp. It’s also just plain fun to do. (Laura Chase de Formigny/For the Washington Post)
By Ali Slagle Special To The Washington Post

Eating vegetables raw fits not only our summer mindsets but also the produce available. Radishes, cucumbers, tomatoes, green beans, celery and lettuces: Take a bite from your market bag, and if they’re ripe, they’re pretty good. Snappy-sweet. Crunchy-crisp. And we didn’t have to do anything to get there.

But there are ways to help these vegetables taste more like themselves. Don’t worry, they’re easy moves, lazy even. To start, those crisp vegetables like salt. Most of the vegetables mentioned above are more than 90% water. You know what doesn’t taste like anything? Water. Since they’re not being cooked, the vegetables’ flavors need a little help to concentrate, and salt will do just that.

In the case of vegetables that expel excess moisture, such as tomatoes and cucumbers, salt them in a colander placed in a bowl: Moisture will leave, and a pure vegetable essence will remain. For the others, you can toss the sliced vegetables with a sprinkle of salt right on a cutting board. While they don’t have water to leach out, they’ll now be nicely seasoned, ready to make a salad more flavorful. In the case of vegetables with tough skin, such as cucumbers or green beans, the salt will even soften the outsides, leaving them glossy and smooth.

Many summer vegetables, however, are crisp to the point of being stiff. Cutting them will leave clean sides that don’t allow the dressing to penetrate – and instead it will slip off the slices. We can break those rigid cell walls by whacking at them.

Smashing vegetables is nothing new, but it’s so fun that it remains thrilling every time you do it. Smashed cucumbers are a mainstay in many Asian cuisines. With a few whacks of a cleaver, skillet, rolling pin or another heavy device, the cucumber is broken up into irregular pieces. Some spots stay firm, while others give and soften.

In those irregular crags, dressing can nestle. In Sichuan cooking, for instance, smashed cucumbers are seasoned with vinegar, garlic, and sometimes chiles or Sichuan peppercorns, and served as a cooling side. What was once a slick cucumber becomes a rubble of shapes, textures and flavors – all you had to do was smash and salt it.

The technique is not just for cucumbers. Many firm vegetables can take it. A smashed roasted potato or beet has a lot more character than a cut one – ready for, say, a green sauce, mustard vinaigrette or garlicky yogurt.

Same with raw radishes and string beans, as in the recipe here. Once broken up into bite-size rags and seasoned, the string beans are no longer squeaky. Instead, their texture is reminiscent of a snow pea – crisp but giving – and their flavor is fresh and pronounced, not at all dulled by heat. The radishes? They open up like dinosaur eggs, ready to absorb dressing.

Here, a light sauce reminiscent of ponzu is made with soy sauce, citrus and a little rice vinegar. As the vegetables sit in the dressing, they start to lightly pickle and, yes, get more tender still. You could eat the salad with your fingers from the bowl or turn it into a meal with cooked grains, a soft egg and nori.

Switch up the dressing and accompaniments with whatever sounds good or needs using up. Chances are smashing vegetables will feel really good, and you’ll want to do it more than once.

Smashed Vegetables With Grains and Citrus-Soy Sauce

Kosher salt

4 large eggs

1 cup (7 ounces) farro

¼ cup fresh lime juice (from roughly 3 limes; may substitute lemon or tangerine juice)

2 tablespoons unseasoned rice vinegar

2 tablespoons low-sodium soy sauce

2 teaspoons lime, lemon or tangerine zest

½ teaspoon grated serrano or jalapeño chile pepper (optional)

3 tablespoons neutral oil, such as canola or grapeseed

8 ounces green beans, trimmed

1 small bunch radishes, trimmed and halved

Furikake or crumbled nori, for serving

Bring a medium saucepan of salted water to a boil. Add the eggs and cook for 7 minutes. Meanwhile, prepare an ice bath in a large bowl.

Using a slotted spoon, transfer the eggs to the ice bath; keep the water at a boil. Add the farro to the water and cook until it is tender but retains some bite, 15 to 20 minutes. Drain.

While the farro is cooking, in a large bowl, stir together the citrus juice, vinegar, soy sauce, citrus zest and grated chile (if using). Whisk in the oil until emulsified.

On your cutting board, using a meat pounder or rolling pin, pound the green beans until they split into irregular pieces. Place the radishes flat sides down and pound until they split into irregular pieces. Add the beans and radishes to the dressing, season with salt and stir to combine. (This mixture can sit for 30 minutes at room temperature or overnight in the refrigerator.)

When ready to eat, peel the eggs and cut them in half. Add the farro, vegetables and eggs to serving plates or bowls. Drizzle some of the dressing over everything. Top with furikake and serve.

Yield: 4 servings

Storage notes: The farro can be cooked and refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 4 days. The composed salad can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to 2 days.

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