Photos by 
Jessicarobyn Keyser
Jessicarobyn Keyser

Celebrate – or at Least Tolerate – Mud Season with This Hearty Bean Salad

by 
Julie Laing
March 16, 2022

We make lots of "dad jokes" about weather where I live in the mountains of northwest Montana, most of them too close to the truth: Every season fits in a day. You can get snowed on every month of the year. If you don’t like the weather, wait 5 minutes. Montana has three seasons – frigid, mud, and construction.

Mud season begins with the first warmish days of the year, when temperatures rise just enough to melt snow into vast puddles that refuse to drain into the still-frozen ground. Locals know the sun’s warming rays won’t last. They’re usually followed by a subzero cold snap that refreezes soft, waterlogged paths into treacherous speed-skating tracks, and then thaws, refreezes, and thaws them again for weeks on end.

Montanans make the best of it. We squelch in our ski boots across muddy parking lots to reach “corny snow” (if you’re from the area you know exactly what this is, but if not, it’s that skiable spring snow that looks like corn kernels) and wear out our legs with as many turns as we can get in, racing against sun that bakes the snow into afternoon slush that, by morning, refreezes into bone-chattering descents. We pack Muck Boots, YakTrax, and snowshoes for a walk in the woods, prepared for gummy mud, slick ice, crusty snow, or all three at the trailhead. We spend chilly mornings curled up by the woodstove, ogling seed catalogs and waiting for local farmers to open their hoop house doors and harvest the year’s first greens.

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The weeks before winter wheat begins to sprout have me craving an odd combination of hearty meals and fresh greens. I started experimenting and ended up with this salad that piles warm, filling shell beans and cheese on a bed of early-season shoots and leaves. As the snow melts in my garden, chives and sorrel are among the first herbs to push out new, green tips. Arugula, spinach, and chard that I let self-seed the prior year take off on their own in a cold frame. Whether I’m harvesting handfuls of baby leaves or buying packages of locally grown mixed greens, Herbed Bean Salad fills that gap between winter and spring, just like the mountain weather.

The beauty of early greens and herbs is that you can usually swap out the ones listed in a recipe for whatever fresh young leaves you can find. The green tops of scallions (green onions) can stand in for chives. Spinach, arugula, and chard all hold up under dense shell beans. They can be used as a blend for the salad’s base, but using one of them alone will create a unique flavor.

Sorrel may be the rarest of my favorite spring herbs, but it’s worth tracking down: Try a natural-food store, farmers’ market, or Indian market – or grow your own. This perennial herb has a lemony flavor, and the most common variety has largish leaves that remind me of basil. Perhaps that’s why I use it like basil before that summertime standard hits peak production.

As with basil, I cut sorrel into a chiffonade, or thin strips, to mix into this hearty bean salad. It can be cut in the same way for many mud-season meals. Sprinkle it on eggs and potatoes for a flash of green and a hint of lemon. Stir it into yogurt or sour cream for a tangy dip. I know mud season is winding down when I can lay whole sorrel leaves on mozzarella slices, top them with sliced strawberries, and add a balsamic drizzle for a springtime variation on a caprese salad.

Herbed Bean Salad

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Serves 1 as an entree or 2-3 as a side

Ingredients

For the dressing

3 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp prepared mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Optional: 2 tbsp capers

For the salad

1 15-oz can cannellini beans, drained

2 tbsp chives, sliced

2 tbsp sorrel, cut in thin strips

1 5 oz package of Fifth Season baby spinach, or 4-8 oz of arugula, and/or baby chard, coarsely chopped

4 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced

 | 
 | 
Serves 1 as an entree or 2-3 as a side

Ingredients

For the dressing

3 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp prepared mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Optional: 2 tbsp capers

For the salad

1 15-oz can cannellini beans, drained

2 tbsp chives, sliced

2 tbsp sorrel, cut in thin strips

1 5 oz package of Fifth Season baby spinach, or 4-8 oz of arugula, and/or baby chard, coarsely chopped

4 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced

Ingredients

For the dressing

3 tbsp white wine vinegar

1 clove garlic, minced

1 tsp prepared mustard

Salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

1/4 cup plus 2 tbsp extra virgin olive oil

Optional: 2 tbsp capers

For the salad

1 15-oz can cannellini beans, drained

2 tbsp chives, sliced

2 tbsp sorrel, cut in thin strips

1 5 oz package of Fifth Season baby spinach, or 4-8 oz of arugula, and/or baby chard, coarsely chopped

4 oz fresh mozzarella, sliced

Directions

1. In a small jar, combine the vinegar, garlic, mustard, capers, salt, and pepper. Screw on the lid and shake briskly until the salt dissolves. Add the oil, reseal, and shake again until the ingredients combine.

2. In a large sauté pan, add the beans, pour on the dressing, and cook for 1 minute, stirring constantly. Turn off the heat, taste, and adjust the seasonings as needed.

3. Transfer to a bowl and toss with the beans, greens, and mozzarella. Garnish with the chives and sorrel and serve immediately.Note: Alternatively, you can reserve 2 tbsp of dressing when adding it to the pan and instead place a layer of greens in bowls and drizzle them with the remaining dressing, then top with a layer of mozzarella slices, torn into pieces if large, and then a portion of beans.

About the Author

Julie Laing

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