The following post is the full copy of our column from the January 9, 2013 edition of The Forum. Our column appears in the SheSays section every Wednesday, and you can also access past columns right here on the blog.
The beginning of a new year is always a great time to pause and reflect upon our hopes and goals for the future, and many of us include eating a healthy diet among our resolutions. Good health is essential to a quality lifestyle, and yet finding easy, affordable and delicious recipes can often be a challenge. If a recipe isn’t full of flavor, or tastes “too healthy,” chances are we won’t make it again.
Several years ago we were invited to attend an American Heart Association’s “Go Red for Women” event at the ND State School of Science in Wahpeton. Tony was a featured speaker, and he would be demonstrating three different recipes with the challenge that each one had to be “heart-healthy.”
Tony is an avid researcher, and loves a good challenge. He spent hours on his computer studying the dynamics of what makes a food heart-healthy, learning why some fats are better for us than others, and gaining a better understanding of what people want when it comes to healthy foods.
To his satisfaction, if not his surprise, Tony’s research pointed him in the direction of the Mediterranean diet. With a breadth of knowledge in this field already, he went to work focusing on the healthiest aspects of Italian cuisine in order to better highlight specific regions and their food culture.
He’d learned that beans are one of the best heart-healthy foods because they are high in protein and fiber, but low in fat. With this knowledge, he knew his focus would be on the region of Tuscany, where the people are famously known as “bean eaters” or the “mangiafagioli” and his recipe for Tuscan Bean Salad was born.
The cannellini bean is the most popular bean in Tuscany, and is very similar to the great northern bean and the navy bean, both of which are grown in parts of the Midwest, including North Dakota. Using the cannellini bean as his main ingredient, Tony also wanted to showcase other foods that are available in the winter months and would provide enough flavor to make this salad sing.
With a focus on flavor and texture, he chose sun-dried tomatoes for their bright color and intense tomato flavor, adding a touch of summer to this bean salad. Next, he added sliced celery and diced red onion to add more color and some crunch to the mix. Extra virgin olive oil was a no-brainer: it is a staple in the Mediterranean diet, tastes great, and is also an unsaturated fat, otherwise known as a healthy fat.
But the key to this salad is the balsamic vinegar. Its rich, slightly sweet flavor lends itself perfectly to vinaigrettes, and it is the perfect complement to the vegetables featured in this salad.
This salad is full of flavor, easy to make, and satisfies the requirements of a healthy diet. But more than that, it has great versatility and people love it. At Sarello’s we’ve served it as an appetizer atop crostini or on Asian spoons, or as a complement to a fillet of poached salmon. In the summer we’ve added grilled corn to the mixture. We’ve even brought it to several potluck events, and we always leave with an empty dish and requests for the recipe.