Think of this as my version of a green smoothie. The best thing about it? It’s not an actual green smoothie. This salad will most probably not make you live considerably longer, cure any diseases or make you lose 6 pounds in two hours, I’m sorry. But, instead of being a more or less desirable pulpy concoction of fruit and leafy greens, it is an appealing and delicious assembly that celebrates the textures of spring vegetables and comes with a ton of flavor: creamy fava beans and tender green asparagus, tumbled with crunchy watercress and cool mint are tossed in a simple dressing of sharp young garlic and pungent nigella seed. It’s a joy to eat and look at, and to me, joy is what eating and food should be all about.
With the abundance of fresh and crisp spring produce flooding the markets right now, I am really in the mood for vegetable-based dishes and salads that have clean and bright flavors, and that let me gobble up all the green goodness and wallow in the vitality of it all. While I was preparing the recipe for this week, I thought a lot about the joy and pleasure that cooking and eating give me, and somehow I also had to think about nutrition and healthy eating, or what people consider healthy eating. I am often frustrated when I see people who are dispassionate about eating and only see it as a necessity, or who seem to chasten themselves and compulsively evaluate every last bite they take according to wether it will be good for their health, by which they so often actually mean their figure. I thought about how many food trends and nutritional regimens there are, how contradictory they often seem to me, and how absurd I find some of them. Seeing all the green in front of me, I thought about a particular health food trend that has left me puzzled.
As with most food trends (like pickling), I stumbled upon the current trend for ‘green smoothies’ rather late. One day, I found myself scrolling by an image of some green liquid in a glass on Facebook. At first, I didn’t get it. How was a blended mixture of (and I quote) melon, mango, apple, sorrel, lemon, cucumber and (yes) ramson something anyone would want take a photo of, let alone take a sip of? And why would anyone turn such beautiful things into mush to begin with? I started a bit of an investigation. Some hundred photos on Instagram, Pinterest and everywhere later, and after some reading up on really funky recipes and chlorophyl-osophy, I have learned that having my measure of green slush per day will make my immune system stronger, make my wounds heal faster, will help my digestion, clean my body, and most of all: be such great fun. However, I’m not con-verde-d. I still don’t get it from a culinary perspective. And I just don’t want to get it from a body & health-perspective. I suspect this is because of my deep distrust of and prejudice about any form of liquefied food that promises to make you feel better or ‘become a better version of yourself’.
Ever since I was a chubby teenager during the 1990s, who has lived through the reign of all kinds of diet drink formula, combined with the beginnings of the age of body shape panic we’re still living in today, I have an ingrained horror of food substitutes or the idea of a glass of something being considered food. Whatever they told me about those dubious ‘shakes’ being delicious and satisfying, and as much as I tried to convince myself and let myself be convinced by the happy people in the commercials – they never really were anything but disgusting. But: they promised to make my body slimmer, and so I made myself swallow them for quite some time. Of course, I didn’t lose any considerable weight with them after all, because I always wanted real food. Chewable food. Warm food. And rather regularly, I would greedily devour it after my already sufficiently caloric shake. Those pale and pasty liquids were mere and abstract nutrition to me, some anonymous fuel to keep my body-machine going. This was not food to love and share and prepare for your loved ones. It was designed to isolate me with my flawed body-project. I deeply detest those products and the industry that conjures them up and fuels people’s self-hatred to make them buy their junk.
Now I know that the green smoothie ‘movement’ (as I have seen it called on some websites) is a different matter. It is all about fresh produce and not primarily about loosing weight (so I’m told) and the whole vibe is rather positive as well – it’s all about ‘detoxing’ your body, ‘energizing’ it, and thereby leading a ‘healthier lifestyle’. What annoys me so much about it, I guess, is just that: it still seems to stick to the whole idea of insufficiency and the need to compensate and turns it into a lifestyle, sells it off as a delight or some fun activity. I know that for many people, it is just the thing. And that it makes them happy and feel healthy. Sorry if I’m so negative about it. But I, personally, just cannot wrap my head around the idea that a balanced diet should be ‘naturally insufficient’ because my teeth are no power blender, and that a smoothie (of all things) is going to be able to fix ever so many aspects of my body that evolution supposedly and oddly has left imperfect by nature. People. Honestly. It’s plants turned into mush. It’s – not – the *ing grail. And it’s barely ever anywhere near where delicious starts. Maybe I’m just not reasonable enough to gulp down something just because it ‘does’ something for me, and maybe I’m not imaginative enough to make myself believe I like it just because of that. And of course, everyone should do as she feels best anyway. All I’m saying is: Cook with love, eat with love and loved ones. Eat things for what they are, with devotion and desire, and not because of some effect you want them to have on you. Treat the produce carefully and respectfully – and don’t just reduce it down to some content or value and consider that all that ‘matters’ about it. Apart from that: Chew thoroughly, and you’ll be fine. Period.
Okay. Enough of the rant. I feel like I just had a cleanse, sorry you had to witness it. If you haven’t stopped reading by now: what do you say – shall we talk about this salad a bit? Fava beans are not in season in Germany this time of the year, but they are in Italy. And gracie to my local Italian marketer I got some at yesterday’s market. I love their nutty flavor and creamy texture, which goes so well with the bite of green asparagus, some crunchy watercress and an abundance of herbs. With this salad, I wanted to go all purist and just celebrate the vegetables. All I did was blanch and skin the beans, quickly blanch off the asparagus (although you could leave it raw), and tumble the two together with watercress and a handful of fresh mint (the first from my greengrocerer’s own fields, she told me) and some spring onions. The dressing is a very simple mixture of mashed young garlic, olive oil and lemon juice to which I added some black nigella seeds. The finished salad is ultra healthy, even vegan, but still utterly delectable and fun to eat. You can eat it on its own as a light lunch, have some burrata with it, some lamb sausages (like my husband and I had), or a nice piece of poached or grilled fish. Every variation gives you a new textural and aromatic experience. It’s up to your imagination and your cravings. That’s all that matters.
Fava Bean, Asparagus and Watercress Salad with Garlic Dressing
Serves 2 (light lunch) to 4 (starter/side). Active time: 30 minutes, cooking: 10 minutes.
1 kg fava beans in the pod or 250 g beans net.
1 bunch green asparagus
1-2 bunches of watercress
5 sprigs of fresh mint
2 spring onions
2-5 cloves young garlic, depending on size (you should have around 1 tbsp of mashed garlic later)
about 2 tbsp olive oil
1 untreated lemon
1 tsp nigella seeds
1 Prepare the vegetables: Remove the woody part of the asparagus by holding the lower end of the spear between your thumb and index finger and the middle part with your other hand and bend it. It will snap off where the woody part begins. Chop into pieces of about 2.5 cm length and set aside. Pod the beans and put on a large amount of water, bring to the boil and salt generously. Boil the fava beans for about 4 minutes until tender. Meanwhile prepare a bowl of cold water (add ice cubes if you like) and transfer the beans to the water once they’re done. Give the asparagus a quick blanch of about 2 minutes in the boiling water and transfer to the water as well, to stabilize the chlorophyl and the bright green color. Remove the skins from the fava beans by pressing them with your thumb and index finger like my busy husband is kindly doing in the photo above. Prepare the watercress, roughly chop the mint and finely slice the spring onion.
2 Drop the garlic cloves (except one) into the water, skin included, and blanch them for about 2 minutes as well, then take them out to cool. Peel and mash the garlic with a generous pinch of salt in a mortar (or in a bowl with a fork) until creamy, then add some lemon zest, grate in the last raw garlic clove, add half a tsp of nigella seeds and turn into a paste again (it will turn slightly grey once the cumin breaks up). Add the juice of 1/2 lemon and whisk in 2 tbsp olive oil. Dressing is always very subjective, so taste with salt and lemon, then pepper. Toss the salad with the dressing and sprinkle with the rest of the nigella seeds, serve immediately.