This is a guest post by my Aunt Haya who recently shared a very sweet story about food, connections and memories. I love food stories. I like hearing where food came from, how it’s changed, and the associations we make with our food; those moments that join us together. I agree with my Aunt that in this over stimulated fast paced world it’s nice to have these kinds of connections to make us stop a moment and reflect on the various ways that our food comes into our lives. I also love how so many recipes, when shared, keep the name of the person who gifted them to us.
This evening my congregation will be hosting a group of 32 members of a congregation in Maryland who are on a 10 day tour of Israel with their Rabbi. After many guided tours to historical sites they are looking forward to sitting and talking with folks who live here. I have been asked to contribute my three bean salad to the meal. I am always glad to make and share it. While assembling the ingredients I stopped to think about it’s entry into our lives.
Nowadays, three bean salad is well known all over the US and multiple variations are on the web. But while living in Houston (in the late 1960s), my husband and I made sure that each of us would have some private time each week, with each of our children. On one such outing I went with our son Daniel to attend an outdoor performance of an abridged version of some Gilbert and Sullivan operetta out on a lawn of The University of Houston. I think that it was the Pirates of Penzance, but am not sure.
I did not recognize anyone sitting near us in the audience but Daniel soon picked up a conversation with a boy near his age. I introduced myself to his mother and learned that they were in Houston for the summer while her husband, a school teacher, took summer classes at U of H, in order to eventually qualify to become a school principal in their home town somewhere I think in Arkansas or Alabama. He was often busy attending those summer program classes or working in the university library on his homework, so she and their son were exploring Houston on their own.
I invited them to join our family picnic the next week in Herman Park on the 4th of July–speeches, fire works and all. They were glad to accept and she brought three bean salad that she’d made. We’d never tasted one before. We all enjoyed it so I asked for her recipe. She wrote out on a piece of paper which I copied on to a file card after I returned home. I added her name Eula Ross. We got together only once or twice more during that summer, but three bean salad became a staple in our family’s favorite summer recipes; particularly as a contribution to buffets and picnics.
Here in Israel the recipe has changed somewhat. I add diced fresh rosemary needles (that I pick fresh from the shrubs) to the chopped parsley in the original recipe and often use chickpeas for the third bean.
Today I found that I needed to purchase more chickpeas so used red beans as I have no red onion and wanted to add color other than the chopped sweet red pepper to the salad. I use less sugar in the dressing that Eula Ross recommended and the minimum quantity of oil. But each time I prepare this dish, whether or not I check the details on the old file card or fly free with improvisations, I think a special thanks to Eula Ross where ever she is now.
I am sharing this story with you because in this day and age of instant communication, information from people whom one never meets, an entire rainbow of recipes for any dish for which one could possible conceive of hankering, this older, slower, deeper time of meeting a stranger who became an acquaintance and shared her recipe and it’s evolution to fit my current location and dietary preferences, pleases me a great deal.
Eula Ross’ Three Bean Salad
2 cups each green string beans, yellow string beans, red beans or pinto beans,
2 stalks of celery cut into cubed shape pieces
1/2 red union diced
1 cup chopped fresh parsley
1/2 cup chopped bell peppers
1/2 cup vinegar
1/3 cup sugar
1/4 to 1/2 cup oil
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
Whisk the five dressing ingredients together and pour over the vegetables.
Mix together cover and chill in fridge.
Keeps for 10 days
Aunt Haya’s changes:
1 Tablespoon of chopped fresh rosemary to the parsley
I used frozen cut yellow and green beans which I steam over boiling water just until they thaw, so that they are still a bit crisp
I sometimes substitute chick peas for the red or pinto beans – I soak which ever of the three that I use over night, then cook them myself, drain them before adding to the salad. (I find commercial canned beans of all three types, over cooked (too soft) and too salty)
I use only 1 teaspoon of salt
About 1/3 cup of oil
reduce the amount of sugar
I like to use apple cider vinegar