5-Minute Spanish-Style Bean Salad is an Hors D'oeuvres Star

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Giant beans in a flavor-packed Spanish-style warm salad. [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

I love hors d'oeuvres. Not just because I love how they taste—hors d'oeuvres tend to be more concentrated in flavor than appetizers or main courses—but because they offer me respite. It's amazing what a board of tasty little bites set out right when your dinner guests arrive can do in terms of kicking off conversation and filling in would-be awkward silences.

Olives, cheese, and nuts are all nice and easy, but the real trick to a well-planned hors d'oeuvre spread is to keep a few incredibly simple, incredibly quick, flavor-packed recipes up your sleeve. This is one of those. Once you've got the vegetables chopped and beans drained, it takes all of five minutes to throw together and can be served warm or at room temperature. You can even make it the day before, pull it out and zap it in the microwave for 45 seconds when your guests arrive.

This white bean salad was inspired by three things. The first was an incredible chickpea and morcilla sausage salad that my wife Adri and I ate early one morning at Bar Pinotxo in La Boqueria, Barcelona's most famous food market. We arrived at around 9 a.m., which is a good hour before any reasonable Spaniard is out and about on the streets. Fortunately, Pinotxo was open, the cava was already flowing, and they'd just put out a big batch of their signature chickpea salad. It was served warm in a small bowl, seasoned with little bits of onion, celery, and parsley, a big glug of amazing extra-virgin olive oil, and a spritz of sherry vinegar.

The second inspiration was a dish we ate in Segovia in central Spain. It's a town that's mildly famous for its stunning Roman aqueducts, but even more famous for its roast suckling pig. If I had my way, I'd make it even more famous still for the side dish they serve with that suckling pig: giant lima beans (locally called judías), simmered in a tomato- and olive oil-based broth until creamy and tender. I loved them enough that I brought back a few bags of the dried beans to cook for myself at home whenever the urge struck.

In retrospect, it did seem a little odd to me that my two favorite and most memorable bites of food in Spain were both legume-based, but I'm a bean-lover at heart. It was also telling that in a land full of excellent high quality meat and seafood, it was the vegetables that struck me the most. If it weren't for the bits of morcilla in the chickpea dish (and the morcilla was strictly a non-essential flourish), both would have been 100% vegan as well.

That's probably why I though of both of those dishes when I ran across an imported jar of cooked giant lima beans at Lucca, the Italian import market in San Francisco's Mission District the other day; there's that third inspiration. I'd always made my versions at home with dried beans, but I wondered if I could pack enough flavor into a sauce that it'd work with already-cooked beans as well.

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Normally when I'm making a bean salad inspired by our time in Spain, I'll pick one of the dishes we ate. This time, I figured why not stick elements from both in there? It was a wise decision. I start this salad by heating a bit of tomato paste in some extra virgin olive oil along with some minced garlic and shallots. The goal is really just to get the paste incorporated and to very gently remove some of the raw sharpenss from the garlic. I barely cook it at all—about a minute in a skillet over medium heat.

Next some smoked Spanish paprika goes in along with the drained, rinsed beans, some celery, a splash of sherry vinegar, a handful of parsley, and some more fresh extra-virgin olive oil (you can never have too much good olive oil). I'd tell you that there's a next step but I'd be lying. Once all the ingredients are mixed together and warm, you're ready to eat.

And thus, a new staple on my Easy Hors D'oeuvres list is born, and a vegan one at that!