This Simple Grilled Green Bean Salad Is a Blueprint for Summer Success

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It's not just a salad, it's a way of (backyard) life. [Photographs: J. Kenji Lopez-Alt]

That salad above looks like a salad, right? It is a salad, but it's a whole lot more. Think of it as a blueprint for backyard grilling success.

If time is money, then grilling is rife with sunk costs. The coals take time to fire up, the grill takes time to preheat, you have to put on shoes and walk outdoors—these actions all take the same amount of time whether you're grilling a single hot dog or smoking a half dozen racks of ribs. I'm no businessman, but when I see a sunk cost, I feel the urge to capitalize on it as much as possible, and nowhere do I feel this urge more than in the backyard by a live fire. If there's any fire remaining in those coals, you can be darned sure I'm cooking with it.

I'm also often at a loss as to what to serve with grilled foods. Grilling demands so much of your immediate pre-dinner attention that it's hard to offer anything other than make-ahead salads and cold side dishes.

That's where recipes like this grilled green bean salad come in: dishes that can be mostly prepared in advance, but are served hot and fresh, requiring only a few minutes of heat to finish off before serving. These are sides that you can easily pull off while the steak or chicken (or tofu!) is resting.

For this one, it's as simple as making a quick vinaigrette in a large bowl and tossing in some sliced radishes, scallions, and red peppers. Keep that bowl on the dinner table, and when you're ready to serve, throw a pile of olive oil-coated green beans onto the hot grates. As soon as the beans are blistered and tender (just a few minutes later), they go right into that big bowl for a toss before serving.

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The only remotely tricky part is to make sure that the beans don't fall through the grill grates. You can use a grill basket or plate designed for vegetables, but I usually don't bother. I like to throw them straight onto the grill, aligning them perpendicular to the grates and turning them carefully with tongs. Sure, I sacrifice the occasional green bean to the grill gods, but it's a small price to pay to not have to have a separate tool clanging around the grill (not to mention the extra time it takes to clean that tool).

The great thing about this recipe is that it's not really a recipe. Think of it as a blueprint for side dishes: make a good dressing with some raw, crunchy veggies (or cheese!) and keep it in a bowl by the table. Grill a secondary vegetable while the meat (or vegetarian main) rests and toss it all together. Ta-da!

Need some inspiration? Okay, how about grilled asparagus tossed with red wine vinegar, olive oil, shallots, mint, and little cubes of feta cheese? Or let's try grilled broccolini with pickled chili peppers, olive oil, red onions, and lemon juice. Or grilled cauliflower florets tossed with capers, olives, olive oil, and sherry vinegar.

You get the idea. Whatever you do, just don't. Waste. That. Fire.