Winter means asparagus from Peru and frozen vegetables from who knows where. Once spring hits, we’re all eager for the bounties from our summer garden or local farmer’s markets. With the thawing ground, we’re forced to declare our love for ramps, an amped-up scallion. Eventually — if the weather cooperates — after a shelling out process, in dollars and pods, you might yield enough peas for one side-portion of risotto. Bored by the limited, fresh options available in early spring, I went in search of versatile, green way to transition my dishes from spring to summer. Nestled between the golden, pricey chanterelles and the lollipop-shaped but difficult to cook fiddlehead ferns, was a strange, branchlike vegetable: the sea bean.
These slender, knobby legumes more closely resemble an herb than a haricot vert. Sometimes known by their less-appealing alias, glasswort, sea beans taste of the saltwater near the marshy areas where they grow. The perfect accompaniment to fish! Sauté them with bay scallops, fresh tomatoes and parsley. Or broil with skate, olives and lemon oil. If you’re more adventurous and have the time, soak some octopus in milk overnight, drain and grill it with the sea beans and some fresh herbs. Place any of these dish over creamy polenta and breathe in the scent of the ocean. To simply experience their freshness, add sea beans raw or quickly blanched to arugula, with blue cheese crumbles and a touch of balsamic.
Whatever dish you try, these hidden jewels of the sea will surely dazzle. Open a dry Riesling (from the Rhine Valley, not the Mosel), and toast your ingenuity while awaiting all those zucchinis to come.