Salata od Rajčica i Mahuna
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In the months after my dad died, he told me something in a dream. His message wasn’t so much for me as it was to be delivered through me: he wanted me to tell my sister that mint leaves were a sign of him. Before the dream, I hadn’t given mint much thought. I don’t remember him having had a special interest, or ever cooking with it. I’ve always liked mint tea, but his use of “leaves” seemed to rule out any preparation of mint that wasn’t fresh, bright green. The kind that perfumes when rubbed.
Since the dream, I notice when mint leaves appear. I see them chilled in plastic at the grocery store and in menu descriptions at restaurants. I see a bartender muddling away at a mojito, ordered by someone who is not me. I see herb gardens. I pay more attention, I see more green. I analyze these moments like they’re breadcrumbs that lead to something bigger, but they probably aren’t.
So while the author of this recipe writes about the tomatoes of his childhood garden in Croatia, it was the mint leaves that brought it off the page for me. They give this simple salad a personal meaning, if only from a dream. It’s bright and colorful, like my dad was, and the mint riles up an otherwise mellow combination of vegetable and grain.
I won’t know why I had the dream or what it means to be the messenger, but I know that mint soothes and calms, and I take it as a small hello every time I see it.
The following is the recipe I used, as found in Ino Kuvacic’s Dalmatia cookbook.
600 g (1 lb 5 oz) tomatoes, chopped into small pieces
400 g (14 oz) green beans, cut into quarters
150 g (5 1/2 oz) spelt
1 red onion, thinly sliced
1/2 cup mint leaves
50 ml (1 3/4 fl oz) extra-virgin olive oil
20 ml (3/4 fl oz) red wine vinegar
freshly ground black pepper
Season the tomato well with salt and place it in a colander set over a shallow plate or bowl. Transfer to the refrigerator and chill overnight — the tomato will lose some water and the flavour will intensify.
Cook the beans in boiling seasoned water for 5 minutes, then drain and immediately refresh in ice-cold water. Drain again.
In a separate pan, cook the spelt in seasoned water for about 18 minutes. Drain and cool.
Put the beans, tomato, onion, spelt and mint in a serving bowl and mix to combine. Dress with the olive oil and vinegar, season well with salt and pepper and serve.