02 October 2011

Warm pasta salad with rainbow chard, pomegranate and pistachio sauce

I don't like pasta. There. I said it. I basically overdosed on it while I was playing ultimate, and the last straw was when I lived in Bologna--please don't tell the Bolognese about this. As it turns out, one can live without pasta, and I've found that I actually live much better without it. My problem is, the Slovak loves it, and not only did he learn how to cook it while in Bologna, that's still almost the only thing he can cook (we are working on correcting this). There are days I end up so tired I can't even lift a wooden spoon, so he'll offer to cook, and I just have to hang my head and resign myself because I know what's coming.

On the other hand, I'm passionate about legumes. It's in my genes, to me they are as essential as brushing my teeth. All sizes and shapes and colours, there a sure value for the money and prepared properly (soaked overnight with wine vinegar, cooked with garlic and herbs and a piece of kombu), they are delicious, nutritious and reliable. I'll put the pressure cooker on at least twice a week with those little pearls. The Slovak, however, does not share my enthusiasm for beans; sometimes he'll even-gasp!-boycott them altogether.

Tonight we weren't our usual tired, and we'd had a big lunch (it's goose and young wine season here in Slovakia), so we had some time and energy to get into a not-too-big dinner, but something special nevertheless. I was in the mood to be conciliatory. I offered the Slovak to meet halfway, and to prepare a dish that would include beans and pasta. He agreed with a silent nod, not lifting his eyes off his Blackberry.

I went to my usual source of inspiration, 101 Cookbooks, and just plugged into the search bar 'pasta'. I'd tried none of the recipes that came up, of course. But this one caught my attention, because it had kale (a vegetable impossible to find in Bratislava--kale, if you read this, come by for a visit) and pomegranate. Yesterday I had indulged and bought one at the market, right after I'd bought some rainbow chard. See where I'm going with this?

I was all set to follow the recipe, substituting rainbow chard for kale, but halfway through decided to throw in some tahini which I hadn't used in a while, and the adzuki beans I'd cooked in the afternoon (adzuki beans tend to have barely any flavour, so they're a good 'background' bean to have, you can add them to almost any dish and they're bonus without altering the flavour). In the end this is what happened:


  • 8 ounces spaghetti, broken into 1 inch pieces
  • 2/3 cup pistachios, chopped coarsely by a Slovak if one is available
  • about 2-3 cups rainbow chard, with stems, choped into half-inch strips, not dried from the rinse
  • 1 and 1/2 Tbsp tahini (organic and dark, that's all I had)
  • juice of half a lemon
  • 1 large garlic clove, smashed and chopped
  • 2/3 cup pomegranate seeds
  • About a cup of cooked adzuki beans
  • fine sea salt to taste


  • Toast the pistachios, about 3-4 min.
  • In a food processor, puree the pistachios, tahini, and garlic as much as you can/like (I still had pieces of pistachio). Slowly add the lemon juice and puree some more. Place into the serving bowl, and mix with the beans. It's okay if the beans still have some water, it'll make the pistachio-tahini sauce less like a chunky paste and more like a sauce.
  • Put the pasta to cook, as per packaging instructions. Place the Swiss chard still dripping with water in a non-stick pan, and cook it for about 5 minutes, preferably covered, stirring often so it cooks evenly. Strain in a mesh colander to get some of the juice out, and mix in with the beans and sauce.
  • When the pasta is done, strain in the same mesh colander, and rinse out with cold water to cool it down. Add to the bowl and mix so the sauce is evenly covering the other ingredients. Taste to adjust the salt.
  • Add the pomegranate seeds, mix without crushing the seeds and you're ready.


Really good warm salad with appealing colours. It was our luck that the garlic clove we chose was very pungent, and so much so, it made the dish spicy. (I'll have to think of an ingredient that will step up to the plate when the garlic doesn't...). The pomegranate seeds were tangy and not sweet at all, but I think the dish could be fine with either--I certainly wouldn't skip those, they are too beautiful, tasty, and crunchy to be left out. The pistachios weren't too present, but that's probably because those I used were not the freshest. I think what did it for me is that I buried the pasta under that web of flavours (tahini, pistachios, garlic, pomegranate), and got my full meal out of that one dish. It was a bit of work with quite a few steps (prying out the pomegranate seeds, toasting the pistachios, timing the Swiss chard and the pasta cooking times), but nothing too horrible, just perfect for a Sunday dinner after a day of running around trying to optimize the hours of unexpected excellent sunny weather...