Radish and Navy Bean Salad from Cookbook Author Sarah Copeland
It matters very little what the occasion is — the first long weekend of summer, an outdoor concert, the arrival of a friend to town — I’d trade the cushy wingback of fine dining for a picnic blanket, a glass of rosé, and the company of ants any day to feel the warm sun on my skin while I eat. In a field, under a tree, or beneath the twinkly lights in our own backyard, a picnic is always calling. Blame it on being born a summer baby, or my general disregard for table rules; on a blanket, anything goes — finger foods, bare feet, and arms and elbows crossing while the conversation hums. Good food and company are all that count here.
In the Hudson Valley, summer can be blazing, but fleeting. It appears suddenly and never lasts quite long enough, so we eat outside every chance we get. My favorite picnicking places are the many quiet nooks overlooking the Hudson from Poet’s Walk (a stone’s throw from the Kingston-Rhinecliff Bridge), or atop Mohawk Mountain, where I feel worlds away from everything. There’s also a magical stretch of grass at Rotary Park, across from Kingston Point Beach that’s perfect for meeting friends with kids, blankets and baskets of food in tow.
Picnics scream for sandwiches, bean salads, easy sweets. And a watermelon — always a watermelon or it’s not a picnic; that’s the rule. Bean salads win the picnic prize because they’re fast to make, filling and can be, with the right accompaniments, absolutely gorgeous. You can make them ahead, serve them by the spoonful, and they are crazy versatile. Take this salad, for example. I make it with navy beans (those tiny white beans also generically called “white beans” or “frijoles blancos” depending on what brand you buy), radishes, shaved carrots, and a soft feta-style local cheese, like Nettle Meadow’s Crane Mountain, or a creamier Bianca or Mayhill from Hawthorne Valley Creamery. You could cook your own beans, but it isn’t a requirement for this to be delicious. (Keep things simple so there’s time to pack your blanket, chill the wine, and throw a few cut flowers and herbs into a ball jar.) Just about any small canned white bean will work; black-eyed peas or cannellini would also be delicious. Next, I toss in whatever radishes I find at the Kingston Farmer’s Market or the Hudson Valley Farm Hub. This time I’ve used common red radishes and purple turnips. Chive blossoms, from my garden (easily found at a farm stand or market, like Saunderskill), add beautiful color and their distinctive sweet-onion flavor. And of course, good olive oil, Maldon salt and freshly cracked pepper seal the deal.
Is it ridiculous to pack your favorite vintage plate for a picnic? Probably, but I’ll keep doing it anyway. Because I’m always hoping that when I turn up to a picnic, people feel that it’s special, and never want to leave. That’s how we make summer last, I think.
Sarah Copeland is a food and lifestyle editor, cookbook author, and curator of good living. A former city dweller, Sarah and her family currently nest in a small village in the heart of the Hudson Valley where they enjoy long hikes, local foods, and any excuse for a picnic. She is the author of the award-nominated vegetarian cookbook FEAST, and The Newlywed Cookbook: Fresh Ideas and Modern Recipes for Cooking With and For Each Other, as well as many articles for national publications such as Food & Wine, Saveur, and Martha Stewart Living.
- 1 small bunch radishes (about 6) trimmed and thinly sliced
2 medium purple turnips or watermelon radishes, thinly sliced
2 small garden carrots, thinly sliced
1 15-ounce can navy beans, rinsed and drained
2 teaspoons Dijon mustard
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
Freshly cracked black pepper
4 ounces soft cheese, thinly shaved or broken in pieces
1 bunch flowering chives, greens finely chopped and blossoms sprinkled