Left brain cooking

by jill on November 4, 2011

Tarragon Green Beans

I never was a go-to-the-market-and-see-what-looks-good kind of cook.  I admire those people, but I am not Them.

I’m a recipe geek.  I love cookbooks.  When I plan a meal, I choose a few recipes and march to the store with a specific list of ingredients.  At my worst, I might buy said ingredients, even out of season and looking less than lovely, because if the recipe says zucchini, zucchini it is.  I am not proud of this; it’s just a consequence of my dominant left-brain.

Embarrassing secret:  The first time in culinary school that a chef gave us a recipe with ingredients but no measurements, I thought it was a poorly xeroxed sheet that was missing the first column. We had to make up our own recipe.  This was hard for me.  Please don’t tell.

However, I’ve been known to rant about people who slavishly rely on their GPSs.  You know, the ones that get in the car and punch in a destination they’ve been to many times before.  Places they should know how to get to without techno help.  Places they might one day NEED to get to without techno help.

But that describes me in the kitchen.  That is how I cook.  By book and by formula, not by feel.  It’s not that I can’t – I’ve cooked for over 25 years – it’s that I don’t.

And then I moved to Paris.  Well, you go to the market where something fresh and gorgeous awaits.  Something in season that asks to go home with you.  Something not on your list.  I leave the house on a mission to procure beets and a chicken to roast, but when I get there the chard literally calls my name.  I suspect the woman behind me even heard it.  And the butcher ran out of chickens but the fishmonger has this glimmering fresh sole…and all of a sudden, I have no dinner plan.

But that should be OK. I have the tools.  I can use what I already know and improvise.  So I’m going to TRY to cook more by feel.  Not exclusively – there still are some lovely recipes out there just begging me to try them – but just to let go and experiment.  The worst that could happen?  I learn something.  There will still be food to eat.

I’ll make a deal with you – don’t laugh too hard at my attempts to cook off the cuff and I promise not to squint suspiciously at those of you who never follow a recipe.

Later….just got back from buying (too much!) beautiful produce at the market.  Radishes and carrots of all hues, baby turnips, tatsoi, mizuna, roquette, fresh tarragon, thyme, oregano and the most perfect, slender haricots verts.  They were gorgeous, and no doubt even more irresistible because I know it’s the end of their season.

Tarragon green beans  (for left brainers)

Use a large amount of water in the pot so that it keeps boiling when you add the green beans – this will keep them bright green.

2 shallots, peeled and chopped

2 tablespoons chopped tarragon, or to taste

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

8 oz. green beans, stem ends trimmed

Salt, to taste


1. Whisk together shallots, tarragon and olive oil.  Set aside.

2. Bring a large pot of salted water to boil.

3. Add the green beans and cook for 4 minutes.

4.  Drain the beans and salt them generously.  Add the olive oil mixture and combine well.  They can be served warm or at room temperature.


Tarragon green beans (for right brainers)

Trim the ends off of two large handfuls of green beans.  Boil or steam them to the consistency you prefer.  When hot, sprinkle them generously with salt, a couple spoonfuls of both chopped shallots and chopped tarragon (although dill or other herbs would be just as nice here) and drizzle with extra-virgin olive oil.  Mix well.  Serve hot, cold or room temp

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