Pantry white bean, tuna and radicchio salad with oregano vinaigrette

This is one of my 20/10 recipes. That means it takes 20 minutes to make and has 10 ingredients or less. Fresh, healthy, delicious and filling (not necessarily in that order), this white bean, tuna and radicchio salad is perfect for a nutrient-packed lunch or a quick weeknight dinner.

 Spring naan flatbread

When it comes to cooking with herbs, I admit I’ve been a bit of a snob.

Fresh, in my mind, has always been better. Even when my stepdad — a seasoned Italian cook with arguably one of the best simple pasta recipes — said dried oregano should never be substituted for fresh in a traditional marinara sauce, I didn’t listen. I defiantly used the fresh oregano, and (though I would never admit it to him) was painfully disappointed. But I blamed it on the tomatoes.

Recently, I’ve had a change of heart. After returning from a brief trip to Alabama to see my family and cooking with my dad, who uses a healthy combination of dried herbs and fresh from his garden, I realized there was more room for good dried herbs in my recipe repertoire. When I arrived home from traveling and had nothing fresh to whip up dinner, I decided to play around with some of the dried herbs that were starting to go stale in my pantry.

What I recognized is this: not only do dried herbs save you when in a pinch (like coming home from traveling), they can also build layers of flavor. When cooking things like my dad’s marinara sauce, they build on the flavors of the tomatoes as they stew. And at the end of dishes, they can give an incredibly fragrant finishing touch.

Of course, not all dried herbs taste fresh in my opinion — or good at all. Basil and parsley are two dried herbs I particularly don’t care for. But oregano, rosemary and thyme can be essential in so many dishes.

Last week I got to experiment a little more with some dried oregano thanks to Frontier Co-Op, a cooperatively owned wholesaler of the most amazing natural and organic food products. They sent me a couple glass jars of their quality oregano as part of their #SpiceUpSummer campaign, which I experimented with in a number of recipes.

What I particularly love about this company is that it sources its spices from growers committed to sustainability and ethical trade. Also, it helped me realize that quality of the dried herb really matters. While oregano has been dubbed “the pizza spice”, for me that usually brings up bad memories of musty oregano on that square school lunch pizza. Frontier's oregano has a bright, earthy and slightly minty flavor that’s nothing like the stuff of my childhood.

A few other things I learned about dried herbs while researching the interwebs:

  1. Dried herbs go stale faster than other spices, so use them up within a few months. The way to determine freshness is if they’re bright green and not faded. They should also smell fragrant when you crush a little bit between your fingers.
  2. The ratio for substituting dried herbs for fresh is 1 to 3. So, you can use 1 teaspoon of dried herbs for every 1 tablespoon of fresh herbs.
  3. Savory herbs that tend to grow in hot, dry climates (like oregano) have flavor compounds that are stable at high temperatures and are well contained within the leaf. As long you rehydrate these long enough to soften them, the flavor is just as good as with fresh.

For this recipe — which is a spruced up version of a classic salad my parents always threw together for a quick, nourishing weeknight meal when little else was in the fridge — I tried mixing the dried oregano with oil and leaving for about 15 minutes to rehydrate. I was testing to see if I could use the dried herb in an application that didn’t require cooking and it worked like a charm. All I had to do was crush it a bit in my fingers before letting it soak to release the aroma and flavor.

 Spring naan flatbread
 Spring naan flatbread

COOKING NOTES

This recipe is my go-to when I need a healthy, quick and delicious pantry dinner in a pinch. The only thing you need to do here is let the vinaigrette sit for a few minutes to let the oregano bloom.

MAKES 2 SERVINGS

INGREDIENTS

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
1 lemon, zested and juiced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 ½ teaspoons Frontier dried oregano
Kosher salt
½ head small head radicchio, coarsely chopped
1, 15-ounce can cannellini beans, drained and rinsed
2, 5-ounce cans olive oil-packed tuna, broken into bite-sized pieces
¼ cup freshly grated parmesan cheese
A few sprigs fresh Italian parsley, for garnish
2 pita breads (optional)

INSTRUCTIONS

  1. In a jar, combine the olive oil, lemon zest, garlic, dried oregano and 1 ½ tablespoons of the lemon juice. Add salt to taste and shake to combine. Set aside for 10 to 15 minutes.
  2. In a large bowl, combine  the radicchio, cannellini beans, tuna and . parmesan. Drizzle the dressing over the salad and gently toss to combine. Season to taste with more salt, if needed.
  3. Garnish with parsley, stuff into pita bread (if using), and serve.