Welcome Back Spring – Black Bean Spring Salad

Spring arrived a few weeks ago and we’re finally beginning to feel the warmth that it promises (and I so dearly miss). With the change in weather comes a change in the meals that make it to our plate. True, in this day in age one could practically eat whatever he/she desires any time of the year (strawberries in winter? no problem), but I personally think there’s something harmonious about eating with the season instead of against it. Oh, and it’s cheaper.

The Delicious Ingredients

With warm weather comes colder meals; and salads are probably one of the most commonly known cold meals. Today’s recipe isn’t a traditional leaf salad, but one with legumes taking center stage; so it’s an excellent source of protein. I wish I remembered where I came across this delicious recipe. The vegetables and beans work well together visually as well as tastefully and the addition of lime cools the fires of the jalapeno allowing it to do its thing. I. Love. This. Salad.

Black Bean Spring Salad

Black Bean Spring Salad

4 cups cooked black beans (2 cans drained)
1 can kernel corn; rinsed and drained
1 jalapeno pepper; seeded and minced
3 plum tomatoes; chopped
1/2 red bell pepper; diced
1/2 red onion; diced

4 tablespoons sherry vinegar
juice of 1/2 lime
3 tablespoons honey
1 tablespoon salt
1 tablespoon ground black pepper

Mix all the ingredients together and enjoy. Best served chilled.

Spring is officially here, and I took full advantage of it this weekend. Some friends and I got together to spend most of Sunday climbing at Carderock, Maryland. The weather was beautiful, the climbs were great… you couldn’t ask for more. It made me a bit sad to leave and prepare for the work week, but another gorgeous weekend will come.

Red Wine Vinaigrette

As the climate changes, so does the type of food we cook. Soup is one of the big things for winter (one of the few things I enjoy about the season) but as the weather warms, often what we eat cools. Salads are big and a salad is what I made that evening; albeit not the traditional leafy kind. This baby has red lentils as the star and I was pretty happy with the results.

Red Lentils and Red Bell Peppers

Like the rest of the lentil family, the reds are a great source of protein. They also have a mild earthy flavor and cook in very little time. The red bell peppers add their sweet compliment and the red wine vinaigrette enhances without overpowering. Be sure to drain the lentils well, though! Otherwise you might end up with something that’s a cross between soup and salad.

Red Lentil Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette

Red Lentil Salad with Red Wine Vinaigrette
Be sure to drain your lentils well or you will get a rather watery salad. Bleh.

3 cups dried red lentils; cooked and drained
2 red bell peppers; diced
4 garlic cloves; minced
1/3 cup red wine vinegar
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1/4 teaspoon dried thyme
1/4 teaspoon dried parsley
2 table spoons olive oil

Stir your lentils and red bell peppers in a large bowl. Combine the rest of your ingredients separately to form your vinaigrette, whisking to ensure well mixed. Pour your vinaigrette onto your lentils and bell peppers, mix well and enjoy.

More red bell peppers! Yes, the sales have still been going strong, and I’m still taking advantage. A reader recently commented about quinoa and I realized that we haven’t done any recipes with that ingredient yet. That’s a shame really, because like couscous, quinoa is food that’s great for you and easy to prepare. In addition to this, its subtle nutty flavor has potential to enhance many a dish.

Cooked Quinoa

Do a search for quinoa salad with black beans and mangos and you’ll come up with more hits that you can count. I tried to go a different route. Now, I can’t say this dish is amazing or unique, but I enjoyed it. None of the flavors dominate, so it’s flavor is subtle and complex.

And yes, you can definitely use fresh corn and beans. I was feeling lazy!

Black Bean, Corn and Quinoa Salad

Black Bean, Corn and Quinoa Salad
Follow the instructions on the packaging for cooking quinoa, but often this is just simply cook one cup of uncooked quinoa in two cups of boiling water, and let simmer. One cup of uncooked quinoa yields approximately two cups cooked.

1 can black beans; rinsed and drained
1 can corn; rinsed and drained
1 red bell pepper; diced
2 cups cooked quinoa
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon salt
4 teaspoon oil
3/4 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper
4 teaspoon lime

Combine all your ingredients. That’s it! Enjoy.

Until a little too recently, the word “salad” struck fear into my heart. It’s just so cold, leafy and usually bland, unless you add one of the things that defeats the purpose of eating a salad anyway, like cheese, egg, salad dressing, etc. Yes, I know it’s strange. And my co-workers at my previous job had a great time ragging on me about my feelings toward salad; now Edwin carries that torch!

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Yogurt Poppy Seed Dressing

However, I look forward to the holidays because my mom likes to think outside the box when preparing a holiday salad. She spends some good time hunting through her massive collection of cookbooks for forgotten gems. My all-time favorite salads have been born on these occasions, and the salads usually contain fruit.

This past Christmas she made Strawberry Spinach Salad with Yogurt Poppy Seed Dressing. But it’s not just a Christmas salad or winter salad, it’s adaptable to any occasion and it’s easy to put together. The combination of sweet strawberries on a bed of spinach leaves with a few crunchy walnuts tastes heavenly, and it looks bright and beautiful especially on a white plate. This recipe even enchanted a salad-phobe like myself!

My mom also suggests another variation that she believes would work well – substituting the strawberries for blueberries and the strawberry yogurt for blueberry yogurt. In the version below, she swapped out the recipe’s suggestion of pecans for walnuts, a more heart-healthy nut (thus, dad-approved).

I hope you enjoy this salad as much as I do. Don’t wait to try it out!

Strawberry Spinach Salad with Yogurt Poppy Seed Dressing

Strawberry Spinach Salad w/Yogurt Poppy Seed Dressing
adapted from Pillsbury Quick Cooking magazine (1993)

1/3 cup honey
1 cup Strawberry yogurt
1 tsp poppy seeds

1 bag Baby Spinach leaves
1 qt. sliced strawberries
1/2 cup chopped walnuts

In a large bowl, toss spinach, strawberries, and nuts. Combine dressing ingredients in a small bowl and add to a gravy boat, so that you can drizzle however much you like on individual plates. Serve chilled and enjoy!

Thanksgiving is coming and you know what that means: absurd amounts of food. More food than you, me or a small third-world country could eat. It doesn’t matter how many people there are; you will make more food than you need.

Last year I had a pretty small Thanksgiving celebration with just the Mom and I (the sister was far, far away in Alaska). Despite this fact our meal included turkey, ham, mashed potatoes, sweet potatoes, roasted white asparagus, green bean casserole, croissants…. oh, and five pies. Madness (to be fair, my mother does spread the love by giving food to friends and family).

Why we as a society go through this ritual every year, I may never fully understand. However, I do know that I friggin’ love it (perhaps that is enough reason in itself?). Thanksgiving is a great time to reflect on all the good things in life, especially family. But that strong association with food has just been burned into our brain, and a Thanksgiving without large quantities of food would just be lacking.

Mesculn Salad Closeup

With the Christmas/Hanukkah/Kwanzaa/Whatever so nearby, this is the time of year people start packing on the pounds. Maybe it’s more than just the holidays, maybe it’s the fact that for most of us it’s so darn cold outside that we subconsciously pack on a little extra padding to keep us warm (I support the bear philosophy of sleeping until Spring. Alas…). However, many of us tend to feel guilty by said additional padding and go into a tizzy trying to work it off.

Here’s my suggestion: eat more salad.

Have a good hearty salad prior to feasting on turkey, ham, yams and god knows what else. Fill some space in that stomach of yours with something other than the traditional heavy weights of Thanksgiving – better that it’s lettuce and other vegetables than… everything else.

Mesculn Salad with Tomatoes

Hell, start eating salad now. Prep yourself; maybe start shaving off a bit of weight in preparation for the inevitable gorging. Of course a salad is only as good as its dressing. A salad without dressing is just… rabbit food. I picked up this recipe from a chef I assisted for. It’s an excellent vinaigrette with many of its ingredients readily available in most pantries. Try experimenting with different herbs – let us know what you think!

Mesclun Green Salad with Honey Vinaigrette
This recipe makes approximately 3/4 cup of dressing, depending on how much oil you use; plenty for half a pound of greens. The amount of oil is flexible to how you like your vinaigrette and how light you’d like it to be. If you don’t have shallot then a sweet onion will work in a pinch.

1/4-1/3 cup extra virgin olive oil; approximate
1 tablespoon honey
2 tablespoons white wine vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1 clove garlic; minced
1 small shallot; minced
1 tablespoon fresh herbs (basil, chives, rosemary…. you can’t really go wrong here)
Salt and pepper to taste

Combine everything but the oil in a serving bowl. Beat/whisk together briefly to ensure everything mixes together well; further crushing the garlic, onion and herbs. While whisking, slowly add your olive oil until satisfied. Spoon out a bit, maybe a third, to pour atop. Remember you can always add more but you can’t take any off. Add your greens to the bowl and lightly toss or rotate.