Black Bean Salad

This is one of those dishes that starts with the basic foundation and then wanders off depending on what you have available, what is in season, and what kind of dressing you want. I make two basic varieties: black beans-n-cheese, and black-beans-n-salsa.

Both start with 1 (or 2) cans of black turtle beans, drained and rinsed. You can cook your own, that’s fine, but I usually make these when I’m not in the mood for major cooking, just chopping. Both call for grape of cherry tomatoes, sliced. Which kind depends on the time of year and which has the most flavor.

Black-beans-n-cheese: mix the beans and enough little tomatoes to be as many as you want. Add asiago or romano cheese chopped into small pieces, chopped yellow or orange bell pepper (or green if you prefer) also chopped into small pieces. One or two peppers, depending on how many cans of beans. For the dressing, use balsamic vinegar and olive oil, two parts oil to one part vinegar, to taste. Serve with grated cheese for those who really, really like cheese. It is rather plain but elegant, and I generally make it a few hours in advance and let the flavors blend in the ‘fridge before serving.

For black-beans-n-salsa, get a jar of good salsa of the heat you prefer. I like a fruit salsa and medium, but anything can work so long as it has more stuff than water in the jar. To the beans and tomatoes add a can of whole kernel corn, rinsed and drained well, some little green peppers (canned) if you want more heat, and a can of garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained well. Yellow or orange peppers, celery (if you insist), and other crisp veggies can be added, but I tend to skip the celery. A little fresh cilantro, chopped fine, works well in spring and summer, in which case you might make everything the night before to let the flavors blend. The salsa serves as the dressing, and use as much as you prefer. If you go hot on the flavor, I’d recommend chilling the salad well before serving for a nice contrast on the tongue. What about cheese? I’d serve a Mexican blend, crumbled queso fresco, or Cheddar on the side.

I’m a fan of black beans. Some people have tried the second recipe with red beans and say it works. I wouldn’t use the vinegar and oil dressing on red beans, though. The flavors wouldn’t meld, and I don’t care for cold red beans.