Monday, April 19, 2010

Jazzy black bean salad

Before I left for Central America, I was so looking forward to eating rice and beans at every meal.  The last time I had been in Costa Rica, where the traditional dish is gallo pinto (rice and beans), I was completely satisfied scarfing down black beans all three meals a day.  The rice and bean combination is so simple yet so delicious--I don't know if I can think of two ingredients that go together better.  Well, I probably could if I tried.  But the fact remains--I love black beans.
Growing up, my mom always had a pot of beans on the stove.  The back burner was reserved for the pot of beans that always seemed to "need more time."  Once I started cooking, I joined the rest of the world in thinking that it took days on end to cook dried beans and really, who has the time for that?  All that cleaning and soaking and rinsing and picking and cooking, it just seemed overwhelmingly complicated.  Well, being that I had the time what with no job and all, I figured I'd take the extra time to cook up a bag of dried beans.

And turns out, cooking dried beans, not all that hard!  Yes, they need time to cook but it is not at all time-consuming.  The beans just cook themselves, with just a little helping hand adding some water from time to time.  Now, don't get me wrong, I'm still going to keep some canned beans in the house for all those times when I need beans in a hurry but when time is not an issue, dried beans are the way to go--they're inexpensive and have a lot less sodium than those that are canned.  Either way, though, eat your beans--they're jam packed with nutritional goodness including soluble fiber, iron, and protein and they're absolutely scrumptious.
 This recipe makes it easy to put some beans in your belly, the mango gives the salad the perfect sweetness and really compliments the lime dressing.  You can toss this black bean salad with some mixed greens for a proper salad or eat it like a dip with some tortilla chips, you can even pour it over grilled fish (which is what I opted to do last night) for a particularly delicious meal--if I do say so myself.  To lessen the intense bite of the onions, I soak them in cold water for ten minutes with a dash of salt, to which you can also add a squeeze of lime for a little added zestiness. 
Jazzy Black Bean Salad

2 cups dried black beans (or 2 15.5-ounce cans of black beans, drained and rinsed)
2 tsp kosher salt (or sea salt)
1 red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 green bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 jalapeño pepper, seeded and diced
1/2 large red onion, diced
1 mango, peeled and diced
3 tbsp olive oil
1/3 c. freshly squeezed lime juice (about 3 limes)
2 tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped finely
1 tsp agave nectar (or honey)
1/2 tsp cumin
1/2 tsp chili powder
kosher salt and pepper

Before cooking, pick the beans over, taking out any that are withered or that have split.  A good technique is to cover the beans with cold water, let sit for five minutes and remove anything that floats.  Once the beans are cleaned and picked over, immerse in cool water and soak for 2-4 hours  (The soaking process rehydrates the beans and helps to reduce the cooking time).  Drain soaking water and place beans into a pot, adding just enough water to cover the beans.  Bring to a simmer.  After 30 minutes, add the salt and cook for 1 to 2 hours, until the beans are tender.  Keep an eye on the beans and add water, as needed, to keep beans just barely covered.  Once beans are tender, drain but do not rinse them.  Transfer beans to a large bowl.

In a small bowl, soak diced onion in cold water with a dash of salt for 10-15 minutes. Drain.

Once the beans have cooled slightly, add peppers, onion, and mango to the bowl (If using canned beans, be sure they are drained and well rinsed before mixing them with other ingredients).  In a separate bowl, mix olive oil, lime juice, cumin, chili powder, cilantro, agave, and salt and pepper to taste.  Pour dressing over bean mixture and toss gently using a wooden spoon until all of the ingredients are combined.  Add salt and pepper to taste. Cover and chill for at least 2 hours before serving.

If you want your black bean salad to be more spicy, you can add extra jalapeño or mix some chili oil into the dressing before tossing the salad together.

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