I thought it was time for a new pasta salad for summer not because I needed one but because Sylvie did. Sylvie’s graduating from high school, you see, and of course she’s having a graduation party. Since Sylvie, a stellar singer and dancer, has cooked and baked with me since she was a wee girl, I’m thrilled to work out something fun and luscious to go with her dad’s great pulled pork tacos and bring it along to fete one of my favorite students and people.
Sylvie’s folks requested a vinegar-based coleslaw, which I thought was a smart bet for the pulled pork. Guests could pile it on top of the pork on buns or snuggle it up to the side. Either way, it was going to work well, the high acidity in the slaw making a good foil for the fatty meat. They left a second salad up to me and while I first considered a favorite summer tortellini salad, I wondered if something more closely aligned with tacos didn’t sound better. Southwestern Black Bean and Corn salad, often made with avocados, kept popping up. It’s a perennial summer favorite in the U.S. and everyone loves it, including my sister Helen, which sealed the deal for me. I had even seen some grillable corn in the produce section recently though I know Colorado corn won’t be ready until August. Thanks, Arizona, Texas, and Mexico!
Not having made a black bean salad in a while, I googled up a few versions (many were similar to one another/people love this stuff) but none of them seemed a perfect match. Two felt close, but I wanted my salad to be a little bigger than the basic version, perhaps with the addition of rice or pasta so that it would better satisfy a vegetarian or vegan guest who would be skipping the pork tacos. I settled on whole wheat orzo as 1. I had two bags and 2. It was the right size. For nutritional boost, color, and because it’s in season, I added a cup of sautéed chopped asparagus to the mix but left the remainder of the ingredients fairly simple to deal with as I needed to make over 50 servings. “The larger the party, the simpler the recipe” is my motto. Black Bean Pasta Salad doesn’t require a separate dressing either, everything is mixed together in one bowl–always an elegant solution for keeping things easy. For ideas about adding or changing ingredients, see CHANGE IT UP below the printable recipe.
THIS SALAD IS BEST THE DAY IT’S MADE, though you can make it a day ahead and freshen it up if you really need to. (It does keep a few days; it just isn’t as pretty.) What happens is the colors fade probably from the lime juice, the edges of the vegetables soften, and the seasonings dumb down. Sad, but not unsolvable. You can remedy the problem by adding the tomatoes or avocados and some fresh cilantro, for instance, as well as adjusting seasonings and adding more lime juice and red wine vinegar right before serving. Another option is to do all the chopping, etc. a day ahead, store the ingredients separately, and then stir it together when you need it. All that said, because it’s perfectly edible leftover, this meal would serve well to go along on a road trip and be a tasty picnic lunch or even dinner in the hotel or campground. Beats fast food all to hell. Stick a nice bottle of white wine or a couple of good beers in the cooler along with a few cookies for dessert and call it good. I sometimes put heavy duty paper plates, napkins, and plastic silverware in a gallon plastic bag and add it to the cooler to make the whole deal easy. I know it’s not green, but if you’re staying at a hotel with a little kitchen, you can use that tableware and wash it.
Of course, you’re in your own home and can do exactly as you please with your version when you try this for your next cookout, picnic, potluck, or just to keep in your fridge for when you’re hungry:
Black Bean Pasta Salad
- 2 (15-ounce) cans black beans, drained and rinsed (I like Bush’s beans.)
- 1 cup corn, frozen/thawed or the kernels sliced off from 2 ears grilled
- ½ cup EACH: diced yellow or orange bell pepper and quartered cherry tomatoes
- 1/3 cup diced red bell pepper
- 1 cup EACH: sautéed asparagus cut into half-inch pieces and cooked whole wheat orzo (You'll need to cook 1/2 cup dry orzo to get a cup of cooked orzo. Follow package directions.)
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh cilantro plus extra leaves for garnish
- 1 mild medium-sized jalapeño minced- no membranes or seeds – or to taste
- ½ teaspoon lime zest (zest of one lime— zest before juicing)
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice-plus a quartered lime for garnish
- 2 tablespoons EACH: extra virgin olive oil and red wine vinegar –or to taste
- ½ teaspoon EACH: kosher salt, fresh ground pepper, and chili powder
- ¼ teaspoon ground cumin—or to taste
- 3-4 drops Tabasco—or to taste
- OPTIONAL GARNISH: sliced green onions, green part only
- OPTIONAL ADDITIONS: ½ cup crumbled cotija cheese or grated Cheddar, 1 large diced ripe avocado or mango
- In a large bowl, stir together all the ingredients except the garnishes, which are lime wedges, cilantro leaves, and optional sliced green onions (green parts only). Taste and adjust seasonings including lime juice and red wine vinegar. Serve right away or chill for two hours before garnishing and serving. Prettiest and tastiest the day it's made, the salad can be made ahead a day if needed. Even if serving the same day, you may want to add tomatoes, avocados, or mangos – if using– at the last minute. If serving the next day, do freshen the seasonings (salt, pepper, hot sauce, etc.) and squeeze in a little more lime or add some red wine vinegar to wake up the flavors. Another option is to do the chopping a day ahead, storing ingredients separately, and then stirring the salad together when it's needed. Store for two-three days in the fridge but do not freeze.
CHANGE IT UP: As noted above, you can add avocado (last minute addition only), mango, crumbled cotija or queso fresco cheese, or other vegetables of choice to the basic mixture. Think celery, radishes, zucchini, summer squash, cooked green beans, or cooked and diced winter squash. Toasted pine nuts, anyone? Skewers of marinated grilled shrimp or marinated grilled chicken chunks could be laid on top of the salad to satisfy meat lovers. If you’ve a mix of vegetarians/vegans and carnivores, keep the meat separate but enjoy the versatility of this recipe, leaving off cheese for vegans. Need gluten free? Swap in rice, brown or white, for the orzo or stir in gluten free pasta just before serving. No orzo to be found? Try mini elbow macaroni or any small pasta such as tubetti, ditalini, or orcchiette . No black beans for you? Sub pinto beans or use a mix of the two. Spicy is as spicy does: add another jalapeño +/or a few swigs more of Tabasco if this feels too dull for your palate.
MAKE BEANS FROM SCRATCH: You know I love beans any which way and often make a big pot of beans for dinner. I needed so many here that I bought them, 4 cans for $5. Ok, I was being lazy. If you’d like to make your own beans, you’ll need about a pound of dry beans for every 3 cans of canned beans. Try this sometime; I adore these beautiful beans:
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LIFE GOES ON:
Nearly each week, we make a Costco run and often go out to lunch somewhere close and inexpensive. We have a choice of two routes home and this is one. Here we are heading west on Garden of the Gods Road in Colorado Springs which always has a stunning view of Pike’s Peak. One of the glorious things about America’s Mountain, as it’s called, is its ever-changing nature. You never look up and see it the same way twice. Here, there were “ground” clouds rising and upper clouds descending to frame the top of the peak still full of snow. There are those (many) with better cameras and photographic capabilities–it’s sort of a cult to photograph this mountain around here– but I was the one who snapped a quick pic with the iPhone.
I hope your Memorial Day weekend is all it can be. It’s raining and cooling off in the Front Range of the Rocky Moutains, which is par for Memorial Day. We used to try and camp but that is long ago and far away; we always had to come home due to cold and rain or snow! I’m just about to make a rhubarb cobbler and my oven is heating as I type.
Thanks for being here with me for what should be the start of a beautiful summer. Our Canadian smoke is gone. Hopefully the fires in Edmonton are nearly out. Stay cooking,