107 Cookbooks Rotating Header Image

Still Life With Menu: More Veggie Goodness

Southwest salad with black beans and corn

BlackBeanSaladI’m plugging along with the list; I’m not at all confident that I’ll finish by the end of June. I’m taking vacation time that last week, so I’m actually going to give myself through July 5, but even so, it’s not a sure thing. But I can at least check another book off the list, Still Life With Menu, a beautifully composed cookbook by Moosewood alumna Mollie Katzen.

The book is made up of menus, including a few for holidays and special occasions. Each menu is accompanied with pastel drawings by Katzen, making for a very beautiful presentation. The recipes are also individually indexed so it’s easy to find what you want.

DryBlackBeansI wanted to make soup for Sunday evening, the end of a rather chilly spring weekend here. I was hoping to do a full menu, but none of the menus as a whole quite appealed to me. I didn’t feel like making a cream soup, in part because we were expecting a lactose-intolerant guest and in part because I prefer lighter, more vegetable-centered soup. I didn’t want to bake bread, I thought; in fact, I realized I didn’t really want to try more than one new recipe for the day. So I decided to make my standard improvised vegetable soup, and went looking for a good accompanying salad.

PeppersCarrotsCornSouthwest salad with black beans and corn is fairly simple. It may look daunting because there are three elements that might challenge the less-experienced cook: Soaking and cooking dried black beans, toasting cumin seeds, and toasting corn tortilla strips. But individually these are not difficult, and the tortilla strips are optional. (Which I was relieved to find out after I opened the fridge and realized that I was wrong, we did not have any corn tortillas left.)

AddingGarlicHerbs3I started the night before, pouring two cups of dry black beans into a pot and picking them over to make sure there were no stones or other foreign matter. Most packaged dry beans today are pretty clean, but it doesn’t hurt to check, and if you’re buying in bulk you’ll certainly want to examine them carefully. Once I was satisfied, I added water to the pot, covered it, and let it sit until the next afternoon. They only need to soak for 4 hours, but a longer soak does not hurt, and I knew that if I left it until morning I ran a serious risk of forgetting until it was too late.

The next day I poured off the soaking water, rinsed the beans a bit with cold water to flush out the last of the discolored water, then added fresh water to the pot and brought it to a boil. I turned the heat down to the lowest setting and covered the pot, and let it simmer slowly for about an hour and 15 minutes, until the beans were tender.

AddingRedOnionWhile the beans cooked I set 2 cups of corn to cook as well, then turned to my chopping. One red bell pepper, one carrot, three cloves of garlic, and a heaping half-cup of red onion, plus herbs: half a cup each of finely minced cilantro, basil and parsley. I mixed this all together. I also juiced three limes to come up with about half a cup of juice, and added that and half a cup of olive oil to the bowl, along with a bit of salt, a few grinds of black pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. I drained the black beans, rinsed them well with cold water, drained them again, and then added them to the bowl and mixed it all up.

StirringItUpAt this point I actually brought the salad out to the dining table to get it out of my way, but remembered I had one more thing to do. (Well, two things, I thought, but there were no tortillas. If I’d had them, I would have brushed three or four lightly with oil on both sides, sliced them into strips, and cooked them in a 350-degree oven for a few minutes until they were partly crispy and partly chewy, then scattered them on the salad. As I said, it’s optional.) I pulled out a heavy pan and heated it up, then scattered in about a tablespoon of whole cumin seeds and stirred them around for several minutes until they were toasty and fragrant. I sprinkled the toasted seeds on the salad, returned it to the dining table, and went back into the kitchen to finish my soup prep. This gave the salad time to sit for a while and let the flavors blend.

AddingBlackBeansThe salad was very tasty. The hearty black beans provide a good base for the sweet peppers and corn, bitter and fragrant herbs, and tangy onion and lime juice. The cumin seeds added an earthy flavor. And the salad turns out to be a great brown-bag lunch for a weekday.

Verdict: Success. I plan to make this often during the summer. In a pinch, canned beans would do well enough, well rinsed and drained, but cooking them isn’t difficult — I think I’d only do that if I really hadn’t left time and had no other options for dinner.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *