There was a time that I cooked many of my meals from Mollie Katzen's third cookbook, Still Life with Menu. That time was long ago, it's true, and vegetarian cookbooks have multiplied exponentially since then, but I still have a soft spot for Mollie. The spinach soup in the original Moosewood, for example, remains my standard spinach soup, and the quiche formula in The Enchanted Broccoli Forest helped me reacquaint myself with quiche proportions after many years of not making them.
I have even more favorites, all these years later, from Still Life with Menu--the summer fruit crumble, the challah, the Mediterranean lentil salad and this black bean and corn salad, to name a few. The crumble I make frequently, of course, but the rest not so much, and after having made this black bean salad recently, I wonder why. I certainly never hesitated before--the page is splattered and well-used, but that could also be because the recipe opposite is for chocolate chip mint cookies, which I haven't made in years but now have a craving for. (Mollie is right when she says they're worth buying a bottle of peppermint extract for.)
The other night, I became somewhat overambitious when cooking for a work party--there was ginger ice cream (truly fabulous) and homemade ginger snaps to crumble into the ice cream (making it even more fabulous), and then there were chocolate-coconut macaroons to use up all those egg whites leftover from the ice cream (which required 5 egg yolks in addition to the 2 cups of half and half and one cup of heavy cream--I told you it was fabulous). But in the midst of my sweet-making frenzy, I had the sense to make a batch of this salad.
Over the years I've made many different variations of this, but there was something satisfying about returning to the original after all these years. I soaked the beans the night before I made it and used fresh corn. (I wouldn't hesitate about this later in the summer, but it's on the early end of corn season now.) I skipped frying the tortillas, figuring that there would chips for scooping at the party, but otherwise, I followed Mollie's instructions and suddenly remembered why this was one of my standard pot luck dishes for years--It's savory and tasty and satisfying and makes excellent leftovers. It was good enough that I'm planning to re-visit Still Life With Menu and see what other gems I may have forgotten about. In the meantime, even though the ice cream and macaroons are long gone, I'm glad that there's a tiny bit of Southwest Salad left in the fridge, waiting for the evening I come home starving and need something filling and delicious and already made. I won't wait nearly so long to make it again.
with Black Beans and Corn
2 cups dried black beans
2 cups cooked corn
2 to 3 medium-sized cloves garlic, finely minced
A heaping 1/2 cup well-minced red onion (I just used one small red onion.)
1 medium-sized red bell pepper, minced
1 medium-sized carrot, minced (optional)
1 teaspoon salt
1/4 - 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil (plus an optional 1 to 2 tablespoons for the tortillas) (I used the lesser amount and didn't miss the rest.)
1/2 cup fresh lime juice (3 to 4 limes)
2 to 3 teaspoons whole cumin seeds
1/2 cup minced fresh cilantro
1/2 cup minced fresh parsley
2 teaspoon crushed red pepper(adjust this to your taste)
A moderate amount of freshly ground black pepper
3 to 4 corn tortillas (optional)
Soak the beans for at least 4 hours, but preferably overnight. Drain off any excess soaking water, place the soaked beans in a soup pot, and cover with fresh water. Bring just to a boil, then cover and turn the heat way down. Cook at a very slow simmer—with no agitation in the water—until the beans are tender. This should take 1-1/4 to 1-1/2 hours. Check intermittently to be sure there is enough water, and add more if necessary. When the beans are cooked, drain them well. Then rinse them thoroughly in cold water, and drain them well again.
In a large bowl, combine beans, cooked corn, minced garlic, red onion, bell pepper, optional carrot, salt, 1/2 cup olive oil, and lime juice.
Roast the whole cumin seeds, either in a cast-iron skillet over medium heat, stirring for several minutes, or very carefully in a toaster oven. Add the toasted seeds to the salad, along with the cilantro, parsley, basil, and red and black pepper, and mix thoroughly but gently.
Lightly brush both sides of each tortilla with olive oil, and cut the tortillas into strips approximately 1/4 inch wide and 1-1/2 inches long. Cook the strips slightly by toasting them in an oven (350 degrees) or a toaster oven for only about 2 minutes, or in a heavy skillet over medium heat for 2 to 3 minutes. Ideally, they should be partly crispy and partly chewy. Stir these into the salad shortly before serving, or, if you prefer, scatter them on top as a garnish.