Saturday, May 16, 2015

Aztec Salad

A few week ago, I threw open my storage closet—with the frenzied excitement of a child going to Disney World—in hot pursuit of one specific item located in the very back of the top shelf.  It had been sitting there for one year, almost to the exact date, and would soon meet an unapologetic fate of many a weekend spent blanketing the earth: grass stains, damp dew, and one too many rose spills than I care to admit. Have you guessed? My animation isn't exact discrete. It's picnic season!
We're in the heart of spring, and the city is blossoming and alive with blushing flowers, trees, and so, so many people. I feel like the picnic is almost a respite from the crowds: we all laze in our own privatized space—emphatically partitioned by the four corners of our respective blankets—to enjoy the boundless fresh air, fair-weather temperatures, and long days spring so generously offers. A departure from our everyday bustling schedules, these idle, lounging hours feel so luxurious; made only more so in the presence of good company, and of course, good food.  I can't help you with the former (well, I am generally free most weekends) but I sure can with the latter. I present to you Aztec Salad, the perfect picnic prandial. 
When I think picnic, my mind goes straight to potluck. I’ve definitely had some misses (cue the 4th of July sangria which leaked from its cooler, leaving me drenched in sticky wine with only a bowl of boozy fruit and rinds to boot.) Not this time, though: our mesoamerican salad is terrific in transit. Not only can you serve cold or at room temp, but its vegan nature makes the salad virtual un-spoilable, so it can sit out, even on a hot day, for hours.

But most of all, its tasty and easy, simple as that.  I have such fond memories of eating this salad (my mom's recipe) at picnics and barbeques growing up, awed by the sophisticated flavors and vibrant colors of the dish, and how surprised I was when I finally learned how effortless it is to make.  Guided by a southwestern ethos, freshness, flavor, and spice are guaranteed: black beans, corn, peppers, and tomatoes compose the bulk of the salad, plenty piquant from the addition of jalapeno, coriander, cumin, and cayenne pepper. The ingredients bask in a tangy, acidic dressing of freshly squeezed limes and two types of vinegar; finished off with herby vim and vigor due to a hearty helping of chopped cilantro.

Another great thing about this salad? All that acidity from the lime and vinegars lends almost a pickling quality to the dish—if you keep it for a few days—which preserves it really well. I often make a large batch to eat for lunch for the week, and the fresh ingredients are totally intact by the time Friday rolls around.

Aztec Salad (from my mama)
Serves 4-6 sides

For the salad:
15 oz can black beans, rinsed and drained
15 oz can corn, drained
2 large tomatoes, diced
1 large green pepper, diced
1 large red or yellow pepper, diced
1 jalapeno, seeds removed, diced
½ cup chopped red onion
¾ cup chopped fresh cilantro
½ cup chopped or shredded carrot (optional)

¼ cup green olives (optional)

For the dressing:
2 Tbsp seasoned rice vinegar
Tbsp  apple cider vinegar
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 tsp cumin
1 tsp coriander
pinch of cayenne
½-1 tsp salt

juice of one lime

Mix the salad ingredients together in a large bowl. Set aside. In a small bowl, combine all dressing ingredients. Pour over large bowl and mix thoroughly.

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