Springing Forward.

A confession: I am terrible at making rice. This is no exaggeration, as anyone who’s sampled my best efforts will testify. If it weren’t for Matt’s hand-me-down rice cooker, I’m not sure I’d ever make it myself—it’s one of the few kitchen tasks I’m more than happy to hand off to a willing volunteer.

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Of course, I was on my own last night when an undeniable craving for black beans and rice struck. I wanted something a bit more homemade than my old standby—which calls for a package of premixed seasoning and is, um, the recipe on the back of the Goya can—and, happily, a survey of my Moosewood cookbooks turned up a quick, healthy alternative. Quinoa Black Bean Salad: Similar flavors, but no rice required.

This was my first time using quinoa, and, to reassure the similarly uninitiated, it was almost as simple as couscous. Rinse the grain, boil some water, simmer away until the water is absorbed. (I know, that’s how you make rice, too. Trust me, this was easier.) As long as your produce is fresh, there’s no reason to cook any other ingredient, so it’s a cinch to prep and assemble the rest of the salad while the quinoa is on the stove.

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Much as you’d expect for March, though, my tomatoes were a bit mealy, so I simmered them with the beans for a few minutes to eliminate that less-than-desirable texture and to give them a flavor boost. This resulted in a slightly heavier dish, and one more akin to the rice and beans of my craving, actually, than the original preparation would have delivered.

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Still, the salad was light enough to be the perfect addition to any summer spread; the fresh lime and cilantro combined beautifully with the sweet peppers to give it a crisp, clean edge. It had me thinking of picnics in the park and backyard barbecues, and, all of a sudden, I couldn’t wait for spring.

Quinoa Black Bean Salad
Adapted from Moosewood Restaurant Low-Fat Favorites
Serves 4 as a side dish

This dish would be best at the height of summer, with perfectly ripe tomatoes and peppers.

1/3 cup quinoa
1 cup water
1 teaspoon olive oil
4 teaspoons fresh lime juice, or more to taste (I used more)
¼ teaspoon ground cumin (I doubled this)
¼ teaspoon ground coriander (doubled this as well)
1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons minced scallions
1½ cups cooked black beans (15-ounce can, drained)
2 cups diced tomatoes
1 cup diced bell peppers (red, green, yellow, or a mixture)
2 teaspoon minced fresh green chiles
salt and ground pepper, to taste
lemon or lime wedges

1. Rinse the quinoa well in a sieve under cool running water. In a saucepan bring the water to a boil, add the quinoa, cover, and simmer on low heat, until all of the water is absorbed and the quinoa is tender, about 10 to 15 minutes. Allow to cool for 15 minutes.

2. In a large bowl, combine the oil, lime juice, cumin, coriander, cilantro, and scallions. Stir in the beans, tomatoes, bell peppers, and chiles. Add the cooled quinoa, and salt and pepper to taste, and combine thoroughly. Refrigerate until ready to serve. Garnish with lemon or lime wedges.

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