Summer Bean Salads: Pinto Beans With Rice, Tomatoes, Cheddar, and Two-Chili Vinaigrette

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A salad made of rice and beans with taco accoutrements and banana pepper-chili vinaigrette turns the typical side dish on its end. [Photograph: Jennifer Olvera]

Beans don't need to be relegated to hot 'n' heavy winter fare. We're kicking off a week-long series of summery bean salads with a fresh take on traditional (and all too often bland) rice and beans. This bold re-imagining of that side dish is studded with taco-filling favorites: cheddar cheese, onions, tomatoes, and cilantro. But the real twist to this salad—which is equally good cold or at room temperature—is the vinaigrette made from both banana peppers and ancho chilies. It's briny and bright, offering a fresh pop of flavor.

Though you're welcome to use dried beans here, there's no need to do so—canned ones work quite well, offering just the right consistency without hours of soaking and simmering. The trick to making beans work in any dish is to saturate them with flavor. This bracing pickled pepper-laced dressing does just that, though I'll admit it was a decision initially informed by what I had on hand. I knew I wanted to impart Tex-Mex flavors and needed something acidic to give the dish oomph. If you have pickled jalapeƱos and want a bit more heat, those will work too.

Meanwhile, ancho chilies lend a great earthiness and depth that balances the briny vinaigrette, and the mixture of textures and flavors you get from the taco-inspired add-ins really seals the deal. Consider bringing it to your next potluck or block party, since it can easily be made ahead and served cold or at room temperature.

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