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A salad of cilantro-flecked black rice with mango, orange, avocado, red onion, and pepitas is tied together with chili-spiked orange vinaigrette. [Photograph: Jennifer Olvera]

Grains can be a polarizing food, but whether you love them or hate them, we can all agree on one thing: boring grain dishes should be tossed out with the chaff. This week-long series is all about inventive, refreshing grain salads: full of flavor, and perfect for summer. If we have one basic goal here, it's to make believers out of naysayers, and give inspiration to those already converted.

Today's salad stars black rice, a grain that sure is pretty to look at. But truth be told, I haven't always been its biggest fan. So, because I like a good challenge, I thought I'd make it the pivotal ingredient in the salad.

I approached my salad with color in mind; I started with avocado and cilantro for a shock of green, mangoes and oranges for some stark contrast, followed by a sprinkle of red onion and a shower of earthy, crunchy pepitas, all tied together with chili and cumin-spiked orange vinaigrette. On paper, it sure seemed to make sense. Fortunately, it also wound up making a whole lot of sense in my mouth.

The hardest part about this easy salad is getting the rice cooked just right. Err on the side of caution when it comes to the package directions. My first batch was a sloppy mess when I followed the timing exactly. Less time and a bit less liquid was the answer to the problem. When in doubt, taste—you want to stop cooking the rice when it retains its texture but no longer has an unpleasant chew.

Tossed with a quick, cumin and chile-spiked vinaigrette made with orange juice, red wine vinegar, and garlic, it comes together nicely. You can make it up to an hour in advance. Add the dressing in increments, and hold some in reserve. You'll likely want to add some more when the rice soaks up the liquid, a given if you refrigerate it.

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