Why It Works
- Cooking the rice until just barely tender preserves its texture when tossed with the vinaigrette.
- Tangy diced mango and orange segments pair well with creamy diced avocado and the nutty flavors of the rice.
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. Here, we are only interested in inventive, refreshing grain salads: full of flavor, and perfect for summer. Our goal is to make believers out of naysayers, and give inspiration to those already converted.
This 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.
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 a chile 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.
I chose to make a vinaigrette with orange juice and red wine vinegar, then flavored it with garlic, ground ancho chile, and cumin. When tossed in this citrusy, spicy dressing, the salad's disparate elements come 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.
- For the Vinaigrette:
- 1/4 cup fresh orange juice from 1 orange
- 1 1/2 tablespoons red or white wine vinegar
- 2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
- 2 medium cloves garlic, minced
- 1/4 teaspoon ancho chili powder
- 1/4 teaspoon ground cumin
- Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
- For the Salad:
- 2 cups cooked and cooled black rice (see note)
- 1/2 mango, diced
- 1 avocado, diced
- 1 orange, segmented
- 1/4 cup finely chopped red onion
- 1/4 cup finely chopped cilantro
- 1/3 cup pepitas, lightly toasted
For the Vinaigrette: Whisk together vinaigrette ingredients in a small bowl, seasoning generously to taste with salt and pepper. Reserve.
For the Salad: Place rice in a large bowl. Add mango, avocado, orange, onion, and cilantro. Whisk vinaigrette again and add to rice a few tablespoons at a time, gently tossing salad, until dressed to taste; reserve additional vinaigrette for passing at the table. Taste and season with salt and pepper, if needed. Garnish with pepitas and serve.
Do not overcook the rice: You want it to stand up to the vinaigrette without turning into a soggy mess. Remove it from the heat right when it loses its bite.