Even though Memorial Day falls during what the calendar designates as spring, for most of us, myself included, this holiday represents the beginning of summer. This celebration coincides with the return of longer days and warmer weather, when dining can move outdoors once again.
I love this time of the year, when my kitchen can be moved outside and I can cook meats, chicken and fish as well as vegetables on the grill. I also look forward to the season's bounty of produce and make all manner of salads and rely on plump, ripe berries and juicy fruit for dessert.
I like to make salads in warm weather and have recently added to my summer repertoire a black bean and orzo combination that would be a fine addition to a Memorial Day menu. This simple, make-ahead dish can be assembled in less than half an hour.
Orzo, an oval, grain-shaped pasta, is quickly cooked and combined with drained and rinsed canned black beans, diced tomatoes and chopped red onions. Then the ingredients are tossed in a mustard-garlic vinaigrette along with chopped fresh basil and parsley. The salad, which can be prepared several hours ahead, travels well and could easily be transported to a picnic.
Grilled, lemon-marinated chicken, served warm or at room temperature, and blanched green beans tossed with fresh herbs would be fine dishes to offer with the salad. A bowl of fresh strawberries and blueberries served with homemade pound cake could end the meal.
Black Bean, Orzo and Tomato Salad With Garlic Dressing
1 cup orzo
2 (19-ounce) cans black beans, drained, rinsed and patted dry
1 1/2 cups seeded, diced ([ inch) tomatoes
1/2 cup finely chopped sweet red onions
1 1/2 tablespoons Dijon mustard
3 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 tablespoon finely minced garlic
1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes, plus more if needed
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley, preferably flat leaf
3 tablespoons chopped fresh basil, plus several basil sprigs for garnish
Bring 2 quarts water to boil and add orzo and 1 teaspoon salt. Bring to simmer and cook until orzo is just tender, 8 to 10 minutes. Remove, drain well and pat dry. Place orzo in large nonreactive mixing bowl. Add beans, tomatoes and onions and mix well.
In another bowl, whisk together mustard, vinegar, garlic, red pepper flakes and 1/2 teaspoon salt. Gradually whisk in olive oil.
Pour dressing over salad and toss to mix. Taste and add more salt and/or red pepper flakes if desired. (Salad can be made 3 to 4 hours ahead to this point. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature 30 minutes before serving.)
When ready to serve, add chopped parsley and basil to salad and mix well. Mound salad on serving platter or in large, shallow bowl. Arrange bouquet of fresh basil sprigs in center as garnish. Makes 6 servings.
Betty Rosbottom is a cooking school director and author.
1998 Betty Rosbottom
Pub Date: 5/24/98