When it comes to food I like to experiment. No, I LOVE to experiment. I’ve said before that I can’t resist tinkering, and it’s true. Whether it be borne of interest (I wonder what would happen if I substituted a bit of A for B), or preference (I don’t like X, so I’ll use some Y instead) or necessity (I don’t have any P at home and I’m too darn lazy/busy to go out and get some, but I do have some Q that would probably work…), I am an experimental cook.
I know in some cultures that there are tried and true recipes for certain dishes, or particular ways of making things - recipes and methods that have been handed down over many generations and one wouldn’t DARE tinker with them because that’s just how they’re made and the result is damn good (so why mess with it?). And there’s nothing wrong with that as it preserves a strong food culture, which in today’s world I think is a really important thing. I love the fact that in Italy, for example, while for many dishes there may be variations on a theme from region to region or village to village, within a particular geographical unit there is one prescribed way of making a dish. Think basil pesto. Or osso bucco. There’s a certain pride attached to that way of thinking, and part of me finds that very appealing.
However (there always seems to be a however with me, doesn’t there?)…
Where would we be if all cooking was subject to strict rules around recipes and methods? If lines weren’t blurred every so often? If people didn’t experiment? If certain things didn’t evolve? So while I’m all for pesto alla Genovese being made according to a centuries old recipe, what’s wrong with making pesto with coriander instead of basil? Or using almonds instead of pine nuts. Sure, it’s wouldn’t be pesto alla Genovese any more, but it would still taste good. And if you happened to have coriander instead of basil in your fridge and had a hankering for pesto, then you could still have pesto without having to leave the comfort of your home to buy more ingredients (that of course assumes that you have all the other necessary ingredients to hand. It also assumes you like coriander!). But hopefully you get my point. One of the things I love about the world of food is that you can have these mind blowingly good traditional dishes when you go to Italy or Thailand or China or wherever, but on this same little planet on which we live you can eat dishes that have evolved, fused, or been made up on the fly, and that are equally as mind blowingly good.
Being an anglo-Canadian I grew up on a more or less anglo inspired diet – the meat and 2 veg kind of thing. But even so my mum cooked differently from my grandma. Don’t get me wrong, there is a special place in my heart holding incredibly fond memories of my grandma’s kitchen and her cooking, but she didn’t branch out much from what she knew. When I was growing up, mum experimented with Chinese cooking for a while, learned to make basic Italian food from her Italian friends, and kept up with trends (I still remember grasshopper pie from the 70s, mum). As I got older and moved away from home I discovered other cuisines and travelled some of the world, and there was no turning back for me. I’m a dedicated omnivore both in terms of food groups and also in terms of cuisines. I like so many different cuisines, and I like fusion cooking as well. At home, so much of what we cook and eat on a day to day basis could be labelled fusion because it’s based on whatever’s in the fridge – and on any given day who knows what that might be. In my world it’s not unusual to have something Thai inspired for lunch and something Mexican-ish for dinner. Or slow roasted pork spiced in a Middle Eastern way. Or a made up dish that’s a complete mishmash of flavours, but works.
I think there’s a happy medium here, between preserving heritage and moving things forward. Between preserving an excellent food culture and developing new ones.
Which brings me nicely onto this salad. It was literally one of those open the fridge and put something together quickly situations. A rummage through the fridge resulted in some leftover black beans and brown rice (from Mexican night no doubt). There was a bag of shelled edamame in the freezer, and a further rummage through the fridge found some limes and coriander/cilantro. With some nice olive oil it all came together. It worked.
Digression time. Topic: edamame (fresh soy beans, for those of you who have no clue what I’m on about). We first discovered edamame when we lived in Japan (which was – gulp – 20 years ago now). Still in the pod, these tender little morsels were served hot, covered with little salt crystals. They are THE perfect bar snack. And now in the UK you can buy bags of them in the shell at Oriental supermarkets, and can get the shelled ones in some ordinary supermarkets. We’ve passed our love for them onto the kids - they get all excited about having edamame in the shell as an after school snack. How cool is that?
Back to the salad now. Black beans. Brown rice. Soybeans. It does sound a bit like something out of a 1970s healthy eating cookbook that’s bound to be good for you by is rather dodgy taste-wise… Ok, think about it this way instead: slightly chewy bright green soybeans, nutty al dente brown rice and earthy black beans dressed up with smooth extra virgin olive oil, zesty lime juice, fragrant fresh coriander and flaky seat salt. Is that better? Sounds quite this decade now, doesn’t it? Now all I need is someone with a lovely mellifluous voice to read that and it would almost sound sexy.
But it is also incredibly healthy.
Since this salad came about, I have served it to my family, clients, friends, and fellow food bloggers. This was the salad that I brought to a potluck lunch at Cooksister HQ – an afternoon of fun, friends and fotography (read about it here in Jeanne’s blog). I was slightly apprehensive about taking along something quite so simple to share with other food bloggers, but (phew) it went over well.
And really, with the excesses of holiday eating starting just about now (if they haven’t already), why not give your body a bit of a break and give it something healthy but really quite delicious? If you’re feeling a little too virtuous after eating it, you can always overcompensate with dessert. Life is all about balance, after all…
Edamame, Black Bean & Brown Rice Salad
- 1 cup frozen, shelled edamame
- 1 cup cooked black beans (in the UK you can get dried ones at Sainsburys and Waitrose – just soak overnight and cook for about 1 hour)
- 1 cup cooked brown rice (on the al dente side, not the mushy side)
- 4 tbsp olive oil
- Juice of 1-2 limes
- Large handful of coriander/cilantro, chopped
- Flaky sea salt to taste
Boil the edamame for 3-5 minutes, until tender. Drain.
Mix together the edamame, black beans, rice. Add the olive oil, juice of 1 lime, chopped coriander/cilantro, and salt to taste. Taste the salad. Add more lime juice if you think it needs it. I like a lot of lime juice so would add the juice of the second lime, but it’s up to you. Experiment and make it how you like it!