DC does not mess around with summer, and boy, this one’s a scorcher. This week, temperatures climbed into the upper 90’s — maybe even the triple digits — and the A/C at our apartment is, well, the little engine that could. We’re getting to that point in the season where it’s too hot to even consider turning on the oven, and even stovetop cooking must be kept to a minimum. Needless to say, we’re not doing much bread-baking around here.
But let me tell you, we’re eating salad like it’s our job. It’s cool and refreshing, it requires no heat (phew!), and it can take on many different personas. There’s a big bunch of romaine in our fridge right now, waiting to become a crouton-loaded Caesar; I’ve got a couple heads of butter lettuce that I dress simply with horseradish dressing and top with toasted breadcrumbs; and of course, I’ve been making my way through a pound of arugula in salads just like this one.
Two things about this salad make it a staple. First, it’s substantial. When I eat butter lettuce salad, I always have something else after. This arugula salad, with black beans and avocado and, if you feel like it, feta cheese, is a meal in a bowl. Second, it’s flexible. Arugula could be traded for any other lettuce, and if black or kidney beans aren’t your thing, pintos would work as well.
But the best thing about this salad, the thing that keeps me returning to it time after time, is the dressing. This lime juice-based vinaigrette, sharpened by raw red onion, has a nutty, spicy undercurrent of toasted cumin and hot chile running throughout. The most unexpected flavor? Date honey; it gives just the right sweetness and depth to round out the other flavors. Honestly, I could eat a piece of bread and this dressing and be happy.
But I don’t usually do that. When I can pour the dressing on a pile of sharp arugula, add juicy cherry tomatoes and vibrant orange pepper, finish with the black beans, and call it dinner, there’s no need to do much else.
Arugula Black Bean Salad with Cumin Dressing
For the salad:
1/2 pound arugula
1 can black beans, rinsed well and drained
1 can kidney beans, rinsed well and drained
1 pint cherry tomatoes, sliced lengthwise
1 red pepper, coarsely chopped
1 orange pepper, coarsely chopped
3 mediterranean (small) cucumbers or 1 English seedless cucumber, halved lengthwise and sliced
2 avocados, halved, pitted, and coarsely chopped
small block of feta cheese, cubed (optional)
For the dressing:
1/2 medium red onion, diced
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
1 teaspoon diced jalapeno chile
1/2 cup cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
2 teaspoons date honey (regular honey will work, too)
juice 2 limes
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
1/3 cup olive oil
salt to taste
Combine all salad ingredients in large, shallow bowl.
In medium mixing bowl, combine lime juice, red wine vinegar, diced onion, and jalapeno. Let macerate while you prepare the oil.
Heat olive oil and cumin seeds in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Cook about 3 minutes, monitoring closely to make sure oil doesn’t burn or smoke; you want the oil just hot enough to bring out the fragrance in the cumin seeds. When the oil becomes aromatic, remove from the heat and set on the counter to cool for about 3 minutes.
Add date honey to onion mixture, and add salt to taste (I use a little under 1 teaspoon). Add oil, and whisk to combine. Taste again and adjust salt level as needed. Just before dressing the salad, add cilantro leaves to dressing and stir to incorporate. Serve.