Cheap Eats:
Corn and Black Bean Salad

I gotta tell you, folks, my life is really insane at the moment. Now, I'm not complaining—it's a full, rich life—but I am explaining. I'm a freelance writer, editor, and photographer. I've been doing most of what I do now for decades, but have been self-employed for the last four years. I don't sell a whole lot of photographs, because the market is glutted with photoCDs, and no one seems to mind that the same eight photographs appear everywhere. But I do write and edit a lot, because most people realize that they can't string words together. That, and most people don't check their facts anymore, so a writer who does their own fact checking is very popular.

So what I'm saying is that, at the moment, I'm working on a massive English Literature project for Prentice Hall, a slightly less intimidating Geography project for McDougal-Littell, and a couple of articles for North Shore Magazine. Again, I'm not complaining. I love my life. I adore writing. And I consider my work in educational publishing to verge on being a mission (you can't believe how many errors there are in the manuscripts that come in). But it keeps me busy (and I'm on deadline).

Throw in the fact that I'm on the board of the Midwest Writers Association, involved in Culinary Historians of Chicago and Slow Food, try to have something that passes for a social life, take a couple of classes, and am again program chair for HalloweeM, and let's just say that housekeeping isn't a high priority.

Which is why you're reading about my life instead of some fabulous food history, which takes three or four days to research. Instead, I'm going to give you my excuses and apologies, and then give you a recipe that is one of my own creations, and ideal for people leading insane lives. (You see, I know that I'm not alone in this—there are a lot of Mensans who, being interested in a wide range of things, live their lives in this kind of whirl.)

So, when you get invited to some great party this summer, and you want to take a dish, but don't really have time to cook, but really hate to take something in a container that advertises your local grocery store, you can make this. It's a classically flavored, semi-authentic, south-of-the-border-style salad. It uses lots of ingredients that are very authentic but takes lots of short cuts that aren't. It's very colorful, and the recipe makes a party-sized amount. Wherever I've taken it, people have consumed it rapidly and with positive comments. (In fact, it's absolutely great, and I often make it for myself and just divide it up into a bunch of containers or invite someone over.)

This is a pretty forgiving dish, and will sustain modifications. To dress it up, you could add sliced avocado to the top (tossed in a little lemon juice, to keep it from turning brown). It's a good way to get rid of that last two or three tablespoons of salsa after the chips are gone. You could combine red and green onions. Or add a dash of your favorite hot sauce. Have fun, and enjoy.

Corn and Black Bean Salad

1 can black beans, drained

2 lb. bag of frozen, whole-kernel corn, thawed and slightly heated

1 large red onion, chopped

1 large green pepper, seeded and chopped

²/3 to ¾ cup chopped cilantro (yum)

3 to 4 plum tomatoes, chopped

1 bottle Newman's Balsamic Vinaigrette dressing

dash of cayenne

salt and pepper to taste

splash of lemon juice

Combine everything in a large bowl. Let it sit for about an hour, stirring occasionally so that the flavors blend. (Having the corn just slightly warm at the beginning facilitates this.) Then chill until you're ready to serve it, or just take it straight to the party. Stir again just before serving, to get the juice up from the bottom.


You don't want to make this too far in advance, because tomatoes disintegrate pretty quickly when refrigerated, and you end up with mushy tomato and all the tomato liquid in the bottom of the bowl. Just have everything ready ahead of time and make it the day you need it, if possible.

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