There has been a lot of well-deserved attention lately to the amount of food wasted in the US, from the farm fields all the way to grocery stores, restaurants, and our own homes. With this in mind, I started considering some of the ways that I have found uses for relatively common leftovers.
When I cook rice, I often make a large quantity; you can see my method for baking rice at http://frugalfastfun.blogspot.com/2010/10/cassoulet-for-crowd.html. But, what to do with this rice when you aren't in the mood for some kind of casserole or if you have more rice than other leftovers from the takeout or carry home box from your latest restaurant trip?
Another peek into the refrigerator revealed some bell pepper, celery, spinach, and something I've recently discovered, mayocoba beans. Sounded like the start of a great salad, especially since I actually have some cherry tomatoes and cucumber from my mostly failed garden. It is very easy to allow produce to go past its prime and end up in the compost (or worse, just the trash), so this seemed like a good day to use all of these foods while nice and fresh.
A little experimenting and tasting, and I came up with the following salad that will go just right with some chicken salad sandwiches and fresh fruit for a light dinner tonight. You can easily make your own changes to this recipe, based on the contents of your own refrigerator. Lightly steamed broccoli flowerets or carrot slices, frozen peas, or green beans could all be added for more color. Kidney or black beans could replace the mayocoba beans.
The result? A tasty, healthy salad and a little bit of pride in being able to avoid some bit of food waste in your own kitchen. Not a bad combination.
Rice and Bean Garden Salad
3 c cooked rice, well drained--be sure rice is cooked only until just tender, not too soft
1/3 to 1/2 c finely diced onion, to taste
1 c sliced or diced celery
1/2 c diced cucumber
1/2 c diced green pepper
1 1/2 c cooked and well drained mayocoba beans
1 T fresh basil, finely chopped
1 t fresh thyme leaves
1 c cherry or grape tomatoes, halved
2 c baby spinach leaves
1/3 c vinegar
1/4 c canola or olive oil
3-4 T sugar or more, to taste
1 t salt (or more, if both rice and beans are prepared without salt)
lemon pepper to taste
1. Combine the dressing ingredients and whisk until well blended.
2. Toss together the first 8 ingredients. Pour the dressing over this mixture and stir just until everything is well mixed.
3. Chill at least two hours. Just before serving, stir in the tomatoes.
4. If serving individually, spread the spinach on the plate and top with scoops of the salad. If the salad will be served from a large bowl, chop or tear the spinach leaves into bite-sized pieces and toss into the mixture with the tomatoes.
Use a prepared balsamic vinegar dressing (Costco has a really good one) in place of the dressing above, using only enough to barely moisten all the ingredients. If you are using unsalted beans and/or rice, you will still need to add a bit more salt or lemon pepper.
A couple of notes/hints on preparation, illustrated
The batch of rice that I had in the refrigerator was quite moist. To be sure that the dressing didn't end being too diluted, I spread the rice on a plate and let it "dry" for about an hour in the refrigerator, following some instructions I found on the internet for "dried rice." Unfortunately, that didn't seem to help all that much, so I just went to a much more direct method, putting the rice in a fine strainer and pressing it lightly. If your rice is pretty "dry" already, you can easily skip this step.
And then there is the photo of the oil and vinegar. I have added another one below, showing even more clearly that this measuring cup is not clean! I had used the cup to measure the rice, the onions, and other vegetables, and then used it, without washing or even rinsing, to measure out the vinegar and oil for the dressing.
My point? Just this. Streamline the steps you take in putting foods together and you will save yourself a lot of time, both in prep and clean up. Just a small hint, but over time, if you are accustomed to having to have a separate clean cup or bowl for every step, think about just reusing them without clean up between.