As I walked to school with my younger son one morning last month, he mentioned that his 6th grade history class’s Colonial unit would be culminating with a special lunch. All students were being asked to bring a dish incorporating ingredients typical of that era.
Christian mentioned that he volunteered to take baked beans. Given his distaste for beans and the myriad of other options, I casually questioned why he chose that dish as opposed to cornbread, pie or perhaps turkey. His no-bones-about-it answer made me laugh. “Mom, not many people are going to like the beans, so it might as well be you who gets to make them.” (Technically, I think the 6th graders were supposed to help prepare the recipe.)
My mind went immediately to a recipe that a reader named Deb shared last summer in advance of the “Summer Salad Challenge” run in The Lancaster Sunday News. I received many wonderful recipes, and although this one wasn’t included in the paper at the time, I filed it away for future reference.
Deb called her recipe a unique and healthier alternative to potato or pasta salad, and a fresh spin on baked beans. Perfectly suited to picnics and cookouts, this novel salad need not be chilled. Deb kindly mentioned that she appreciates my proclivity towards offering options in recipe instructions and ingredients. To that end, and though she has never tried it, she said canned beans would save some prep time, and the amount of spices in the dressing could be increased according to taste. (Note: One 16-ounce bag of dry beans, once cooked, is comparable to slightly less than four 15-ounce cans of beans.)
Though this salad might not be the typical baked bean dish served in the 1600s or 1700s, we rationalized that it contained several ingredients that were, in fact, customary. We also speculated that a topping of crushed tortilla chips would entice those who felt lukewarm towards beans.
When the serving bowl came home empty, I was only mildly surprised. I truly thought this colorful salad was delicious. Soon after, I made a second batch for my family. The leftovers improved with age and allowed for several days of easy, filling lunches. For those who pack a lunch, this salad is easy to transport and tastes great whether eaten cold or at room temperature.
Thank you to Deb for sharing a dish that, in her words, has been popular with family and friends for years. I now see why.
Yields 12 to 16 servings.
- 1 (16-ounce) package dry pinto beans
- 2 medium bell peppers, diced (use colors of choice)
- 1 ½ cups corn (fresh, frozen, or an 11-ounce can, drained)
- 1 small to medium onion, minced
- 6 ounces corn tortilla chips, crumbled
- ¼ cup olive oil
- ¼ cup cider vinegar
- ¼ cup ketchup
- 3 tablespoons packed brown sugar
- 1 tablespoon Worcestershire sauce
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin
- 1 teaspoon salt and ¼ teaspoon pepper
- ¼ teaspoon red pepper sauce (I used Frank’s Original hot sauce; could use Tabasco)
- 1 ½ tablespoons Dijon mustard
Rinse the beans, and pick over to remove any grit. Place the beans in a large pot, add water to cover by at least 2 inches and let soak overnight. For a same-day option, bring the beans to a boil, cover, remove from the heat and let stand 1 hour.
Drain and rinse the beans, return them to the pot, and fill with fresh water to cover by at least 2 inches. Bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer 1 to 1 ½ hours or until tender but not mushy. (I like to taste them occasionally to get it right.) Drain the beans, rinse under cold water to stop the cooking process, and drain well again.
To make the dressing: In a 1-quart saucepan, combine the olive oil, vinegar, ketchup, brown sugar, Worcestershire sauce, chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper and red pepper sauce. (Do not add the mustard yet.) Bring to a boil, reduce the heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes, stirring regularly. Remove from the heat, and then whisk in the mustard. Set aside.
To assemble the salad: In a large bowl, combine the cooked beans, bell peppers, corn, onion, and dressing. Toss to thoroughly coat. Just before serving, fold half of the crumbled chips into the salad, and sprinkle the remaining chips over top.
- If not eating right away, cover and refrigerate the salad, adding the chips just before serving. Serve cold or at room temperature.