I learned that beans are great in salads from a very young age. My mom made something she called Texas Salad when I was growing up, and red kidney beans starred in it, along with iceberg lettuce, crushed Fritos, shredded cheddar and bottled French dressing. I loved it on the first day — not so much on Day 2, 3 or 4, if it lasted that long.
Many years ago, I celebrated her by updating it, using romaine, tortilla chips, feta, slow-roasted or sun-dried tomatoes, and a delectable cilantro vinaigrette. And I switched from kidney to black beans. More recently, I've been making it with pintos instead. But all along, I've known the truth: With all that other great flavor and texture going on, the kind of beans here is possibly the least important thing.
Chickpeas would be swell, white beans would be good — and any number of less-common heirloom beans would bring their own special something to this party.
Make it with what you have.
Pinto Bean Tortilla Salad
For the cilantro vinaigrette:
2 tablespoons lightly packed fresh cilantro leaves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons canola oil
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon granulated sugar
¼ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
For the salad:
½ cup peanut oil, for frying
3 (6-inch) corn tortillas
6 cups lightly packed, torn romaine lettuce leaves
1 ½ cups cooked or canned no-salt-added pinto beans (from a 15-ounce can), drained and rinsed
3 green onions, trimmed and thinly sliced on the diagonal
½ cup feta cheese, crumbled
½ cup oil-packed sun-dried tomatoes, sliced
Make the vinaigrette: Combine the cilantro, olive and canola oils, vinegar, garlic, sugar and salt in a blender; puree until smooth. Taste and add more salt as needed.
Make the salad: Line a plate with paper towels or a clean dish towel.
In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add 2 or 3 tortillas (or as many as will comfortably fit); fry them on each side until crisp and golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Lift each tortilla with tongs and let the excess oil drip off, then transfer it to the towel-lined plate. Working in batches if needed, repeat with the remaining tortillas. Let the tortillas cool, then break them into bite-size pieces.
In a large bowl, toss the tortilla pieces with the lettuce, beans, green onions, feta, tomatoes and ¼ cup of the vinaigrette. Serve with the remaining vinaigrette, if desired, or reserve it for another use.
Makes 2 to 3 servings.
Recipe adapted from Cool Beans by Joe Yonan (Ten Speed Press, 2020)