Is there a food that you associate with childhood? And, somewhat elusively, still enjoy? I have been eating some version of this rice & bean salad for at least 30 years. I remember my grandmother making it for large family gatherings, and if there was any left my mom always wanted leftovers. My grandmother still makes it sometimes, and now I argue for the leftovers!
A big part of my childhood was going on my grandparents’ boat, a medium-sized affair with a downstairs that slept 4, a tiny bathroom and basic galley kitchen, comfortable seating up top for 6 adults with more kids on the floor, and a hatch we kids loved to climb up through. Once we got old enough we were allowed to sit on the upper deck with our feet dangling over the edge (properly life-jacketed and with our legs through the railing) and giggle and shriek as Grampa tried to splash our toes by crossing the wake of another boat.
On special summer days we’d go through the locks and travel north to camp overnight on Blueberry Island, a wonderful uninhabited place with rugged terrain and very generous owners who allowed visitors to tie up at their dock and explore and enjoy. Provided the place was left in good shape with no damage done or trash left behind this unofficial arrangement went on for years.
Anyone who has ever gone anywhere with children knows that whether you are going for a few hours or a few days you have a ridiculous amount of stuff with you, so add in tents and sleeping bags, coolers, firewood for a campfire, and you are quickly laden down.
I vaguely recall most of the food prep being done in advance — a plan that I, as an adult also stick to whenever possible — and associate this salad with trips like these. Rice & bean salad travels well, it lasts a long time in the fridge, and like most things I make, uses ingredients that can either be made well ahead of time or are easily grabbed from the pantry.
I’m not sure I liked it then as much as I do now mind you, but it has become a regular part of my salad rotation. It’s also one of those great salads that can do double duty as salad topper (spoon some onto a bed of crunchy Romaine and voila, new textures!), in a wrap (more crunchy Romaine and some diced chicken breast), or even scooped with sturdy crackers.
Make a little or make a lot…but either way, share with friends and family, and enjoy! This doubles (or triples) well. If, after making up and letting it sit for a while it seems dry it’s because the rice has sucked up the dressing. Try adding a small amount of water and stirring; give it a taste to see if it needs more of anything — more water might do it, or adding additional oil and vinegar should rescue it easily.
Rice & Bean Salad
- 3 cups cooked brown rice
- 1 cup cooked wild rice
- 1 can chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 cup sliced celery (approximately 3 large stalks)
- ¼ cup finely chopped red onion
- ¼ cup chopped fresh parsley
- ⅓ cup white wine vinegar (red wine vinegar or cider vinegar would probably also work but I’ve never tried)
- ⅓ cup avocado oil (stays liquid while refrigerated; olive oil would also do but will harden in the fridge)
- 2 Tbsp water
- ¾ tsp salt
- ¼ tsp pepper
- ½ tsp garlic powder
Combine salad ingredients in a large bowl. Combine dressing ingredients in a jar; shake to combine. Drizzle over salad and stir well to combine. Keep refrigerated.
Note that the recipe calls for measured amounts of cooked brown rice and wild rice. Read your rice packages to see how much dry to start with. Don’t overcook the rice, you don’t want mush. Wild rice is really important to the overall textural joy of this salad. Although I remember my dad complaining he was eating twigs and likening himself to a rodent, it does add a really nice contrast to the brown rice. Even better, cook extra and use the additional cooked rice in tomorrow’s supper (or plan ahead and have brown rice tonight, and make extra for tomorrow’s salad).
Canned beans are quick and easy, but if you cook them from dry that’s fine too, just estimate the quantities needed. I try to always have canned beans on hand for bean emergencies, but if I have the time then I cook a large batch of chickpeas in my Instant Pot. Chickpeas do double duty as hummus and bean salad, or freeze leftovers for future use in curry or soup. Canned beans can be high in salt, so buy low sodium varieties or dial down the amount of salt in the dressing until you have a chance to taste it all together.
Choose fresh, green celery and if the stalks are particularly robust then split them longways before slicing.
Red onions are less harsh than white (and also prettier) but green onions, scallions, chives, or a small amount of regular white or yellow onions would do in a pinch.
Don’t skip the parsley! Rinse, chop, and measure loosely; more is better than less.
Tip: store fresh herbs in a jar of water in the fridge, with the ends freshly trimmed (just like fresh flowers in a vase). Remove, wash, and chop as you need them. They last a long time this way. Even better? Grow your own for ultimate freshness. At this current house I don’t have much planted but was thrilled to discover a very nice variety of mint growing wild in the lawn (after I’d already bought and potted one for making Moscow Mules, my favourite summer drink). Depending on what I’m making I might send a kid out to harvest “lawn mint” or “container mint.” It smells amazing when I mow,