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June 3, 2009

The Bean: The Non-Meat Meat and Its Pasta Salad Adventure


According to science, the bean is lumped into the same kingdom as the basil leaf and the blade of grass. Anyone who has eaten both the bean and a blade of grass know that this is not possible. The bean has very little in common with a blade of grass, and more in common with a hunk of bloody meat.


Certainly, those similarities end with the actual presence of blood, leading people to wonder how to classify the bean. The answer is simple. It is a non-meat meat. That is, it is a meat that is not meat.


In this case, the non-meat meat is essentially a kingdom of its own, related to meat and vegetables as the fungus is related to the plant and animal kingdom. In fact, the non-meat meat kingdom itself includes the fungus. Further illustration is unnecessary, and in fact distracts us from our real purpose, which is to figure out how to put a meat-like substance into a dish that does not lend itself well to meat.


One of those dishes is pasta salad. You can add meat to this, if you like, but it seems out of place. In fact, it seems just plain strange, since pasta salad is almost universally a side dish, and meat is . . . well, meat is meat (except for non-meat meat, which isn’t really meat). Clearly, it is something to which the bean is well suited.


Another conundrum is raised here. Pasta tends toward its Italian roots, while the most meat-like of beans – the black turtle bean – hails from South of the Border. One prefers the tastes of garlic and oregano, the other the hot snap of the pepper. It is the original odd couple.


Well, we start by putting the bean into familiar company. Dice up a green pepper, an onion and some corn. Mix these within some drained and rinsed canned black beans. Make sure that you have a good blend of all of them.


Add to this Roma tomatoes cut into chunks. The Roma here is well equipped to bridge between Italian and southwestern cuisine. It is a thick tomato that when cut up holds its form well.


Now, as you cook some rotini pasta – rotini being the basic of all salad pastas – make the sauce. The sauce is a lime-cilantro sauce consisting of crushed garlic cloves, lime juice, olive oil, cumin, cayenne pepper, salt and pepper and fresh chopped cilantro. Cilantro is one of those ingredients that people either love or hate. Here, it is integral and even those negatively predisposed toward it will insist that it is necessary. You will know you have achieved perfection if the dressing has that lime-cilantro bite with an underlying cuminy heat.


Once the rotini is cooked, rinse it to cool it down. A pasta salad works best if cool or even fully refrigerated. Pour the dressing over the pasta and stir thoroughly. Add the vegetables and mix those in thoroughly.


© 2009 North Star Writers Group. May not be republished without permission.


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