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Monday, August 21

Fiesta Salad

This is the perfect meal when you don’t have a lot of time, but want to make something especially festive. It’s equally good with or without meat. I usually don’t serve it with meat because it’s so flavoursome without it. Everything can be prepared in advance and eaten whenever everyone’s ready to come to the table, allowing for an exceptionally relaxing experience for cook and guests. The only hot item is the black beans (and meat, if you choose to include it) which will keep warm in the slow cooker as long as you like.

Recipe is for four hearty eaters, but you can easily double or triple it.

Fiesta Salad

What You Need

Black Beans (see recipe below)
Iceberg or Little Gem Lettuce - 3 or 4 big handfuls should do
Small Tomatoes - 500g  1Ib
Ripe Avocados - 3 large, dark, crinkly-skinned
Sliced Black Olives - 100g  4oz
Grated Mature Cheddar Cheese - 600g  1.3lbs
Plain Tortilla Chips - 400g  14oz
Limes - 4
Optional: Your favourite salsa or hot sauce
Optional: Shredded roasted chicken

This is the simplest, tastiest way to make Black Beans. Once you make these, you will never buy soggy, tinned beans again.

Dried Black Beans - 500g 1lb
Cumin - 2tbs
Ground Dark Roast Coffee* - 1 heaping tbs
Sea Salt - 1tbs
Coarse Black Pepper - 1tbs
Chili Flakes - 1tbs
Sweet Smoked Paprika - 1tbs
* Use strong dark, finely ground coffee, not mixed with water

What You Do

I used to always soak dried beans overnight before cooking. And depending on the beans I still do - but one of the many joys of black beans is that you do not need to soak them. In fact, they taste better when you don’t. Just cook them slowly, preferably in a slow cooker. Don’t add anything to them, except water, until they are tender.

Ideally cook your beans a day or two in advance. All beans are better on the second day. This said, if you don’t have time, these beans are still delicious eaten the same day they are cooked.

Slow Cooker Method: Rinse beans in colander under cold running water. Place in slow cooker. Cover beans with about three inches (76mm) of cold water. Cook on high heat about 4 hours, or until tender.

When beans are tender (not a moment before or they will be tough) add cumin, coffee, salt, pepper, chili flakes and paprika. Mix well. If you want to add a handful or two of shredded roasted chicken, or any other meat, stir that in now too. Turn slow cooker to low and continue cooking another couple of hours for maximum flavour.

For Hob Cooking: You will need a large, heavy-bottom pot with lid. Cast iron is best. Rinse beans in colander under cold running water. Place in pot. Cover with about three inches (76mm) of cold water. Bring to boil over medium/high heat, then cook slowly over low heat until tender, stirring every half hour or so to make sure beans don’t scorch. They will be tender in two - three hours. If you find you need more water before the beans are tender, add enough to cover the beans, keeping them moist, but not too watery.

When beans are tender (not a moment before) add cumin, coffee, salt, pepper, chili flakes and paprika. Mix well. If you want to add a handful or two of shredded roasted chicken, or any other cooked meat, stir that in now too. Continue cooking over low heat for another couple of hours, being careful not to scorch beans. This is why I prefer to use a slow cooker. It’s easy for beans to run out of water and burn on the stove.

To Make The Salad: Wash lettuce, tomatoes and exterior of avocados. Chop the lettuce and set aside in large bowl in fridge, until ready to use. Slice tomatoes in half, set aside. Peel and slice avocado. Set aside in bowl with the avocado seeds to keep them from turning brown (this really does work)

Drain olives (I buy them sliced in a jar, if yours aren’t sliced you will need to slice them) set aside.

Grate cheese and set aside.

Put tortilla chips in large bowl and set aside.

Wash and slice limes in quarters. Place in small bowls and set aside.

At this point you can simply cover everything with cling film to keep fresh until ready to assemble and serve.

On a very large platter, or tray, make a bed of lettuce, followed by about half the tortilla chips. Next spoon on about half the black beans. Top with about half the cheese, tomatoes and olives. Place the avocado slices around the salad and serve.

Offer little bowls of sliced lime on the side for squeezing over the salad. Put out the rest of the tortilla chips, cheese and beans for everyone to help themselves with top ups. I find most people want more cheese, beans and tortillas chips - but not salad.

Ideas and Suggestions

Slow Cooker Talk

If you don’t have a slow cooker, I highly recommend you consider getting one.  Go bigger, 5 or 6 litres if you have the space. If not, 3.5 litres is big enough for this recipe. I have used slow cookers  for decades for chili, soup, stew, chowder, ragu, sauce, gravy, hot beverages, etc . . .  It is one of the most practical appliances you will ever own. In winter a slow cooker really comes into it’s own. While you’re out all day, nothing beats being greeted to the fragrant smells of something hot and delicious upon your return.

Spicy Chicken

A quick and easy way to make spicy roasted chicken for your Fiesta Salad is to bake 500g (about a pound) of boneless chicken breast (or your favourite pieces) in an oven proof baking dish, with a small bottle, 148ml (5oz) of Frank's Redhot Buffalo Wings Sauce. Saturate the chicken with the sauce, marinate at room temperature for about an hour, then bake in hot oven, 175C (350F) for 40 minutes, turning once halfway through baking.

Allow chicken to cool enough to handle, then shred and place on top of black beans until ready to serve. It will keep warm and stay moist. If you like, serve the leftover sauce from the chicken on the side for those who might like a bit more spice.

If you're planning a buffet, my lime and garlic chicken wings (see index) are the perfect accompaniment for carnivorous guests. Delicious hot or cold and highly complimentary with the flavours of Fiesta Salad.


Sparkling water with lime. Prosecco;  Mexican or Spanish Lager; Magaritas (virgin or alcoholic) Lemonade; Lime or Pineapple Soda.


Lemon, Mango, Passion Fruit, or Raspberry Sorbet with a fan wafer, or served on a cone. Homemade cinnamon rolls, with post-dinner coffees, and teas is also excellent.

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