A striking party salad Entertaining: Dish works for large groups.

August 02, 1998|By Betty Rosbottom | Betty Rosbottom,LOS ANGELES TIMES SYNDICATE

Several days ago, my hairdresser spent the better part of my appointment telling me about the high school graduation party for 40 she was planning for her daughter. Between snipping and blow-drying my hair, she asked for menu suggestions. Later that week a neighbor asked where to buy invitations for a big celebration she was organizing for her husband's 75th birthday.

These requests made me realize that even though most of us entertain small groups the majority of the time, there are occasions when inviting a crowd is necessary.

This past week as I was working on a black bean, tomato and avocado salad for a cooking class, I realized how appropriate this dish, which can be made several hours ahead and which serves 12, would be for a large gathering. It is made with black beans, chopped sweet yellow peppers and jalapenos, diced avocados, tomatoes, celery and onions, all tossed in a cumin-scented lime dressing and seasoned with cilantro. Using canned beans saves time and does not sacrifice flavor. Cleaning, chopping and dicing the vegetables takes most time, but it can be done well in advance.

With its bold, vibrant bursts of color, this salad makes a striking presentation mounded on lettuce greens in a shallow serving bowl or on a tray. It would be delicious served with grilled chicken, steaks or shrimp, or you could use it as a side dish for hamburgers or turkey sandwiches. Should you have any leftovers, the salad can be mixed with an equal amount of cooked rice, some shredded Monterey Jack cheese and shredded greens, as a filling for burritos.

Black Bean, Tomato and Avocado Salad

Serves 12

DRESSING

1 tablespoon grated lime zest (color portion of rind)

6 tablespoons lime juice

4 teaspoons ground cumin

1 1/2 teaspoons salt, plus more if needed

several grinds black pepper

3/4 cup olive oil

SALAD

1 cup chopped yellow pepper, stem, seeds and membranes removed

3 jalapeno chilies, seeded and finely chopped

1 cup chopped red onions

1 cup diced celery

1/2 cup chopped cilantro

4 (15-ounce) cans black beans, rinsed, well-drained and patted dry

3 avocados, peeled, pitted and cut in 1/2-inch dice

2 cups chopped plum tomatoes (about 8 plum tomatoes)

1 head Boston or romaine lettuce, leaves separated and cleaned

To prepare dressing, combine lime zest and juice, cumin, salt and pepper in medium nonreactive mixing bowl. Whisk in olive oil. (Dressing can be made 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate. Bring to room temperature before using.)

To prepare salad, in large nonreactive bowl combine yellow pepper, jalapenos, onions, celery, cilantro and beans, and mix well.

Pour in dressing and stir to coat all ingredients well. Carefully stir in avocados and tomatoes only to combine. Taste and add more salt and pepper if desired. Cover with plastic wrap and refrigerate at least 2 hours or up to 5 hours. Bring to room temperature before serving.

To serve, arrange border of lettuce leaves in large shallow bowl or on platter. Mound salad on top.

Pub Date: 8/02/98

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