- The Washington Times - Tuesday, June 21, 2005

We Southerners love black-eyed peas, especially on Jan. 1, when eating them is supposed to bring us luck for the entire year.

Nutritionally, canned beans and peas are good for us all year long, for beans are an easily accessible and inexpensive source of fiber.

As the weather warms, let beans shine in a new light, not so much in a stew as in a salad. Add bright colors and crunchy textures, and you have a refreshing and nutritious salad that is filling on its own. Or add grilled or barbecued chicken to fill out the meal. Corn muffins and sliced summer peaches complete the Southern theme.

This salad can be made up to two days ahead of time if that helps your busy schedule. In fact, the black-eyed peas taste better after they have had time to marinate. Place the crumbled bacon in a plastic bag in the refrigerator, and put the salad together at the last minute. If you like, add a handful of chopped fresh mint to the spinach leaves.

Five time-shaving warm-weather ideas with canned beans:

Canned beans might look stodgy, but they fit nicely into summer menus.

• Blend drained chickpeas with a clove of garlic, squeeze of lemon juice, salt, pepper and enough olive oil to pull a yummy hummus together. Serve with pita crisps or raw veggies.

• Make three-bean salad with a sweet vinaigrette. My favorite trio is kidney, green and chickpeas, but suit yourself.

• Try black beans in a Southwestern salad with corn, cilantro, chopped tomatoes, avocado and sweet onion.

• Pintos, briefly warmed, are delicious served alongside sliced tomatoes and braised greens.

• To make a quick white bean soup, puree until silky a can of drained white beans with a little canned chicken broth to desired consistency. Heat, add salt and pepper to taste, and top with crumbled bacon and chopped scallion.

Black-eyed pea and spinach salad with jasmine rice

Salt for cooking rice, optional

1 cup jasmine rice

4 slices bacon, cut into 1-inch pieces

2 15- to 16-ounce cans black-eyed peas

½ cup thinly sliced red onion

½ cup bottled olive oil and vinegar salad dressing

1/4 cup packed light brown sugar

1 6-ounce bag spinach

1 cup cherry tomatoes, halved

Pour 2 cups water and a little salt, if using, into a 1-quart saucepan and bring to a boil over high heat. Stir in rice, cover pan and reduce heat to low. Let rice simmer until done, 15 to 20 minutes.

Meanwhile, place bacon in a skillet over medium heat. Cook bacon until crisp on both sides, 3 to 4 minutes, then drain on paper towels and crumble. Set aside both the crumbled bacon and the skillet with the bacon fat. Drain black-eyed peas and place them in a large mixing bowl.

Place skillet containing bacon fat over medium heat. Add onion and cook, stirring, until soft and lightly browned, 3 to 4 minutes. Add salad dressing, brown sugar and 1/4 cup water. Bring mixture to a boil, scraping bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to loosen any bits of bacon.

Let mixture reduce a bit, 4 to 5 minutes. Pour dressing over black-eyed peas and toss well. Cover bowl with plastic wrap and refrigerate until time to serve.

When rice has cooked, transfer it to a large serving platter and fluff with a fork to separate the grains. Spoon black-eyed-pea mixture on top of rice. Arrange spinach and cherry tomatoes attractively around peas and rice, then garnish top with reserved crumbled bacon. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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