How to Make Three-Bean Salad

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A flavorful remnant of the convenience-crazed 1960s, three-bean salad comes together quickly for picnics, cookouts and potluck events. Assemble the classic side dish ahead of time to give the ingredients a chance to mingle in the tangy dressing. Whether all of the beans come from cans or you prepare snap and shell beans yourself, three-bean salad is open to endless interpretations -- including how many legume varieties you include in your own version of the "three" bean salad.

The Bean Scene

  • A classic three-beaner consists of two short -- as in shelled or dried -- beans, and one long -- as in fresh or snap -- bean. Garbanzo and kidney beans are commonly used as the short beans, while green or yellow wax beans serve as the long beans. Canned beans come in handy for the shell beans, and it's even possible to use canned snap beans for the ultimate "dump" salad. But whether you use canned, dried or fresh beans, your choices are many, and there's no reason to limit yourself to just three. Include both green and yellow snap beans, if you want, and anything from lima beans and edamame to black-eyed peas and pinto, black or cranberry beans.

Tasty Partners

  • Taking the time to chop up a few raw vegetables pays off in welcome freshness, especially when canned beans form the backbone of the three-bean salad. For summery flavor, add strips of green, yellow or red bell peppers or chopped tomatoes. Red onions add pungency, but you can also turn to chives and scallions for extra punch. Other texture enhancers include chopped cucumbers and celery. To make the starchy bean salad even heartier, toss in canned or fresh corn kernels, and top it all off with a few already marinated goodies like olives and artichoke hearts.

Dressing It Up

  • The side dish's lightly pickled flavor comes from the vinegar traditionally included in the dressing. White vinegar and olive oil are classic partners in a three-bean salad dressing, but you can lighten the mood with canola oil or add a depth of flavor with red wine or balsamic vinegar. Or nix the vinegar altogether in favor of fresh lemon juice. Ingredients like salt and pepper, celery seeds, finely chopped herbs, citrus zest, a spoonful of sugar or a hint of mustard can all round out the dressing.

Some Assembly Required

  • The only challenging aspect of assembling this simple salad is remembering to do it in time for the ingredients to marinate properly in the dressing. Blanch or briefly steam any fresh snap beans and/or shelled beans, keeping the snap beans crisp-tender. After rinsing and draining your canned beans, toss them in a bowl with the cooked beans and any vegetables you're including. After whisking the dressing together in a separate bowl, drizzle it over the bean salad ingredients, and gently toss the salad again. The salad should marinate in the refrigerator for at least two hours. Before serving, toss on optional garnishes, like chopped parsley and dill or grated radishes and carrots.

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