A bright and inviting bowl of three bean salad is one of the smartest (and quickest) dishes you can pack for a summer picnic, a camping trip, or an outdoor BBQ party.
The origins of the three bean salad are unclear. We know that this side dish became popular in the 50s because it was made of canned beans which everyone already had in their pantry. The cherry on top was a tangy, refreshing marinade that the beans soaked in.
By the 60s and 70s, companies came up with instant 3 bean salads in cans, which you can still find on shelves today. I think it’s way healthier to make your own from scratch and it’s reassuring to know there aren’t any chemicals or preservatives in your bean salad. And since it’s so easy to make, why not?
I love the festive look of this salad, with its pop of colors when you’re done assembling the tomatoes, corn and cilantro – do you see the Mediterranean influences? It’s like all of summer is defined by this one vibrant dish.
All you need is 10 minutes to serve a fresh bowl of bean salad, and if you’re making this ahead of time, it’ll taste even better!
What Are The Best Beans to Use For This Salad?
It is also not known what beans were used in the 1950s when this recipe was popularized. Essentially, there had to be 3 types of beans.
In this recipe, we are using:
- cannellini beans (high in proteins, also called white kidney beans)
- kidney beans (dark red and low in saturated fats)
- black beans (rich in antioxidants).
Other popular options for three bean salad include cooked green beans, wax beans, garbanzo beans, or pinto beans. If you want to, you can add any other type of bean and call it a 4 bean salad.
You can use any type or combination of beans for this recipe. Just be sure to use a total of 3 cans, or 4.5 cups of cooked beans. With that said, there are more than just beans in this salad! These juicy vegetables will perfectly complement the beans.
- Kidney beans – 15 oz. can
- Black beans – 15 oz. can
- Cannellini beans (also called white kidney beans) – A 15 oz. can
- Grape tomatoes – 1 ½ cups of grape tomatoes, halved
- Corn – 2 cups of corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
- Cilantro – ½ cup, finely chopped
- Fresh parsley – ½ cup, finely chopped
Now that the bean salad is full of vegetables that are soft and succulent, we can introduce a crunchy texture to make it tastier and more fun. Some crunch vegetables include celery, fennel, and bell peppers. Yum!
Typically, the canned instant 3 bean salad would be soaked in a sour salad dressing. Here’s what you will need to make it from scratch:
- Lemon – Freshly squeezed lemon juice of about ¼ cup
- Garlic – Either mince 4 cloves of garlic at home or purchase ready-made minced garlic.
- Extra virgin olive oil – ⅓ cup of olive oil will bring the flavors in the dressing together.
- Sea salt – ½ teaspoon, to taste
- Ground black pepper – ¼ teaspoon, to taste
This easy home cooked salad comes together in just three steps.
Step One: Drain and rinse all of the canned beans until the water runs clear. Add to a large bowl.
- Pro Tip: When you open the cans of beans, you’ll see murky, grimy liquid in the can. To wash the beans from the salty solution, I always drain the beans in a strainer, then rinse them in cool water.
Step Two: Chop the grape tomatoes in half and defrost the corn if using frozen corn. Add corn, parsley and cilantro to the bowl with beans. Toss all the ingredients.
Step Three: Whisk all of the sauce ingredients together in a small bowl and pour it on top of the salad.
- Pro Tip: Chill the salad in the refrigerator for at least an hour before serving to allow the beans to marinate in the dressing.
Dig in and enjoy the salad!
Optionally, you can sprinkle fresh herbs onto this bean salad as garnish. Perhaps try basil, mint, tarragon, dill and cilantro. I like to also crumble some feta cheese and red onion on top for that extra Mediterranean touch.
Make this salad ahead of time for picnics and potlucks. It’ll be a tasty appetizer if kept properly.
Store this three bean salad in the fridge, covered tightly, for about 5 days. This will taste so good, especially since the salad has had more time to soak in all the marinade and meld with the flavors.
Three bean salad stays fresh in the freezer for up to 3 months. Meal-prep friendly dish coming through.
There’s more where this recipe came from. Check out these salad recipes which are to die for:
- Mediterranean Chicken Salad
- Mediterranean Pasta Salad
- Summer Berries Salad with Candied Almonds
- Grilled Peach Salad
Three Bean Salad Recipe
- 1 15 ounce can kidney beans
- 1 15 ounce can black beans
- 1 15 ounce can cannellini beans
- 1 ½ cups grape tomatoes halved
- 2 cups corn thawed
- 1/2 cup cilantro chopped
- 1/2 cup parsley chopped
- 1/4 cup lemon juice freshly squeezed
- 4 cloves garlic minced
- 1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
- 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 teaspoon freshly-cracked black pepper
- Drain and rinse all of the beans until the water runs clear. Add to a large bowl.
- Chop the tomatoes in half and defrost the corn if necessary. Add corn parsley and cilantro to the bowl.
- Whisk all of the dressing ingredients together and pour on top of the salad.