Every picnic needs a salad that can withstand some abuse: one that can be stuffed into your backpack without fear it will squish; left out in the sun without spoiling or wilting; made a day or two before serving, only to get better as it sits.
A three-bean salad is all of that, and more. And its sturdiness, coupled with how quick and easy it is to throw together, may be why it’s become such a summertime staple across the United States.
For me, though, the biggest draw of a three-bean salad is its adaptable nature. (I just adore a recipe that I don’t have to stick to.) As long as there are three different beans in the bowl tossed with some kind of flavorful dressing, a three-bean salad can be anything you want it to be.
What I want it to be is fresher, brighter and herbier than the most classic versions, which rely entirely on canned beans — green beans, wax beans and kidney beans. When I make three-bean salad, I don’t use any of them. I also nix the usual sugary dressing.
Instead, I start with blanched fresh green beans, cooked just long enough to turn verdant and tender, without a trace of mushy softness. The green beans provide a crisp contrast to the velvety chickpeas and cannellini beans that I also toss in the bowl.
Of course, this being a flexible salad, chickpeas and cannellini are merely my own, personal suggestions. Feel free to use whatever combination of canned beans you like. Black beans are velvety. Black-eyed peas are earthy. Kidney beans are classic.
Freshly cooked dried beans are also an acceptable option, though using them will add considerable time to the preparation, unless you’ve got leftovers on hand.
While the beans make up the core of this salad, marinated vegetables give it verve. To make them, briefly soak sliced onions and either fennel or celery in thyme-spiked rice vinegar until they’re lightly pickled and floppy. Mixed into the beans, they add a necessary dose of texture and tang. And some chopped herbs and toasted coriander seeds lend fresh, woodsy and citrusy notes to round things out.
Tossed together, this salad is ready for your next picnic or potluck. Or pair it with a loaf of crusty bread for a speedy vegan dinner. A dish this easy, hardy and deliciously dependable should fill many roles.
Recipe: Herby Three-Bean Salad