After picking a flush of green and yellow beans from the garden my thoughts went to Three Bean Salad. I remember my mom opening up 3 cans of beans (green, yellow and kidney) and mixing in an overly sweet mixture of sugar, vegetable oil and white vinegar. Or, maybe she picked up the premade version at the deli counter of the local grocer. In either case, it was a classic dish of summer, and satisfied (or so we thought back then!) one of those vegetable servings we all needed!
Looking back on that dish now, I realize how nutrient-void it was!! Canned string beans are so mushy and due to the high heat processing they must undergo, have very little nutritional value. The dressing of refined white sugar, distilled white vinegar and vegetable oil is another nutritional desert!
However, the childhood memory remains and I set out to “clean-up” the original version. It turns out that it really was not hard at all — the same recipe just different VERSIONS of the ingredients!!
First on the list was the string beans. Canned beans are definitely out! Trimmed and cut fresh green and yellow string beans (or all green if you can’t find yellow) are the best substitute although frozen are a good alternative. With either the fresh or the frozen you will need to cook in boiling water until al dente, about 4 minutes, don’t over cook! The vinegar solution will soften the beans the longer they marinade so you want to start on the crisp side. After cooking the beans make sure you submerge them in ice water until COMPLETELY cool — this will help lock in a nice bright color which is much more appetizing than the drab gray-green of the canned variety!
In an ideal world we would cook dried beans to include in the salad. Even though this has become easier and faster thanks to products like the Insta Pot, canned kidney, garbanzo, and other dried bean varieties still have a good nutritional profile. Just be sure you purchase a high quality brand without excess salt and/or preservatives.
Freshly chopped bell pepper and onion round out the salad. If you dislike or are sensitive to green bell peppers, feel free to use yellow, red or even orange. The green is unripe and will cause digestive distress to many people. The onion should be freshly chopped using a KNIFE rather than a food processor or other “chopper” tool that will make it too mushy and emit more of the bitter juices.
The final piece of the recipe is the dressing. The appeal of three bean salad is the sweet-sour dressing combination, so we don’t want to get rid of the sweet, just swap it for a healthier alternative. If you want the classic sugar taste you can use an unrefined cane sugar which undergoes less processing, but is still sugar to the body. Healthier options would include raw honey or the lower glycemic alternative, agave.
For the vinegar, I choose natural apple cider vinegar (with the mother) over the distilled varieties and for oil, you can use olive, grapeseed, peanut, sunflower, avocado or whatever you prefer. Any of those is a better choice than overly processed mystery “vegetable” oil. Remember, if you do use an oil that solidifies when chilled, such as olive, you will need to remove your salad from the refrigerator about 20 minutes before serving so the oil can return to its liquid state.
This revised Three Bean salad still might not be the most nutrient-filled choice, but it is delicious and brings back many childhood memories, and that is a good thing! The major benefit is you made it at home, from scratch using ingredients close to their natural state!
Remember, a healthy lifestyle begins in the kitchen, so go get cooking! Until next time, enjoy!!
Three Bean Salad
Yield: approximately 6 cups
4 Cups trimmed & cut green and/or yellow beans
1 Can (15 ounce) dark red kidney beans (2 cups)
(or other bean of choice)
1 Medium green pepper, chopped
½ Cup natural sugar or honey or agave
2/3 Cup apple cider vinegar
1/3 Cup oil of choice (note: some oils such as olive will become solid when refrigerated, so you will need to remove salad from refrigerator 20-30 minutes before serving)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Bring large pot of salted water to a boil. Add cut beans and cook 4-5 minutes or until al dente. Immediately drain and place in bowl of ice water until completely cooled. Drain well and add to large mixing bowl.
Drain and rinse canned beans and add to mixing bowl. Add chopped pepper and onion to beans and toss to combine.
In a jar with tight fitting lid, or in a medium bowl using a whisk, combine the sugar (or other sweetener), vinegar, oil, about 1 teaspoon salt and 8-10 grinds of pepper. Shake or whisk until well combined and sugar is dissolved. Pour dressing over bean mixture and toss to coat.
Transfer mixture to large storage bowl with tight fitting lid and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight, mixing every few hours, if you remember.
Salad will last about 5 days in the refrigerator, but beans will lose their bright green color and some of their crispness after about 1 day.
For a printable version of this recipe, click here.