This classic Three Bean Salad recipe is like a time machine for your tastebuds. The updated party favorite is even more delicious with fresh string beans, but you can keep it exactly as it was meant to be and use canned. Whatever you do, just make it for your next get-together!
For a packable lunch fit for a king, make Three Bean Salad and Turkey Roll-Ups or a scoop of the Best Tuna Salad you'll ever have on some baby greens. Or browse other great bean recipes for some budget-friendly (and plant-based) cooking ideas.
In the Midwest, old-fashioned Three Bean Salad is zippy, tangy, and easy to eat. In the winter, it's one way to serve vegetables when fresh produce is scarce. In the summer when green beans are plentiful, it's especially good. The fresh beans really make it sing.
The longer it sits, the better it gets. It's ideal for outdoor picnics and barbecues, because it's gluten free and vegan. Best of all, it doesn't have anything in it that could spoil if left out a couple hours. (Here's looking at you, mayonnaise...)
Making Three Bean Salad for Friendsgiving? Click and slide the number next to “servings” on the recipe card below to adjust the ingredients to match how many you’re feeding—the recipe does the math for you, it’s that easy.
What are the beans in classic Three Bean Salad?
Most recipes use a combination of green beans, waxed (yellow) beans, and kidney beans. You can be rebellious and use any three beans that you like (garbanzo, chickpeas, lima, cannelini, etc.) but some green beans are always welcome in the salad for a little crunch.
Using Dried Beans:
The standard recipe calls for canned everything, but you can cook your own dried beans if you like. Make sure you drain the canned beans well before adding to the salad, and check the sodium on each can before adding salt to the dressing. Some canned beans have more sodium than you'd expect.
If you're making mixed bean salad with dried beans, here's some helpful information to help you convert dried beans to canned beans:
- 1 pound (about 2 cups) of dried beans will yield roughly 6 to 7 cups cooked beans.
- One 15-ounce can of cooked beans yields roughly 1 3/4 cups of beans after draining,
making it equivalent to 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup dried beans.
- So, for every 15-ounce can of beans the recipe calls for, cook 1/2 cup to 3/4 cup of dried beans.
Using Fresh Beans:
By all means, use fresh green and yellow beans, if they look good at the store. The fresh beans should be quick-blanched before they're added to the salad, to make them tender-crisp and vibrant. (See How to Blanch Green Beans.)
How to make Three Bean Salad:
For the best results, the salad flavors have to blend at least 8 hours or overnight, so make this dish a day before you intend to eat it.
These instructions sort of walk you through the whole process without giving you specific amounts, which are all listed below in the recipe card. You might be making a bigger batch for a party!
- First, make the dressing. Combine the sugar, olive oil, garlic, salt, pepper, and red wine vinegar in a saucepan large enough to hold it all. Cook the dressing gently over medium heat just until the sugar dissolves. (Skip this step if you're not using sugar.) Then pour the dressing in the salad bowl.
- To the bowl, add the beans, chopped parsley, and the red onion. Give the ingredients a gentle stir until everything is coated in the dressing.
- Store overnight in the refrigerator and bring it out when you need it! Then watch it disappear, spoonful by spoonful.
What else can you add to Three Bean Salad?
If you make it, they will eat it. There's no limit to what you can add to this simple yet addictive bean salad.
- Carrots. Grated carrots get pickled when marinated in the dressing.
- Avocado. Cubed fresh avocado added to the salad at the last minute, right before serving, add a creamy texture.
- Corn. Kernels of canned corn or fresh corn off the cob add natural sweetness and crunch to a mixed bean salad.
- Mediterranean Bean Salad. Add fresh chopped cherry tomatoes, dried oregano, chopped black olives, and chickpeas to the salad. Maybe a little crumbled feta cheese?
- Three Bean Salad in a jar. Layer the ingredients in a clean mason jar and pour the dressing over them. Seal with the screw-on lid and store in the refrigerator. Now you have a delicious packable side dish for lunch.
- 4 Bean Salad recipe. Yep, you guessed it! Throw another bean in there. Chickpeas, pinto, or black-eyed peas.
- 5 Bean Salad recipe. A fifth bean? Why not. Canned lima, black turtle, or northern beans might be good.
- Bean salad dressing balsamic. Switch out the red wine vinegar for balsamic vinegar, for some added sweetness. You may need to cut back the sugar (or take it out altogether) when you use balsamic vinegar.
- Celery. Adds even more crunch to mixed bean salads. Dice it up finely and mix it in.
How long can you keep bean salad?
Because the salad lasts at least 3 to 5 days in the refrigerator, you can make a large batch and have it for lunch over several days. Store it in a container with a fitted lid. Some might say it even tastes better after a couple days.
How to Can Three Bean Salad:
I am not a canning expert, although I've done some canning in my life. I got this information from the Ball Complete Book of Home Preserving (Culinary Hill may earn money if you buy through this link).
- Bring salad ingredients to a boil, then simmer at 180 degrees for 15 minutes.
- Pack the hot vegetables in a hot jar, leaving 1/2-inch of headspace. Ladle hot pickling liquid over vegetables, leaving 1/2-inch headspace.
- Remove air bubbles, clean jar rim, center lid on jar, and adjust the band to finger-tight. Place jar on rack elevated over simmering water (180 degrees) in boiling-water canner. Repeat until all jars are filled.
- Lower the rack into simmering water. Water MUST cover jars by 1 inch. Adjust heat to medium-high, cover canner and brining water to rolling boil. Process pint jars 15 minutes.
- Turn off heat and remove cover. Let jars cool 5 minutes. Remove jars from canner. Do not retighten bands if loose.
- Cool 12 hours. Check seals. Label and store jars.
Three Bean Salad Recipe
- 1 cup red wine vinegar
- ¾ cup sugar
- ½ cup olive oil
- 2 cloves garlic minced
- Salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 (15 ounce) can cut green beans drained, (see notes)
- 1 (15 ounce) can cut yellow wax beans drained
- 1 (15 ounce) can kidney beas drained and rinsed
- ½ cup red onion chopped
- ¼ cup fresh parsley minced
- In a small saucepan, combine vinegar, sugar, oil, garlic, 1 teaspoon salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper. Cook over medium heat until sugar dissolves, about 3 minutes. Remove from heat and pour into a bowl with a cover that is large enough to hold the salad.
- Stir in green beans, wax beans, kidney beans, red onion, and parsley and toss until evenly coated. Cover and refrigerate at least 4 hours or overnight to blend flavors.
- Remove from refrigerator at least 30 minutes before serving and bring to room temperature.