Mexican Three Bean Salad

Do you love a good three bean salad, you know, the kind with a sweet vinegary dressing? I do. It’s sort of that last minute pantry item type of dish that is quick and wonderfully filling when you are hungry.

This Mexican-inspired bean salad is a riff off the standard. It’s not really Mexican per se, but uses typical South-of-the-border ingredients such as crumbly Cotija cheese, black beans and pinto beans, jalapeño peppers, cilantro and a sweet dressing made with sugar and lime juice. All items that we happened to have in our pantry or fridge this week. So good!

Mexican Three Bean Salad

Mexican Three Bean Salad Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Cook time: 20 minutes
  • Marinating time: 1 hour
  • Yield: Serves 4-6


  • 1 15-ounce can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1/2 pound green beans
  • Salt
  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 3 green onions, sliced
  • 1-2 jalapenos, seeded, chopped
  • 1 large garlic clove, sliced thin
  • 1 cup Cotija queso seco cheese, crumbled (can sub feta)
  • 1/4 cup chopped cilantro
  • 1/3 cup lime juice
  • 1/4 cup sugar


1 Cut the ends off the green beans and slice into pieces about an inch long. Fill a medium sized pot halfway with salted water. Bring to a boil. Add the beans to the pot and boil for 5 minutes, or as long as it takes for the beans to get tender. Green beans can be highly variable in how long it takes to cook them to tenderness. More mature beans can take longer, up to 20 minutes.

2 Drain the green beans and put in the bowl with the pinto and black beans. Drizzle the olive oil over everything and toss to combine. Mix in the green onions, jalapeño, garlic, and Cotija cheese.

3 In a separate bowl, mix the lime juice and sugar until the sugar dissolves, then add it to the salad. Coat the beans well and let marinate for at least 1 hour, preferably several hours. Right before you serve, toss in the cilantro. Add more salt to taste if needed.

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Mexican Three Bean Salad

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Showing 4 of 18 Comments

  • Nancy Singleton Hachisu

    Elise, this caught my eye. I love the colors and I can taste the flavors together. I’m not sure I can see the sweet vinegar, but that’s just a personal thing. I’m really feeling some feta in this instead of cajita. But maybe that is because all of a sudden this year I am CRAVING feta. I suppose there is something happening in my body that wants vinegar and acrid tasting food. I wonder what that is? Whatever, I just roll with it. Love the photo, like I said, I can viscerally taste the salad (or at least my version of it). Nancy

  • Lisa

    A full cup of this: Cotija queso seco cheese, appears to be a major ingredient. Never heard of it, and certainly don’t know where to find it here in west central Florida. Any possible substitutions??

    You can use feta cheese as a substitute or just leave it out. ~Elise

  • Paula

    Elise, is there a substitute for cotija cheese. I’m not even going to TRY to find it on the seacoast of New Hampshire (if you know what I mean!) Someone mentioned feta – would that do it?
    Thanks, Paula

    Yep, feta will work fine. ~Elise

  • Gerri

    Could someone tell me what Cotija cheese tastes
    like? Thanks, Gerri

    It’s salty and crumbly, and just a little drier than feta. ~Elise

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