Three Bean Salad

3-bean salad is one of those quintessential American summer picnic foods. It’s usually made with canned green beans instead of the cannellini white beans I’m using here. But I really don’t care for canned green beans, so cannellini it is. Also of note is that three bean salad traditionally has a dressing comprised of vinegar, oil and sugar. The sugar is important. I tried making this salad without out sugar and it just didn’t work.

Three Bean Salad Recipe

  • Prep time: 10 minutes
  • Yield: Serves 4 to 8.

Ingredients

  • 1 15-oz can cannellini beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15-oz can kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • 1 15-oz can garbanzo beans, rinsed and drained
  • 2 celery stalks, chopped fine
  • 1/2 red onion, chopped fine
  • 1 cup fresh, finely chopped flat-leaf parsley
  • 1 Tbsp fresh finely chopped rosemary
  • 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
  • 1/3 cup granulated sugar
  • 1/4 cup olive oil
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon black pepper

Method

1 In a large bowl, mix the beans, celery, onion, parsley and rosemary.

2 In a separate small bowl, whisk together the vinegar, sugar, olive oil, salt, and pepper. Add the dressing to the beans. Toss to coat.

3 Chill beans in the refrigerator for several hours, to allow the beans to soak up the flavor of the dressing.

49 Comments

  1. Larry

    This is similar to what my family has always made. Maybe it’s an italian thing, I never had it with green beans. It was always chick peas, kidney beans and canellini beans. This variation looks great.

  2. Larry

    Sounds de-lish. You can try making it without sugar, using some sweet carrots, finely chopped, and a little lemon juice. Then serve it with hummus and pitas. mmmm.

  3. Roseann

    I love all the classic recipes you often reprise – thank you! This recipe brought back many wonderful memories of summer meals on my family’s screened-in back porch (where my dad made a table from a tree stump and half a huge wooden cable-spool – the kind telephone wire was wrapped on – big enough for five kids plus as many friends). And you’re absolutely right: the sugar is the key.

  4. Michelle

    Can’t wait to try that – yum!

    I’m not a fan of canned green beans, either, but I have a tip (from an elderly Italian friend) to make an very nice cold ‘salad’ of them: Simply pour some Ken’s or Wishbone Italian salad dressing over those green beans, and sit them in the ‘fridge for an hour or two – voila: edible canned beans. Serve as a side dish alone, or over some lettuce. (PS: the brand of bean makes a HUGE differance, too. DelMonte seems to be the favorite in my family).

  5. lawchick

    I have made a similar salad for years, but also add black beans and red bell pepper for color. I don’t use a sweet dressing, though – not our family’s taste. Instead, I make a simple vinaigrette of olive oil, red wine vinegar, garlic, salt, cayenne and black pepper, and usually a pinch of dried oregano. My elementary-school age kids go nuts for this stuff, which is wonderful given the nutritional value.

  6. Matt

    The sugar may be key, but I honestly thought there was too much called for in this recipe. Its just about personal taste though, as I like my salads more on the vinegar side as opposed to the sweet side

  7. Lucy Wiley

    Three-bean salad is wonderful, in that you can adapt it to your own personal taste in beans. I use the recipe in Peg Bracken’s I Hate to Cook Book, which is similar to yours, but uses green beans, wax beans & kidney beans. Not liking kidney beans, I substituted bean sprouts. To add color, I put in a small jar of pimentos. To add crunch, I put in a few water chestnuts, julienned.
    This is a great dish to take to covered-dish events, because it doesn’t need to be kept especially cold, nor does it have to be heated.
    And after all the beans are eaten up, we use the liquid to marinate and season chicken or pork.
    Lucy

  8. Kim

    I make this salad but use Great Northern beans instead of green beans and chopped green onions instead of red onion, no sugar but Good Seasonings Italian dressing prepared. I also add extra basil, parsely and Italian seasoning. Always get compliments and requests for the recipe when take to a pot luck.

  9. Cheri Flight

    I was asked to bring a three bean salad to cookout this week. Not being a fan of this kind of salad, I had no recipe. Found this online and made it for the pary. Wow!!! I absolutely LOVED it and so did the guests. The sugar is definitely a key ingredient.

  10. Anonymous

    This salad rocks its one of the best I’ve tried so far.

    Not too vinegar like. It’s just right esp when it has marinated 24 hours.

    We all love it and will use it again and again. Thank you so much for sharing.

  11. Tina

    This recipe turned out great. I substituted Splenda for the sugar and cut back on the amount (to 1/4 cup). It still tasted wonderful. Thank you.

  12. Elise

    Hi Carol – the dressing for this particular salad is a sweet/sour dressing, given the sugar and the vinegar. If you remove the sugar, then what you have is just a very acidic dressing, which is fine, if that’s what you want. Traditionally though, bean salads are both sweet and sour.

  13. melissa

    Wonderful! I would use less oil though. I added corn to add color and it went great with the beans! Would definitely recommended making this. It’s quick, healthy and delicious.

  14. SpinDiva

    This is beautiful and so delicious. I made if for my dad who is a diabetic so I had to replace the sugar with splenda. It was still delicious. Thanks.

  15. Alissia

    This recipe was sooo amazing! I never had bean salad before this because the canned version was so scary looking, but this recipe is so good I can now see why they make it. The cannellini beans are an excellent substitution too. We love them and they end up in all kinds of stuff at our house.

  16. danny

    I heartily recommend subbing about 1/4 cup Stevia for the sugar to provide low-glycemic and nutritional sweetening. Awesome thanks!

  17. Sasha

    Elise- thank you so much for all your hard work on this website. This is my #1 website for comforting, delicious recipes that everybody just loves. Your photos are always enticing and I enjoying knowing that you and your family are always up to something new in the kitchen, which you so generously share with your readers.

    Tomorrow we’re having a fellowship meal at our church and I’m bringing this three-bean salad. I’ve relied on your recipes before for special events in our own home, and I look forward to incorporating your family’s favorites into our family’s favorites!

  18. Staci

    This salad is awesome! I made it for a BBQ and got so many compliments. Thanks!
    I decided to make it after I bought a three bean salad from a gourmet deli in NY and loved it. This recipe was just as great as the pricey salad.

  19. Carrie

    Delicious! I made this bean salad a couple of months ago for a potluck at work and it was a hit! The rosemary gave it a great flavor. I am making it again tonight for another party at work tomorrow.

  20. Kristi

    Wondering if I can substitute dried rosemary for the fresh…living in the midwest, our fresh herbs are outrageously priced! I LOVE your site, Elise. It’s the first place I go when I am looking for a new recipe. And all that I’ve made my family enjoys immensely. Thank you for sharing.

    Yes, but use less. Add to taste. (And thank you for your kind words regarding the site!) ~Elise

  21. kathy eller

    I sooo want to make this. My son is allergic to apples, so no apple cider vinegar for us. Will it work with white distilled, or rice vinegar?

    Yes, either of those vinegars would work fine. ~Elise

  22. mike

    I don’t use the sugar or the olive oil. Instead I use a jar of apple jelly and cook that with the apple cidar vinegar and thicken the liquid with a couple teaspoons of corn starch. Fresh basil is good in this salad too.

  23. Eric

    Really great recipe! I add a rounded tsp of smoked paprika, which i thought balanced the sweetness (but i’m addicted to smoked paprika these days).

    Cheers!

  24. Liane

    I just made this recipe and let it sit overnight. It is tasty and very pretty. I added corn for a little sweetness, added green onion because I had it, and cut back on the sugar (used 1/2 cup for a double recipe) and salt (used 1 tsp). If I make it again I may add a little more salt and some cayenne pepper for some kick.

  25. Julie

    Elise~I make this recipe often and have substituted various vegetables. I have used green and yellow beans, onion, gr. pepper, diced tomato, celery and cucumber.
    I’ve even partially cooked asparagus and carrots until tender/crisp, cooled and added them to the salad. Great taste!

  26. Shannon

    I grew up with a three bean salad that was not sweet, so not adding sugar worked out just fine for me. I don’t think it is really necessary for it to be tasty. I love it without! It reminds me of summer days at the beach.

  27. Tracey

    This is great so quick and easy. I didn’t have the red onion so used a regular onion, I left out the celery and used dried crushed rosemary, it tasted great!! I would certainly recommend this recipe..great for a pot luck.

  28. Mark S

    I had two big bags of green and yellow beans from the garden so I used those, garbonzo, red kidneys.
    Iv’e been making this for years but your dressing is absolutely wonderful, think it’s the touch of rosemary.
    Thanks for another great recipe.

  29. Paul

    I use the “I hate to cook book” recipe, but I add one more ingredient. Chop a couple of tablespoons of Japanese sweet pickled ginger and add to the mix. (That pink stuff from the Sushi Bar.) Let it soak.

  30. Rhonda

    This tastes amazing. My only problem with it is the soupy liquid on the bottom of the bowl. It never got sucked into the beans. Next time will use half the liquid asked for.

  31. Rita

    For Rhonda – When you get down to the “soupy stuff,” you can just add another can or so of beans, some more celery, peppers, onion, etc. (eyeball it), let it marinate a day, and dig right back in. Double duty. I have a bowl of bean salad in my fridge almost all the time – Great side for my lunchtime sammy (takes my mind off chips!)

  32. Diane Politi

    I’ve made this recipe twice now! I used different bean combos each time…this latest batch had 4 beans….garbanzo, green beans, kidney beans and black beans! Very colorful and delicious!

  33. Vikki

    I don’t think the sugar is absolutely necessary – I made an Italian dressing of sort with chopped garlic, onion powder, and some grated parmesan and asiago – and red wine vinegar instead of apple cider. I make this usually for lunch on long hikes. Let it sit overnight and it’s delicious!

  34. Karena

    I have made this recipe more times than I can count, so I figured I ought to say thanks! I make this with kidney beans, chick peas, and green beans – it’s the only way my husband will touch green beans! It’s supposed to be 90 degrees here tomorrow – this is already in the fridge, ready for a no-fuss, no-cook supper, complemented my fresh tomatoes and a crusty baguette. Summer perfection!

  35. Susie

    I just made this to take to a work party. It was really good! Everyone commented on how good it was. I do think I might cut the Rosemary down a bit, since it is pretty strong, but the longer it marinates, the more the flavors even out. I’ll definitely make it again. It’s super easy too. Very fresh tasting.

  36. speter

    excellent dish! i cut down the sugar by a few tablespoons and was not in the mood for rosemary so i skipped it. it was really good and the kids gobbled it up too. good way for vehetarians like us to get protein and fiber. next time i think i will decrease the sugar even more. this recipe is a keeper!!

  37. Patti

    Shame on me for not following my gut. I used the called for amount of sugar and this salad now tastes like a desert. It’s far too sweet and I’ve even tried rinsing the beans. It is about personal taste but I was hooked when I read that the sugar was key. It’s not. I did however substitute the rosemary with cilantro. I wouldn’t tell you to do this unless you like cilantro. If you want some sweetness perhaps you’ll want to add a pinch here and there (of sugar) until it tastes right to you. I’ve never used sugar before and loved three bean salad so it’s my own fault.

  38. lynn

    instead of sugar, use 4 tablespoons of honey- much healthier and extremely tasty. one can leave out the cider, grape vinegar is equally good. i added chives and salad celery for crunch and parsley and lentils… was fantastic!!!

  39. Thomas

    I’ve been making this for several years now. Great recipe! And everyone I know loves it. I only use half the amount of sugar and found that to be the perfect amount. If not, it is a little too sweet. Thanks!

  40. Trish Morgan

    I’ve never been a fan of bean salad, until now.Thank you for this brillant recipe. This has become my standards when there’s nothing in the house to take for lunch, and I always love it. So quick, so simply, so tasty. I play with the dressing so its a bit different each time (depending what I have at home). This recipe has been a brillant find, thanks for sharing

  41. Leann cox

    I love this salad! It’s quick and easy! I did use less sugar (2 tablespoons) and salt but I do agree with Elise, sugar is key in the three bean salad. Thanks for posting such great recipes!

  42. Sandra

    We made this for a Super Bowl Party, it was way too sweet! 1 teaspoon of sugar would have been perfect.The rosemary was a nice touch.

  43. Nicole

    This recipe is wonderful! My son has been praising it since he ate it, and his father, who is a self-proclaimed bean-hater, liked it as well! Thank you so much for posting this!

I apologize for the inconvenience, but comments are closed. You can share your thoughts on our Facebook page ~ Elise.