Mexican Three Bean Salad

Mexican Bean salad - a three bean salad with a Southwestern twist! Pinto beans, black beans, and green beans, with onions, jalapenos, Cotija cheese, cilantro with a sweet lime dressing.

  • 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 extra virgin 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 Boil the green beans: Cut the ends off the green beans and slice into pieces about an inch long. Fill a medium sized pot halfway with well 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 Combine with pinto beans, green onions, jalapeños, garlic, Cotija, olive oil: 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 Make dressing, add to salad to marinate: 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.

4 Right before you serve, toss in the cilantro. Add more salt to taste if needed.

Click on the comments you'd like to print with your recipe. Grayed out comments will not print.


  • [email protected]

    I used this recipe as inspiration, using a bit less jalapeño, fresh wax and green beans, plus a can of black beans, (no pintos) added a bit of chopped red bell pepper and mixed lime and lemon juice because I ran out of lime. The salad was delicious. Thanks Elise for a marvelous new take on 3-bean salad.

  • Penny

    Just had to add that this is AMAZING. Made it to snack on over the weekend and could not even come close to the 1-hour waiting time before eating the first dish, and it was fabulous. Looking forward to savoring the next day. Thanks Elise!

  • Kim

    Made this for dinner tonight, exactly as written, including Cotija, it was fabulous!


  • John Bilchak

    I made this for dinner last night as a side, and it was so awesome. Even better the next day. I used Fat Free Feta to cut down on the fat and it was still great.



  • CJ McD

    I love this recipe. I am a big bean fan and this is a perfect dish.

    (I make a slaw with the same ingredients. minus the beans of course.)


  • Jodi

    We had this with dinner last night. It was wonderful! Since I had only blue cheese on hand I left it out, used dried cilantro (didn’t grow it this year) and fresh parsley. I also used roasted red peppers instead of jalapenos and our yard-long beans for the green beans. This definitely is one I’ll be making again, especially for company.

  • Wednesday

    I have everything at home to make this but jalapeños and the cheese. Does anyone think this would be decent with cheddar?? And maybe a dash of hot sauce or crushed red pepper for spice? I don’t want to stop at the store on the way home. What do you think? I would appreciate any suggestions. It sounds wonderful as is, I look forward to trying the Cotija sometime!

    I would just skip the cheese. You could try a little hot sauce, or salsa, or chili pepper flakes for the heat. ~Elise

  • iny

    This is a great twist on a classic. Taco night in my house usually involves a rice side. Then everyone’s bloated :/ We’ll be having this with steak tacos tonight, thanks.

  • Judy

    Just finished making the salad. Couldn’t wait an hour to sample. It is delicious! I substituted with feta cheese and also added a little canned corn. Took some over to the neighbor and she finished the salad as we were standing and talking. She asked for the recipe and I’ve emailed it to her. This is a keeper for sure.


  • Susan

    As much as my taste for the sweeter than sour flavor combo has diminished over the years, I still love the old 50’s version of three bean salad. It’s so stinkin’ sweet, yet my taste for it has never waned..I still love it! I do make a similar dish to this one, but mine has ground cummin in it but no green beans. I’ve been tempted to add them, but haven’t done it so far. Love the idea of the cojita as a garnish.

  • Laura @ SweetSavoryPlanet

    I love this kinda food, so healthy and delicious and the perfect side dish. I love the saltiness of cotija cheese but it can be a little hard to find. Feta would be a great substitute don’t you think? These types of salads are common in the south where peas and beans are everywhere.

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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

  • 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