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Three-Bean Salad Recipe

Recently, I had the far-too-rare-these-days chance to see old friends not once but twice in one weekend, and I was delighted. The first occasion was a friend’s barbecue, and I knew that was going to be fun. My friend is a great cook and he kept everyone happy with fish, hot dogs, and burgers off the grill. It was a perfect summer evening.

The second occasion was a trip to the beach the following day, and culinarily I knew that it was going to be a bit trickier. The words “Pot Luck” tipped me off. For me, “Pot Luck” means “Cook or go hungry.” It’s hard for me to trust that a bunch of other folks are ever going to be able to feed me properly, especially when that bunch of folks is so loosely organized that it can barely settle on which beach to go to.

After much back and forth, we agreed on Jacob Riis, and I took matters into my own hands when it came to the food. I made enough three-bean salad to feed an army. I’m not sure how I settled on the idea for a three-bean salad, but the idea came to me, unbidden, shortly after I heard those words “Pot Luck.”

I got started a few days before the trip to the beach. I looked through Bittman’s “How to Cook Everything.” I checked “The Food 52 Cookbook.” I scanned the Internet. Strangely, I couldn’t find a half decent recipe for a three-bean salad. I found lots of odd but apparently popular suggestions to use canned green beans. Talk about a horror.

I decided on kidney, garbanzo (chick peas), and black beans, and, in the interest of saving time, I figured I could get two cans of each and be done with the salad in about ten minutes. Then I looked at the price of the organic beans: $1.72 a can at my coop. What the?

So I bought dried beans in bulk to save money. Later did the math on what I saved: about $6. It took me two hours to cook the beans (more on that in a moment) so I saved $3 an hour. Perhaps it is not really worth it by a simple dollar measure, but I couldn’t wrap my head around paying more than $10 for the beans alone. I would have felt silly about being so thickheaded, but the home-cooked beans were a revelation. They were incredibly delicious, and they would have been worth it at three-times the price.

The kidney beans and the black beans held their own, but it was the chick peas that settled it for me. I never really liked canned chick peas, finding them kind of bland and slimy, but my home cooked garbanzo beans were so nutty tasting and flavorful, I could have eaten them plain, as a snack.

I wasn’t sure about quantities, and, after some further research, decided to cook a cup of each, which gave me a huge bowl of beans. There seems to be no end to the discussion of how to best cook beans. Presoak? Salt? No salt? I was momentarily nervous, but then just decided to wing it. I cooked each cup with three cups of water, and I just cooked them until they were done. The kidney beans were ready in about forty-five minutes, and the garbanzo and black beans took longer. I realized it’s not even necessary to measure the water. Just keep them covered and drain them when they are done. They should be soft but not falling apart, with a little crunch to each one. Stir them a bit as they cook. It’s not hard. You can do it.

I added chopped red pepper, red onion, and cilantro, and I was finished. For a dressing, Santa Maria (an expert in these things) suggested plain white vinegar, olive oil, and salt and pepper. She was right on the money. The salad was tasty and delicious, and it fed more than six adults, with leftovers for my lunch the next day.  

Three-Bean Beach-Day Salad

  • 1 cup dried Black Beans
  • 1 cup dried Garbanzo Beans (chick peas)
  • 1 cup dried Kidney Beans
  • 2 whole red bell peppers, diced
  • 1 whole head of cilantro, diced
  • 1 large (or two small) red onions, diced

Rinse the beans carefully.

Using three pots (or working sequentially) cook the beans—each variety at a time—in about three cups of water. Cover, bring to a boil, and turn down to a simmer. Stir them occasionally to keep any from sticking to the bottom of the pot. Add more water if necessary. Drain them when cooked (break into one or two with a fork or knife and look at its inside—it should be moist all the way through, and not yet at the point where it’s collapsing and turning to mush). It will take anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 hours for each pot of beans. You can do this the day ahead of time.

Cool the beans and combine them in a large bowl.

Add the other ingredients, and dress to taste with olive oil and white vinegar. Salt and pepper to taste.

Note: the salad stores well, either dress or undressed, for a few days. 

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