July 26th, 2011

Three Bean Salad, made anew


A garden will teach you.

If nothing else, the lesson is that there are no constants–what thrived one summer may do poorly the next; what escaped borers, beetles, and bunnies over one growing season may be ravaged by any or all the following. There are so many variables: too much rain, too little; stifling humidity, parching heat; blights, droughts, floods, infestations, wind and hail damage…the dizzying list goes on!

Bill’s dad, a Missouri farmer, always said that the best you could expect was one really good year out of seven. If you accomplished that, you could survive in farming.


This year, at “The Hooper Garden” (our little urban plot in my brother’s office backyard,) things have been more promising than in previous years. Spring was wet, with balmy days and cool nights. Everything got off to a terrific start. Our tomato plants became laden with green, hopefully soon-to-ripen fruit. Squash plants grew large, their fanlike leaves shielding basketfuls of zucchinis and yellow crooknecks.


My pride, though, resides with our string bean crop. We planted two rows each of French haricot verts and yellow wax. Initial visits by a hungry neighborhood rabbit made me fearful that we wouldn’t get any beans at all!

We replanted the decimated patches, and crossed our fingers. Fortunately, that rabbit preferred only the young leaves–once the plants reached a certain height or age, they were deemed undesirable to our furry garden connoisseur.

As it worked out, some plants existed to feed him, and the remainder flourished for us. Another lesson: plant enough, and there’s enough for all.


My big tangle of green and yellow beans reminded me of a dish that I never cared for—Three Bean Salad.

Likely you’ve seen that mix of chopped string beans, pintos, and sweet vinegar dressing packed in jars on supermarket shelves, often purchased, then dumped into bowls at a picnic. “Three Bean” recipes that I’ve come across call for canned beans, canned pintos, bottled dressing. No wonder I passed over it.

But, it doesn’t have to be that way. It couldn’t have been always that way.

At one time, I suspect, people made this salad from garden-picked beans, and pintos simmered in garlic on the stovetop.


I suspect they blanched and chilled their beans tender-crisp, before cutting them into smaller pieces. They’d test the beans for doneness, relishing the sweet pop of the pods.

And, no doubt, they’d whisked up a robust vinaigrette chock-full of red onion, red bell pepper, and flat-leaf parsley.
And shake in a little extra S&P.

They’d give it all a generous toss, until all the beans gleamed with a shiny coat.

Now here was a summer picnic salad, they’d bluster.
No sugar was needed, not even a tetch.


1/2 lb. dried Pinto Beans (or other meaty bean—we love Rancho Gordo’s selection of beans)
2-3 cloves Garlic
1 Bay Leaf
Sea Salt
Black Pepper
Red Pepper Flakes–pinch
1 lb. Green Beans
1 lb. Yellow Wax Beans
1 small Red Onion, diced small
1 small Red Bell Pepper, diced small
1 batch Chunky Herbed Vinaigrette (recipe below)

Place pinto beans in a deep saucepan with minced garlic (2 cloves) and a bay leaf, and cover with water by at least 2 inches.
Season with salt, black pepper, and a pinch of red pepper flakes. Bring to a boil, then reduce and simmer, covered, for at least 2 hours–until beans are tender, but not mushy. Allow to cool. (This can be done ahead of time, the day before…)

Bring a skillet of water seasoned with salt and sliced garlic clove to a boil. Prepare an icy bath to plunge in the string beans when cooked. Cook haricots verts for 1-2 minutes and “shock” in the icy bath. Cook yellow wax beans for 4-5 minutes and then shock as well.

Drain and dry off blanched, chilled beans. Cut on the diagonal into pieces. Combine with chilled pintos, additional diced red onion and red bell pepper.

Toss well with Chunky Herbed Vinaigrette.

Makes a nice bowl for a picnic.



1 clove Garlic, minced
3 T. finely chopped Red Bell Pepper
3 T. finely chopped Red Onion
3 T. finely chopped Italian Parsley
4 T. Red Wine Vinegar
Sea Salt and Cracked Black Pepper, to taste
pinch Red Pepper Flakes
1 cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Vigorously whisk all of the ingredients together EXCEPT the olive oil. Slowly drizzle in the olive oil to emulsify the dressing. Makes one chunk cup!


The Hooper Garden


Our Yellow Wax and Green Bean Plants


Beauty at Work

Posted in Gluten Free, Recipes, Salads, Vegan, Vegetarian Dishes

25 Responses to “Three Bean Salad, made anew”
  1. Tammy Says:

    Gosh, I’m so impressed. I am also one of those people that turns away from the traditional three bean salad. This one I could try.

  2. My Little Expat Kitchen Says:

    I have never grown anything in my life and I can only imagine what it feels like to go out to your own garden and pick fresh beans.
    I’m not familiar with the three-bean salad, it is obviously American (?), but I would make your salad in a heartbeat.
    My favorite flower is the sunflower. I love that last photo Nancy.

  3. Tracy Says:

    I’ll have to tell Roberto about “one really good year out of seven”. We’re both a bit frustrated with the garden these days.

  4. Kitchen Belleicious Says:

    You just made three bean salad look like the best thing on earth. Seriously, the colors and the dressing- AMAZING> A revamp on an old classic and i am dying to try out your version!

  5. Epicurea Says:

    this looks absolutely fantastic, i love green bean salad and this takes it up a notch! a little tip from my grandma is to add some of the greens of the beans when blanching, intensifies the flavor!

  6. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Oh, thank you—I love that tip!

  7. Denise | Chez Danisse Says:

    What a fun glimpse into The Hooper Garden. Such grand sunflowers. Beautiful bean salad, your fresh beans are so pretty. I like your chunky herb vinaigrette and your plant enough lesson.

  8. Juliana Says:

    My husband would devour this salad…looks beautiful and I love the dressing.
    Hope you are having a wonderful week Nancy :-)

  9. raquel erecipe Says:

    I was so envious on every garden I saw, I love the Hooper Garden, I have one but not great… I love the salad specially when it comes fresh from the garden

  10. Joyti Says:

    When I was five, I planted my first green bean plant – and I was so proud of it. Your green beans reminded of that :-)
    The salad looks delicious!

  11. Michele | Cooking At Home Says:

    An amazing and beautiful garden-fresh salad. Gardening is hard sometimes–but what a pay off. Love the sunflowers!

  12. Maggie Says:

    Nance, your salad and garden patch both look amazing!!! I’m having bean envy as mine have yet to yield a bean, and it’s almost August! Ever hopeful though!!

  13. Candy Cossuth Says:

    Did I detect strawberries in this bean salad? I also throw extra this and that into a recipe. In my South Florida winter planting, I might add some green bean plants although I have very little space.

  14. Faith Says:

    What a lovely garden, Nancy! Your string beans are stunning and that herbed vinaigrette sounds incredible. My mom adores three bean salad so I’m passing this post on to her!

  15. goodfoodmatters Says:

    Candy, those flecks of red come from the sweet red bell pepper, cut into small pieces, some of which is vigorously beaten into the vinaigrette–it does give it a kind of strawberry look. I found that beating the bits into the vinaigrette released more of their natural sweetness.
    I have really enjoyed growing the beans–bush bean style rather than climbers. And, truth be told, the yellow wax beans have a better flavor than the green!

  16. Nicole Says:

    Like Magda, I have never had a garden and with our moving so often I don’t even do house plants anymore. Pretty sad!!! Your garden looks like a labor of love. Great job on the bean salad. I can’t stand canned anything anymore, and it’s a shame that supermarkets have ruined so many of these great recipes. Your flavors must be quite intense being so fresh!

  17. Karen Says:

    Your garden looks wonderful, Nancy as do your beautiful string beans. Gardening is one of my favorite activities, especially when it involves fruits and veggies. I love how you paired the delicate string beans with a chunky vinaigrette. Lovely and light!

  18. bakerbynature Says:

    I have what they call a “black thumb” or perhaps a “baking thumb” really? Your garden my dear is lovely, as is that gorgeous salad.

  19. Anna Johnston Says:

    Your garden is beautiful. I’m so envious. And the salad is gorgeous, love all the colours. Bet it’s real tasty too. :) I adore that chunky vinegarette. Very pretty. Gonna make that ASAP! :)

  20. Barbara Says:

    My mother always made a 5 bean salad, but it had more of a sweet/sour vinaigrette, the kind that was common years ago. When I made it, I try to use as many fresh veggies as I can. I love that you can use so much from your lovely garden, Nancy. And your vinaigrette is exactly what I’d love.

  21. goodfoodmatters Says:

    I remember that sweet-sour styled dressing, Barbara–it was very popular in the 70’s and I liked it. I bet your mom’s 5 Bean Salad was delicious.

  22. kankana Says:

    I have been looking for those yellow beans but no luck! This looks healthy and delicious.

  23. Angie@Angiesrecipes Says:

    I have never had yellow beans before…your own garden salad looks simply terrific!

  24. Swigs and Grinds Says:

    Ugh, thank you for the gardening pep talk. I am a fickle gardener who starts out all gung ho, spends days in the beginning covered in dirt, planting, planning, hoping. I water a lot at first, and when things start to grow I am thrilled. Then inevitably, things start to dwindle, or get eaten by things, or have other weird problems I don’t know how to deal with. I slowy ebb on the watering, then things really dwindle and the cycle starts over. I’ve only been at this garden for 3 yrs, so maybe during one of the next four my garden will rock! Anyway thanks for the tips and the great blog!

  25. goodfoodmatters Says:

    hey swigsandgrinds—love your blog name, and your writing is great fun, too. don’t give up on the garden yet!

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