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The classic three-bean salad is perfect for picnics. It doesn't require mayonnaise, so it's safe to serve no matter the weather. It doesn't wilt and it can be prepared ahead (and even tastes better a day or two after it's made).

Though its origins are vague, the first recipes were probably for a three-bean pickle. This classic combo varies by region and is immensely adaptable, depending on what the cook has in the larder. If there are three different beans in the bowl, it qualifies as this old-fashioned picnic staple.

Our local "string" beans are headed to the farmers markets and they're fabulous when super fresh. For this salad choose green, yellow or purple beans that look plump and firm. (Just know that the purple beans turn dark green when cooked.) Simmer them just long enough to be tender; they should be slightly crisp to contrast with the creaminess of cooked dried beans. Kidney beans are classic, black beans are earthy, black-eyed peas are velvety — my favorite is a combination of cannellini beans for their creaminess and pinto beans for their mild, nutty taste. If you're short on time, canned beans are a fine option, but cooked dried beans are the best for flavor and a firmer texture.

Add a handful of diced fresh vegetables for interest and crunch — scallions, fennel or celery, sugar snap peas, corn kernels, red and orange peppers, plus lots of fresh herbs for zip. Though older recipes call for a few tablespoons of sugar in the dressing, I like to keep it simple and bright with a sharp white wine vinaigrette.

Serve this salad paired with marinated feta and tomatoes or sliced cold chicken. Add a loaf of dense crusty bread and the picnic is complete, no matter where you lay out the summery spread.

Beth Dooley is the author of "The Perennial Kitchen." Find her at

Three Bean Picnic Salad

Serves 4 to 6.

Note: This salad is easily doubled or tripled for a crowd. You can make it up to five hours ahead and hold it at room temperature or prepare it the day before and refrigerate. Adjust seasonings with more salt and vinegar just before serving. From Both Dooley.

• 8 oz. green beans or wax beans, trimmed

• 1/4 c. extra-virgin olive oil, plus a little more for seasoning

• 1/4 c. white wine vinegar

• 1/2 c. thinly sliced onion

• 1/2 c. thinly sliced fennel

• 1 c. cooked or canned chickpeas, rinsed and drained (see below)

• 1 c. cooked or canned pinto or kidney beans, rinsed and drained (see below)

• 1/2 cup mixed chopped fresh herbs such as basil, parsley, and cilantro

• Salt and freshly ground black pepper, to taste

• Pinch red pepper flakes, to taste


Slice the beans into 2-inch lengths and bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. Blanch the beans until they turn bright and are crisp-tender. Immediately drain in a colander and run under cold tap water to stop the cooking. Drain, cool and pat dry.

In a large salad bowl, whisk together the olive oil and vinegar and toss in the onion, fennel, cooked chickpeas and pinto beans, fresh herbs and then toss in the cooked green beans, tossing to coat with the vinaigrette. Season with salt and freshly ground black pepper and red pepper flakes. Right before serving, adjust the seasonings, adding more vinegar, salt and pepper and red pepper flakes to taste.

To cook dry beans: Consider 1/3 cup dry beans per 1 cup cooked beans. Put the beans in a pot, add enough cold water to cover the beans by 4 inches. Soak overnight. Drain the beans and turn into a pot. Add enough water to cover the beans by 2 inches. Set over high heat, bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover, and simmer the beans until tender, about 30 to 35 minutes. Drain. Store in the refrigerator in a covered container.