how to make three bean salad | kelly’s kitchen

Hi everyone, welcome back to Kelly’s Kitchen. I am happy you’re here today. As summer kicks into full swing, I was reminiscing about summer picnics – specifically summer picnic salads. My favorite summer picnics are the ones that accompany outdoor performances, like Shakespeare in the park or a summer concert series.

Summer Picnics

Three Bean Salad is a quintessential picnic dish. It turns out it’s my grandmother’s favorite salad (I just found this out yesterday when my Mom asked me what today’s recipe was). I definitely remember this dish on repeat during the summers I spent with my grandparents. 

When I was young, growing up in the San Francisco Bay Area, my grandparents would often take me to the Stern Grove Festival which is a summer concert series. Sigmund Stern Grove is a beautiful eucalyptus grove near the Sunset district in the City.

My grandmother would pack picnic snacks and warm clothes (because the coldest winter is summer in San Francisco). We would claim a spot, spread our blanket and bundle up. During the concert we played cards and ate our snacks. I can remember the smell of the steaming coffee from my grandparent’s big green Stanley thermos. The summer concert series is in its 83rd season! But sadly this year, it’s presented as a virtual Best of the Fest series. 

Three Bean Salad

But I digress, Let’s get to that recipe!

You can use whatever beans you like for this salad. And you don’t have to limit it to just three types of bean, either. That said, I never much liked canned green beans – they’re too mushy and salty, so I am using fresh yellow and green beans. Along with canned garbanzo beans and Great Northern Beans. 

First, I made the dressing. There is quite a bit of sugar in this dressing. Traditionally, Three Bean Salad has a tangy sweet dressing. But feel free to cut back on the amount of sugar if you like. 

Three Bean Salad

Course Condiment, Marinade, Salad, Sauce


  • 1/3cupApple Cider Vinegar
  • 1/4 cupGranulated Sugar
  • 3tbspExtra Virgin Olive Oil
  • 1.5tspKosher Salt, more to taste
  • 1/4tspBlack Pepper, more to taste
  • Combine ingredients in a shaker jar and shake well to mix.

For the Salad

  • 115 ozCan Garbanzo Beans
  • 115 ozCan Great Northern Beans, or Kidney Beans
  • 1Bunch Green Beans, and/or Yellow Beans
  • 1Bunch Flat Leaf Parsley
  • 1/2Red onion, or a Whole Small Onion
  • 1Bunch Celery
  • Mix all ingredients with dressing and refrigerate for a few hours before serving.

If a dressing has only a few ingredients, like this one, I rarely take the blender out. Instead I use a jar or an old salad dressing bottle I have saved. I pour the ingredients in and just shake it. it’s so much easier and more effective than mixing it with a whisk.

If you’re using fresh beans, which I totally recommend, wash them and chop them up into bite size pieces.  Then, this isn’t necessary, but I like to give them a quick blanch in boiling water, just to take the raw edge off and slightly soften them. 

After a minute or two, strain them and run cold water over them, you can also plunge them into an ice bath. 

Drain and rinse your canned beans and throw them in a mixing bowl with your green beans. Then dice your celery, onions and rough chop your parsley. 

All that’s left to do is mix it all together. 


And there you have it!

This salad just gets better over time, so make it a few hours before you plan to serve it so the flavors of the dressing can marinate the beans and vegetables. I like to put it in a Ziplock and squeeze out all the air to ensure all the beans and veggies are getting their fair share of the dressing, and not just the veggies at the bottom of the bowl. This also is nice because it takes up less space in the fridge.

What are your favorite picnic foods? If you haven’t thought of making Three Bean Salad in a long time, I encourage you to whip one up. I hadn’t had this salad in years, and I am not sure why it never occurred to me to make it. It’s so good and nourishing with all the protein from the beans – perfect for a hot summer day. If you’re looking for other great picnic food, check out my fried chicken recipe, or my German potato salad recipe! Don’t forget you can find me on opens in a new windowInstagram and opens in a new windowFacebook too! Take care, be well, xo Kelly

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  1. ALICE J PETERSEN wrote:

    I am enjoying your recipes and your beautiful photos of the foods you make. I’m so glad you have joined Beth’s blog which I have enjoyed for several years. And it’s wonderful that you and your husband are there in Athens with Beth!

    Posted 7.11.20
    • Good morning Alice, thank you so much! I really enjoy having a part in Style at a Certain Age. Alex and I love living in Athens and being so close to all of his family. Thank you so much for your kind words and your years of support. Have a great weekend! xo, Kelly

      Posted 7.11.20
    • Sylvia Espinoza wrote:

      5 stars
      Hi, Kelly! Another “must-try!” Saturday recipe! Judging from all the upbeat comments, you’ve hit another Grand Slam. Kudos! Thank you for walking us through your memories of childhood and the Three Bean Salad. Your writing is so good, you transport the reader with vivid images! I declare I could see and feel and smell and taste everything you described. Thank you again for lifting us above COVID-19 cares every Saturday morn~

      Posted 7.11.20
      • Thank you so much for your kind words, Sylvia. 🙂 I really enjoy every aspect of these Saturday posts: from coming up with the recipe, making it, photographing it, and writing about it, it’s all such a joy! Thanks again for tuning in this week, I enjoy hearing from you. I hope you enjoy your weekend! xo Kelly

        Posted 7.11.20
  2. Paula wrote:

    Kelly, this is another great recipe. I do enjoy trying them. Thank you for posting them.

    Posted 7.11.20
    • Thank you, Paula. I am so happy you are enjoying the Saturday recipes. Have a great weekend! xo Kelly

      Posted 7.11.20
  3. Carroll Niesen wrote:

    This looks very pretty, just like the other food you make. I am considering using some honey in place of the sugar when I give this salad a try.

    Posted 7.11.20
    • Hi Carroll, agave nectar would be another good sugar substitute. Let me know how it works out for you! Thanks for tuning in to read today’s post. Have a lovely weekend, xo Kelly

      Posted 7.11.20
  4. Denise wrote:

    Sounds delicious and reminds me of my grandmother’s bean salad. On my list for next week. Love your clear directions and variety of recipes.

    I’ve followed Beth’s blog for a couple of years and think you’re recipes are a wonderful addition.

    Posted 7.11.20
    • Hi Denise, thank you so much! Isn’t it fun to reminisce through recipes? Let me know how you like this recipe. Take care! xo Kelly

      Posted 7.11.20
  5. Julie Greene wrote:

    Hi Kelly,

    This was a very timely post for me. I have some leftover fresh green beans that were begging to be used upon a very clever way. A three bean salad is perfect. My husband the sweet freak will love the sweet and sour dressing lol.
    I look forward to your Saturday morning posts…they Re lovely and delicious.


    Posted 7.11.20
    • Hello Julie, perfect timing indeed! This salad was my solution to the very same issue. Thank you so much for regularly reading my posts and writing in; I very much enjoy hearing from you each week. Have a beautiful weekend (let me know how your husband likes the recipe!), xo Kelly

      Posted 7.11.20
  6. Terry wrote:

    Hi Kelly, I am going to make this now it will go great with the tri tip I’m BBQing later today.
    I’m not telling gma it’ll be a surprise, ha

    Have a great Saturday

    Posted 7.11.20
    • Hey Mom, that’ll be a nice surprise for Grandma. Dinner tonight sounds like a winner! Talk to you later, xo Kelly

      Posted 7.11.20
  7. MaryLynne wrote:

    Three or four bean salad is a staple at my house. The last time I made it i didn’t have time for it to marinate for a day like I usually do so I heated the dressing before pouring it over the beans. It was the best ever. I add lots of fresh basil and tarragon to my recipe which is similar to yours. I have an herb garden so everything gets fresh herbs

    Posted 7.11.20
    • Hi MaryLynne, Tarragon sounds like a great addition! I feel like it’s an underrated/under-used herb. I love having an herb garden, it’s wonderful to use fresh herbs on everything! Thanks so much for reading today and for writing in! xo Kelly

      Posted 7.11.20
  8. Deanna wrote:

    5 stars
    Looks delish Kelly! I think I have everything on hand to make this except for some green beans. Gonna make it for a side dish tonight. So hot here in Illinois, all we want to eat is salads. Enjoy the weekend!!

    Posted 7.11.20
    • I hear ya, Deanna! We are definitely on a salad kick now that the temps are into the 90’s. Let me know how you like the recipe – enjoy! xo Kelly

      Posted 7.11.20
  9. I look forward to making and eating this salad. It sounds so yummy. Thanks for the salad dressing tip on using a jar.

    Posted 7.11.20
    • Hi Linda, my pantry is slowly filling up with empty jars! I have quite a habit of saving them, but they sure do come in handy. Have a great weekend! xo Kelly

      Posted 7.11.20
  10. Andrea wrote:

    Oh Kelly, that is one of my favourite salads. It really satisfies my appetite and can make a nice afternoon snack, or just calm the munchies. Bored eating is a real problem right now too, so I will definitely mix up a batch – good for weight control. 🎁

    Posted 7.11.20
    • Hi Andrea! Yes, beans are so nourishing and good for us. Bored eating is an issue for many of us, so it’s really nice to have some easy go-to recipes for healthy snacks and meals. Take care, xo Kelly

      Posted 7.11.20
  11. Gwen Marie Ewing wrote:

    I am making this for dinner tonight! I have the canned beans, onion and mixed the dressing up! I have to run to the store for green beans! It will be delicious with our baked chicken tonight! Thanks! I’m really enjoying your recipes!

    Posted 7.14.20
  12. Darlene Brown wrote:

    Hi Kelly! Just a minor suggestion – you might want to include Kelly’s Kitchen in the title or somewhere in the printable version of your recipes. This way, if someone wants to refer to the article and directions, or look at the photo to see how small you chopped an ingredient, they will be able to quickly find your recipe. (I have so many recipes and some of my earlier ones, sadly, do not have the source.) This makes it easier to share your recipes.

    Posted 7.14.20
    • That’s a really great idea, Darlene. I am not sure why it didn’t occur to me to do this before. Thank you so much for the suggestion! xo Kelly

      Posted 7.15.20
  13. Gwen Marie Ewing wrote:

    I wanted to let you know I made this recipe a few weeks ago and it was delicious! It lasted a while and we ate it all! The best 3 bean salad I have ever eaten!

    Posted 8.3.20
    • Hi Gwen! Thank you for writing back to let me know you made the salad. I am so happy you enjoyed it! Take care, xo Kelly

      Posted 8.3.20

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