For nearly 10 years now, my friend Dan has traveled the world. First there were several years of Peace Corps in Ukraine and Uzbekistan, then a stint backpacking through Southeast Asia. After a pit stop at Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government, he’s now working with Burmese refugees in Thailand… I think; it’s hard to keep track.
Along the way, Dan has sampled some Fear Factor-worthy delicacies: crickets, cockroaches. He tells a story of a sheep that had the misfortune of ramming his host mother. In response, she killed it, made it into soup, and served it to Dan for lunch.
So I was a bit surprised at Dan last summer when we attended a neighborhood BBQ. He went a little gaga for the three-bean salad. It started out innocently enough: a small serving on his paper plate next to a hot dog. And then he went back for seconds, and then thirds. He spent a good chunk of the afternoon lingering by the bowl, as though he was guarding it.
At some point, I pulled him aside and said, “Dan, it’s three bean salad. What’s going on with you?” It turns out that Dan, the world-traveler, had never seen it before. After assuring him that this exotic delicacy could be found behind the deli counter in every supermarket in America, I convinced him to walk away from the bowl.
(In Dan’s defense, substitute “Molly” for “Dan”, “Rich” for “Molly” and “cheese plate” for “three-bean salad,” and you have pretty much every dinner party we go to. But I digress.)
As it turns out, I didn’t get a chance to make him his bowl of three-bean salad before he flew to Thailand. But last week, when I received a pound of wax beans and a pound of green beans in my CSA box, I knew the time had come to revisit this often-overlooked but delicious cookout favorite.
Dan’s coming back to the States for his brother’s wedding in August. And although the batch I’ve made here won’t last until then, I’ve assured him that there will be three bean salad waiting for him upon his arrival stateside.
Three Bean Salad
I’ve made this bowl of salad with beans bought directly from the farmer, but it can be made with canned beans in the winter time; heaven knows that’s how they do it at the local grocery store. But right now I am loving the fresh version of this dish.
Think of this recipe as a good point of departure. You can always add a can of chickpeas and make it a four bean salad. A green pepper, diced, would be great as well. Some chopped celery would also be excellent. And sliced black olives… you get the picture.
1 pound fresh green beans
1 pound wax beans
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Half a red onion, chopped into 1-inch pieces
1 cup white distilled vinegar
½ cup oil
¾ cup white sugar
1 teaspoon salt
- Set a large pot of salted water to boil.
- In a large bowl, combine the vinegar, oil, sugar and salt.
- Chop the onion and add that to the brine. Adding the onions to the brine at this early stage helps lessen their bite, so definitely do this step now.
- Trim the beans. I prefer the Cook’s Illustrated method of lining up the ends of a handful of beans on a cutting board and chopping off the heads with one cut, then doing the same to the other ends.
- By the time you’ve cleaned your two pounds of beans, your water should be boiling. Place the beans in the pot and set a timer for five minutes. While the beans are cooking, empty a tray of ice cubes into a bowl and fill it with cold water.
- When the five minutes have passed, quickly transfer the beans into the icy bath to blanch them.
- Once the beans have cooled off, grab them by the handful and roughly chop them into 1 to 2 inch pieces.
- Add the chopped beans and the drained and rinsed kidney beans to the onions and brine.
Marinate the bean salad for at least an hour. Longer is better; it will taste better in a day or two.