5 Tips for Better Bean Salads

updated May 2, 2019
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(Image credit: Nealy Dozier)

I make bean salads year-round, but they seem to make a more frequent appearance on the table as the weather warms up. This isn’t a surprise; bean salads are easy to prepare, taste great hot or cold, and make a light but filling main course or side. They are also often bland, mealy and terribly boring — but they don’t have to be. Here are 5 tips for making tastier, more memorable bean salads.

Use from-scratch beans instead of canned. Just doing this will improve a bean salad immeasurably, as beans cooked from scratch have a flavor and texture far superior to canned. That doesn’t mean you have to spend hours cooking beans anytime you want to make a salad, however. I make big batches in the slow cooker and freeze them in two-cup portions with a splash of vinegar, to keep them from getting mushy. When I need some beans, I thaw a container in the microwave or overnight in the fridge.

  1. Salt your beans while they cook, not after. Many recipes call for adding salt to beans at the end of cooking, under the logic that salt prevents the beans from softening, but salting only at the end of cooking results in beans that are bland. According to Harold McGee, salt does slow the rate at which beans absorb water, but doesn’t stop the process completely. I typically add about half the salt halfway through cooking and the other half toward the end of cooking, which seasons the beans without slowing down the cooking too much.
  2. Dress the beans while they are warm. Warm beans absorb dressings better. If you are starting with cold or room temperature beans, warm them in the microwave or on the stove before mixing them with the dressing.
  3. Use bold flavors. Fresh herbs, garlic, onions, Parmesan cheese, anchovies, mustard, and other big, bold flavors marry well with beans, which don’t taste like much on their own.
  4. Make it the night before. For even more flavor absorption, keep a dressed bean salad refrigerated overnight and serve it the next day. The extra time gives the salad a chance to fully meld.

Bean Salad Recipes on The Kitchn

More About Cooking Beans From Scratch

Do you have any tips for making better bean salads?

Related: Burritos to Bean Dip: 10 Bean Dishes for Warmer Weather

(Image: Nealey Dozier)