This Make-Ahead Bean Salad Is Fresh Enough for Lunch, Sturdy Enough for Dinner

Plus, four tips and riffs to make it your own.

March 25, 2019
Photo by Ty Mecham

For me, salad inspiration often comes from expected places: The farmers' market; a favorite restaurant; cookbooks; beautiful pictures on Instagram and food sites. But in the case of one very special salad, inspiration came via the olive bar at Whole Foods.

I’ve long been obsessed with the marinated gigante beans that you can scoop into a deli container and buy by the pound. With their sharp vinegary bite, they’re a perfect addition to a charcuterie plate, an antipasto spread, or just eaten straight from the container. But, they’re not inexpensive—about $8 per pound at my local Whole Foods—and they can get pretty strong and sour in taste if they’re not fresh.

So I’m not sure why it took me so long to try a DIY version. Using my trusty Instant Pot, I cooked a batch of dried gigante beans (in just 35 minutes, no soaking required!), let them cool in the pot, then drained them well. For the marinade, I made a simple, zingy vinaigrette in a skillet with shallots, capers, red wine vinegar, and fresh herbs, then warmed the beans in it. (Warm beans are better able to soak up dressings and marinades than cold ones—a tip I picked up from Rancho Gordo’s cookbook, Heirloom Beans.) My quick-marinated beans were every bit as bright and delicious as my prototype, and even better, I could adjust the acid, oil, and seasoning to taste.

I could have stopped there—and you could too, if you just want to make your own DIY batch. But I wanted to create a meal-worthy salad to highlight my prized beans: Something simple enough for a busy weekday, but special enough for a dinner party. I turned to radicchio, one of my favorite vegetables for salad-making, knowing its crunchy, bitter leaves would be a perfect match for the creamy, tangy, slightly sweet beans.

I followed the same steps for my quick-marinated beans, but this time, I poured the contents of the skillet (both the warm vinaigrette and beans) over a big bowl of radicchio to ever so slightly wilt it. (Think warm bacon vinaigrette, but with beans!) Then, taking a cue from Toro Bravo’s Radicchio Salad with Manchego Vinaigrette, I tossed the dressed leaves with finely grated pecorino to help the cheese stick, rather than slip and slide to the bottom of the bowl. The resulting salad was everything I hoped for: Simple to prepare; full of contrasting colors, textures, and flavors; and satisfying enough to eat for lunch or dinner.

Join The Conversation

Top Comment:
“Couldn't stop eating this after it was photographed. So good!!!! Can't wait to make it at home. ”
— Emma L.

I think of this recipe as a two-for-one deal. You can make a big batch of the marinated big beans for snacking, or, without much extra work, a spunky, sturdy, any-season salad.

Here are a few tips and tricks for making this bean salad shine:

  • Season well: The classic ratio of oil to acid for vinaigrettes is 3 to 1. But for this salad, I go 3 to 2. Beans are rich in flavor, so plenty of acid is needed for balance. Same goes for salt: I add it little by little, until the flavors pop.

  • Serve at room temperature: I like this salad best when served straight away, or within an hour or two of assembling. But it’s also really good the next day, with a different yet still delicious flavor and texture after the beans and radicchio marinate longer in the vinaigrette. Just be sure to bring it to room temperature before serving.

  • Prep in advance: For easy lunches throughout the week, make a big batch of the marinated beans, and wash and cut up your radicchio and parsley, storing them in a ziplock bag. When you're ready to eat, dress a desired portion of the leaves with olive oil and red wine vinegar (instead of the warm vinaigrette), then toss in grated pecorino and the marinated beans. Desk lunches never looked so good.

  • Change it up!: Gigante, corona, and giant lima beans all work well for marinating, and even smaller cannellini, too. Canned beans are a perfectly acceptable substitute if you’re short on time—just make sure to drain and rinse them well. And get creative with the leaves! Kale, Boston, or Bibb lettuce work well in this salad, as do other types of herbs.

Do you love browsing through the Whole Foods salad bar? Tell us what you like to pick up in the comments!

See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Brinda Ayer
    Brinda Ayer
  • Emma Laperruque
    Emma Laperruque
  • EmilyC

Written by: EmilyC

I'm a home cook. I love salads. Two things you'll always find in my refrigerator are lemons and butter, and in my pantry good quality chocolate and the makings for chocolate chip cookies.


Brinda A. March 25, 2019
Second Emma on that—I'm obsessed!
EmilyC March 25, 2019
yay! : )
Emma L. March 25, 2019
Couldn't stop eating this after it was photographed. So good!!!! Can't wait to make it at home.
EmilyC March 25, 2019
Aw, thanks Emma -- I'm so happy that you liked the salad! ; )