My Rainbow Bean Salad with Sweet and Sour Dressing is always the prettiest salad on the potluck table, but it’s also high fiber and super healthy. It’s basically a complete rehab of grandma’s three bean salad…it’s got more beans, more colors, more flavors, more vitality.
Let’s hear it for bean salads!
Bean salad is a specialty of mine here at tvfgi. It’s always the first thing that pops to mind when I’m asked to bring a side salad to a spring or summer event. It’s such an easy going dish to make, I mean, how hard is it to open a few cans and chop up some veggies? I love seeing it come together in the mixing bowl, one color and texture at a time. An array of bell peppers, plus red onion and olives give a brilliant contrast to the beans and makes the salad come alive.
The ingredients in my rainbow bean salad are so pretty I sometimes hesitate to toss them all together, but toss I must because the vintage style sweet and sour dressing is one of my favorite things about this recipe!
I rarely if ever add granulated sugar to my salad dressings, but this is an exception. Sweet and sour dressing is the original bean salad dressing, with lots of acidic flavor tamed with a touch of sweetness. Turns out grandma did know a thing or two, and it’s the perfect complement to earthy beans.
Sweet and sour dressing is a vintage style recipe with Amish/Pennsylvania Dutch origins. The Midwest and South have both claimed it over the years, and it’s become a staple in so many classic summer salads.
How to make sweet and sour dressing ~
Sweet and sour dressing is sold commercially in stores, but it’s super easy to make at home, and much, much better, plus you can customize it. You can use this for lots of different summer side dishes, from potato and pasta salad to regular green salads.
- sweet and sour dressing consists of equal parts oil and vinegar, sometimes cider or wine vinegar, along with a few simple spices like celery seed and onion salt or powder. I like to include white pepper.
- sugar is the sweetener in traditional sweet and sour dressings, and they tended to be quite sweet. I’ve toned mine down quite a bit for modern tastes.
- key to making sweet and sour dressing is the emulsifying. Emulsifying is when oil and vinegar come together into a creamy dressing that doesn’t separate into layers. You can accomplish this by using an immersion blender or a small food processor to blend it up. A touch of mustard acts as an emulsifying agent to bind the oil and vinegar together.
- I like to lightly dress the salad to begin with, and then toss with more dressing to freshen up the salad before serving.
The result is a creamy dressing that clings to the beans in the most deliciously irresistable way!
Food styling tips for this rainbow bean salad ~
- Choose your beans mindfully: I like to use a variety of beans in different hues to make a tempting salad; that means pale navy beans and garbanzos along with black beans and red kidneys. When I can find them I love to add black eyed peas, they have such a pretty pattern. Frozen edamame beans lend a beautiful bright green.
- Why go with one color of bell pepper when there are so many to choose from? I like to use the big four: red, orange, yellow, and green. If you don’t want to have leftover peppers you can buy one of those bags of mini assorted peppers.
- A pop of black from black beans and black olives sets off the bright colors nicely and gives visual contrast.
- If you’re making the salad ahead of time, I always add my tomatoes just before serving, they don’t hold up well once cut and refrigerated. (Tomatoes aren’t traditional in a bean salad so feel free to omit them.)
- Don’t forget the fresh herbs ~ use chopped parsley or thyme, it makes a big difference in flavor and looks. If possible, add them shortly before serving.
It’s attention to little details like this that take a plain bean salad to the next level.
No potlucks on your calendar? Be sure to make up a batch of this bean salad for working lunches, it lasts well in the fridge and the beans + sweet sour dressing will give you a boost of energy to get you through the rest of your day.
Can beans help you live longer?
Beans are affordable, delicious, and healthy in so many ways. They’re full protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals. They help reduce blood sugar and bad cholesterol and they’re great for gut health. They also fight cancer with antioxidants. The American Heart Association recommends them as a heart healthy way to get protein.
(If you’re using canned beans, buy low or no sodium beans to cut down on salt.)
A diet rich in beans has been connected to longer lifespans. Researchers have studied long lived populations around the world and concluded that the common denominator is…beans!
But why do beans make you toot?
One of the starches in beans, or legumes, is resistant to being broken down in our digestive system, and can cause gas as the body works to break it down. This affects some of us more than others.
If you’re prone to getting gas from eating beans, try starting with small amounts and add them to your diet on a regular basis. Over time your digestion should adjust.
Reader Rave ~
“I made this recipe for a side dish to go with grilled steaks and salmon for Father Day’s. It was absolutely delicious and beautiful. So colorful! It’s a keeper.” ~Sylvie
Rainbow Bean Salad with Sweet and Sour Dressing ~ a healthy bean salad recipe takes all the good stuff from the classic potluck salad and makes it pop. This is grandma's bean salad ~ but so much better!
- canned black beans
- canned garbanzo beans
- canned kidney beans
- canned white navy beans
- edamame beans (thawed from frozen)
- 2 cups or 260 grams assorted colorful bell peppers, cut in small dice
- 1/3 cup or 50 grams sliced black olives
- 1/3 cup or 50 grams very finely diced red onion
- 1 cup or 150 grams small cherry tomatoes, halved
- 1/2 jalapeño or Serrano pepper, minced (leave out if you like)
- 1/4 cup finely chopped fresh parsley
- 1/2 cup olive oil
- 1/2 cup Sherry vinegar (you can use red wine vinegar if you like)
- 2 Tbsp granulated sugar
- good pinch of white pepper
- 1/2 tsp celery seed
- 1 tsp onion salt
- 2 tsp Dijon mustard
- Make sure all your beans are drained and rinsed well to remove any 'canned' flavor. Place all the beans in a large bowl, along with the rest of the salad ingredients.
- To make the dressing, blend the ingredients together with a stick blender or in a small food processor, until emulsified and creamy. Taste to adjust any of the seasonings.
- Toss the salad in enough dressing to thoroughly moisten, you won't use all of it. Refrigerate until ready to serve, and then toss with more dressing.
Double the recipe to use a whole 15 ounce can of each of the beans.
Make this rainbow bean salad your own ~
- Add tuna for a complete meal.
- Small balls of fresh mozzarella or crumbled feta cheese might be nice.
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