Simple Bean Salad Recipe With Variations

Do you remember the scene from Amélie in which Audrey Tautou’s character delights in sticking her hand into a barrel of dry beans in her local grocery? I suspect that my supermarket might call for security if I tried to follow her example but I love the idea of such simple pleasures. Anyone who likes cooking knows that the enjoyment starts even before the food touches the lips. Long before I start preparing the meal—provided that I am not in a rush—I anticipate the textures and scents: the crisp sound of a knife cutting through an onion, the murmur of a pot of soup on a low flame, the bracing freshness of grated lemon peel. Even something as simple as a bean salad can be a gourmet experience.

The end of winter and the beginning of spring is a time of transition. The root vegetables from cold storage already seem dull, but the sweet asparagus, jewel-like peas and fresh salad greens have not yet made their appearance. That’s when, like Amélie Poulain, I look for the dry beans. I use a classical Italian flavoring of sage and garlic to bring out the sweet chestnut flavor in beans. And once they are cooked and perfumed, I toss them with a tart lemon dressing that offsets the earthy richness of legumes. If there are good cherry tomatoes, I add a handful. Or I may vary the flavors with roasted vegetables or seafood. Even at its simplest, this salad is a filling and interesting side dish that can easily delight year round.

Simple Sage and Lemon Flavored Bean Salad

This simple salad relies on very few ingredients for its bright flavors, and I recommend using dried beans instead of canned. This is one instance when soaking and cooking beans with aromatics really pays off. Any variety will work, including chickpeas and black eyed peas, as long as they remain whole once completely cooked. I’ve used cannellini, Navy, pinto and kidney beans with good results.


1 cup dried beans (soak overnight)
1 medium onion, thinly sliced
4-5 sage leaves
2 garlic cloves, peeled
Minced parsley
Lemon juice, olive oil, salt and black pepper, to taste

Other serving ideas (add one of the following to the base recipe):
1 cup cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Arugula or salad greens
1 can of tuna packed in olive oil
1 cup cooked shrimp
1 cup roasted pumpkin and 2 Tbsp toasted almonds

Drain beans, cover with water and bring to boil. Skim off the foam, add garlic cloves, sages leaves and let beans simmer gently. Replenish water as needed. Depending on their freshness, beans take anywhere from 1 to 3 hours to become soft. Add salt only once the beans are completely cooked. Once the beans are ready, drain the excess liquid and let them cool. If you are cooking beans in advance, let them cool in their liquor and store in the fridge until needed.

Meanwhile, cover onion slices with lemon juice to temper their sharpness. Mix lemon juice, olive oil, salt, pepper and minced parsley for a tart vinaigrette. Toss beans with onion, tomatoes and vinaigrette. Leftovers may be refrigerated; the fragrant lemony beans taste even better the next day.


Do you have your favorite ways of cooking beans?

Photography © Bois de Jasmin.



  • Suzanna: I generally make a minestrone with navy beans, pancetta,and those wonderful Italian cherry tomatoes, or I will make a simple pasta salad with olive oil and lemon. Fluffy hummus is another favorite, served on warmed pita toast points.

    Your photography has elevated the humble bean to a gourmet dish! March 16, 2012 at 8:53am Reply

  • rosarita: These sound delicious, thanks for the recipe. I love beans and was a vegetarian for years (before marrying a carnivore who corrupted me with his grilling talent.) We are doing the 4 Hour Body right now in an effort to combat the inflammation that has caused arthritis to wreak havoc on me; this is a regimine that requires lots of beans! I like to cook up a big pot on Sundays – black beans w/lemon & garlic, pintos w/coriander, great northern beans w/clove and vinegar. Then we eat them in various ways throughout the week: cold, hot, marinated, mashed, sauteed in olive oil, on salads, in soup. I generally empty the pot on Thursday and cook up some lentils (onion & tamari) or split peas for the remainder of the week. I totally agree with you about the sensual experiences of cooking! My husband now cooks under my direction and he is really enjoying learning about seasonings and the joys of preparing vegetables. 🙂 March 16, 2012 at 9:04am Reply

  • Michael: Do you have any preferences for type of bean? I personally love cannellini beans, but also enjoy borlotti, butterbean, etc.

    Looks yummy! March 16, 2012 at 10:11am Reply

  • Victoria: Thank you! I am planning to make a minestrone this weekend. Tonight my goal is to finish a large piece of pumpkin and move onto something else.

    My grandmother makes small pastries filled with sweet beans, which is something I want to try. March 16, 2012 at 12:12pm Reply

  • Victoria: I love all of those, and I usually use cannellini, borlotti or Great Northern beans. Cannellini, in particular, have such a nice flavor, chestnut with a hint of green apple. March 16, 2012 at 12:14pm Reply

  • Victoria: And to add, the main thing is for beans to remain intact once they are fully cooked. Some varieties, like butter beans, tend to break down. Great for soup, not so good for a salad. March 16, 2012 at 12:15pm Reply

  • Victoria: All of those ideas sound great. I am not a vegetarian, but I don’t eat that much meat (once-twice a week at most.) Beans are versatile too. The eggplants right now are tasteless, but in season, I like to stew them with tomatoes and chickpeas. It is such a filling and healthy entree. March 16, 2012 at 12:16pm Reply

  • skilletlicker: I always love a moderately hot (w/ chilies) Hoppin’ John w/ black eyed peas and fluffy white rice. And not just on New Year’s Day! I’ve grown very fond of Cannellini Bean Soup with Kale and Garlic that I serve w/ crostini and also a Garlic Lentil w/ Sausage recipe I discovered this year. I’m so psyched to try your bean salad w/ sage – an herb I revere! Thanks, Victoria! March 16, 2012 at 5:24pm Reply

  • Nancy: Your references to Amelie and Audrey Tautou were one of many of her enjoyable films and of late she’s making the talk circuit promoting her recent movie – Delicacy,not food related but a love story.

    Another non-food related tidbit of broadcast news to come out of Rome (as in Vatican City) is that none other than the red-framed eyeglass sporting Pope Benedict has requested a personalized fragrance to be created for him. Not to be mass-produced however. Any suitable names and notes come to mind?! March 17, 2012 at 12:02pm Reply

  • Victoria: I hope that you will like it. If you’re a sage fan, you can increase the amount.
    Lentils and sausage is a perfect combination, and as for kale, I can eat it in any form. Since I have a big bunch of kale in the fridge, I will try adding it to soup. March 17, 2012 at 1:17pm Reply

  • Victoria: I was joking with my husband that all French movies on Netflix star Audrey Tautou. Well, I exaggerate a little, but she’s been in many films since her success in Amelie.

    I just read in Time that the notes include lemon verbena and citrus, and that the cologne is meant to showcase Pope’s love for the animals and forests of his native Germany. But the cologne will not be sold to the general public. March 17, 2012 at 1:20pm Reply

  • Undina: I really like this recipe: it’s simple but should create an interesting combination of textures. I’ll try it out soon. Thank you. March 18, 2012 at 3:14am Reply

  • Victoria: You’re welcome! Sage adds such a rich, aromatic note. March 18, 2012 at 11:13am Reply

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