This white bean and avocado salad is what I think of as an "instant classic." The nutty, creamy beans are dressed with a strong amount of lemon and plenty of fresh herbs. The silky bits of avocado add just the right amount of extra richness. Plus, it takes less than 15 minutes to throw together!
Bean salads are for more than just picnics...
Something as humble (and easy to make) as a bean salad often appears most frequently at pot-lucks or picnics. They travel well, they're cheap, they don't need aggressive refrigeration... It makes sense. They are good casual party food.
But I think they deserve more than just an, "Uhh, I guess I'll bring a bean salad?" narrative. A bean salad is the perfect vehicle for so many flavors and textures.
This white bean avocado salad balances creaminess with fresh flavors.
White beans have a great texture for bean salads. They hold their shape quite well, while still having tender skins and a creamy-yet-toothsome interior. When mixed with silky, buttery avocado, you end up coating each bean with an extra bit of creaminess, which makes a wonderful salad base.
This pairing of textures is relatively rich, so to keep the salad lively I like to add sliced red onion or shallot. It adds enough of a crisp crunch to be interesting but not jarring. Scallion would taste delicious, too, but you won't get the same pops of texture.
A generous dousing of lemon juice and zest balances the natural fattiness of the avocado and oil-based dressing, but it's the fresh herbs that really take this salad home. A combination of parsley and dill is classic and delicious, reminiscent of a homey potato salad. It makes the final bean salad experience cozy and familiar, while still tasting lively and fresh.
I also like to switch up the herbs based on what I'll be serving with the salad. Sometimes I'll keep the dill but swap out the parsley for cilantro or mint, and serve it as a side to this savory sumac mushroom dish. Other times I might do only cilantro, and serve it as a base for my ginger-herb meatballs with lemongrass.
It's not just the herbs that you can swap in and out. This bean salad is a great starting point for plenty of variation.
White beans are a classic base for bean salads, but they certainly aren't the only option. You can use this same method for red kidney beans, pinto beans, black beans, cranberry beans... Pretty much most beans that you can buy in a can. Quickly heating the beans helps them to better absorb the flavors of the dressing, which means that you are, in effect, marinating them. (Of note, if you don't have a microwave, just gently heat the beans on the stove in a small pot or skillet.)
Once you've picked your bean, you can also change up the acidic ingredient. I love the fruity zip of lemon, especially when paired with parsley and dill, but lime would work just as well. Especially if using cilantro and serving with something like quick and easy tacos! Vinegars of all kinds are also delicious. Try a nutty sherry vinegar, and serve the salad with roasted or baked sweet potatoes. Fabulous!
Notes for Success:
Make sure you remember to add your shallot or onion to the bowl when the beans are hot. The ambient heat and the acidity of the lemon juice will mellow the raw onion bite considerably as the mixture cools.
As mentioned above, if you don't have a microwave, you can heat your beans on the stove over low heat. You can also warm them in the oven, so if you're baking or roasting something anyway, just toss your beans in a heat-proof dish and pop them in the oven until hot.
This calls for the zest and juice of 1 lemon. That's much less fussy than measuring out an exact amount of zest or juice, but use your best judgement. Are the lemons in your market abnormally large this week? Maybe start with half a lemon and then add more juice if your marinating beans look a bit dry. Do you adore lemon everything, all the time? You might want to increase the amount of zest!
And finally, use good oil. You're going to taste it in this recipe, so if you use the bottle of olive oil that sits next to your stove getting stale, it will make your salad taste stale. This is the time to break out the yummy stuff!
Recipe: Lemony White Bean and Avocado Salad with Fresh Dill
- Two 15½-ounce cans cannelini or kidney beans, rinsed and drained
- 1 shallot, halved and sliced into thin half-moons, Or about ¼ of a large red onion, thinly sliced
- ¼ cup good quality extra-virgin olive oil, See Notes
- Finely grated zest and juice of 1 lemon
- Kosher salt and black pepper
- 3 tablespoons lightly packed chopped fresh dill
- 2 tablespoons lightly packed chopped fresh parsley or cilantro, Or a mix of both
- 1 ripe avocado, diced
- Step 1Microwave the beans in a large bowl until hot to the touch, usually 2 minutes or less. To the hot beans, mix in the shallot, oil, lemon zest and juice, 1 teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon black pepper. Set aside to marinate until cooled to room temperature.
- Step 2Once the beans have cooled, stir in the herbs and gently fold in the avocado. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper.Serve as-is, as a side salad, or serve on a bed of bibb lettuce with a sprinkling of feta or shaved pecorino as a dinner salad.