Lighten Up for Summer with this Healthy Entrée Salad
I love all dried legumes and pulses, and eat them throughout the year — though I confess I’m most drawn to them in cold weather, when I make hearty soups, stews, and dals. But beans make great warm-weather fare too. Enter bean salads.
Although there are many appetizing hot bean dishes that are ideal for warm weather, cold main-course salads seem particularly appropriate. Because they’re high in protein and other important nutrients, they can anchor an entire meal. They also made great side dishes at a barbecue or picnic. Today’s dish would serve admirably in either role.
Best of all, it’s a snap to make. Although I often put it together right before serving (and serve it at room temperature), you can also make it ahead and serve it chilled. And because it contains pasta, it appeals to a wide range of folks, kids included. Plus it’s oil- and vinegar-based, so it’s healthier than many mayo-based pasta salads.
And the flavor? Well, don’t plan on having too much for dessert — you’ll want seconds of this.
This recipe combines parts of two other entrée salads we discussed a couple of summers ago: White Bean and Tuna Salad and Tuna Pasta Salad. As with both of those salads, exact measurements (or even specific ingredients) aren’t all that important in this recipe — you have a lot of latitude in putting the salad together (I discuss some variations in the Notes).
This recipe serves 4 as a main dish, or about twice that number as a side dish. It’s easy to double if you need to feed a crowd.
The dish takes about 20 minutes to prepare, assuming you use the pasta-cooking time to perform some other steps; otherwise, it’s more like 30 minutes.
Leftovers keep well for a few days when stored in an airtight container in the refrigerator.
- ½ pound dried pasta of an interesting shape (I like shells, but macaroni, penne, farfalle, or other shapes work too)
- ~1 tablespoon salt for seasoning pasta water
- ~ ½ cup onion, cut into ¼- to ½-inch dice (red or yellow, depending on how sharp you like your onion)
- 1 red bell pepper, cleaned and cut into ¼- to ½-inch dice (optional; see Notes)
- 2 15-ounce cans of white beans, rinsed and drained (you can use 1 can if that’s too many beans for you; cannellini are ideal — otherwise, use any white bean, like Great Northern)
- 2 5-ounce cans tuna, packed in olive oil (may substitute water packed)
- ~¼ cup parsley, finely minced (or to taste)
- 1 - 2 tablespoons fresh herb of choice, finely minced (optional; fresh basil goes particularly well in this salad)
- extra virgin olive oil to taste (probably about ¼ cup)
- red wine vinegar to taste (probably a tablespoon or two)
- salt to taste
- freshly ground pepper to taste
- Fill a large pot (4-quarts is a good size) almost to the rim with water, place on stove, cover, and turn heat to high. When water is boiling, add salt (1 tablespoon), and then add pasta. When water returns to boil, turn the heat down so the water is at a nice simmer. Set timer for 6 minutes. At that point, start testing the pasta to see if it’s done — you want the pasta to be firm, with a little resistance to the tooth (al dente), but still cooked. It’s likely you’ll need to cook the pasta another minute or two after the timer goes off. When it’s done, dump the pasta into a colander and, using the vegetable sprayer from your sink, douse it with cold water until the pasta is cool. Allow the pasta to drain, then place it in a large mixing bowl.
- Clean and dice the onion and bell pepper, and add them to the bowl containing the pasta (I often perform this and the next few steps while the pasta is cooking).
- Open the can(s) of white beans, rinse, and drain. Add to the pasta bowl.
- Open the cans of tuna. If oil-packed, just dump it into the pasta bowl. If water-packed, drain first. (The oil the tuna is packed in isn't extra virgin olive oil, but it'll work fine in this dish anyway.)
- Wash, dry, and mince parsley. Add to pasta bowl.
- Repeat with the fresh herb, if you are using one.
- Mix the pasta and other ingredients well, taking care to flake the tuna and distribute it evenly throughout the mixture.
- Add extra virgin olive oil to taste (usually several tablespoons; maybe ¼ cup). Mix well.
- Add red (or white) wine vinegar to taste (about 1 tablespoon is usually enough). Mix well.
- Season with salt and freshly ground pepper to taste. Mix well.
- Serve immediately, or refrigerate in an airtight container and serve later. I often garnish with extra parsley.
- For this salad, my favorite pasta is medium or large shells (not the giant ones that are meant to be stuffed). Any pasta with an interesting shape adds visual appeal to this dish.
- Any good-quality canned white beans will work in this recipe. Cannellini are traditional, but others work well too. If you have cooked, dried beans on hand, you can substitute those. In fact, that’s what I almost always do (I use 1 cup of dried beans, cooked).
- Oil-packed tuna has the best flavor and it’s what I recommend. Just add the oil from the can to your salad — no need to drain since you’ll be adding more olive oil anyway.
- You can substitute fresh-cooked tuna or salmon if you want to step up from canned tuna.
- In my experience, any onion works well in this salad. Some people object to onions that have an assertive flavor, however. You can reduce the “bite” by soaking your diced or sliced onions in cold water for 30 minutes, then draining them before using.
- You might prefer this dish with green bell pepper rather than red. Or no bell pepper at all.
- Cooked green peas are a great addition to this dish. You can added frozen peas to the pasta cooking water a minute or two before the pasta is finished, and just cook them with the pasta. Drain the pasta and peas together, and cool both with water from your vegetable sprayer as directed in Step 1.
- Asparagus is another interesting addition, as are pitted black olives. If in season, tomatoes are great, too. How much of these ingredients to use? I suggest ½ to 1 cup, but adjust to suit your taste.
“That’s a nice addition to our cookware,” said Mrs Kitchen Riffs, pointing to our new ceramic olla.
“Yes, I said enthusiastically, “it’s a Spanish bean pot. It’s fun to use, and works great! I used it to cook the beans for today’s dish. I’m sure I’ll be finding lots of uses for it.”
“Let’s hope so,” said Mrs K R as she polished off her plate of Pasta, Bean, and Tuna Salad. “We should eat more beans and lentils year round. They’re delicious! Not sure why we always seem to cut way back on them in the warmer weather.”
“Yeah, I know,” I said, eyeing my plate and the half-full serving bowl. “We do make bean salads sometimes, and often have Baked Beans with barbecue or for picnics. But otherwise, we tend to forget about beans and pulses in the summer.”
“Too bad, because they’reo healthy, and a great source of protein,” said Mrs K R as she dished up seconds. “And they’re tasty served either room temperature or chilled.”
“They’re almost a complete food, and a great meat substitute,” I said, pushing my plate over for Mrs K R to load up.
“So, it’s agreed then,” she said. “You’ll be coming up with some new warm-weather bean dishes this summer, right?”
“Um, right,” I agreed.
Guess there’s no olla-ternative.
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