Update your picnic with a modern twist on a three-bean salad and other treats

It’s picnic time, if the weather holds…

It has been a rainy spring, and while we haven’t thought much about going on picnics, the warmth is returning, and the bonus from all that moisture is a green landscape that begs for a blanket and a basket of treats.

The easiest picnic food is eaten with the fingers – sandwiches, containers of nuts or olives on which to graze, little nibbles we skewer with a toothpick. We want picnic food to be able to hold well even in the heat, be easy to transport, and to be delicious!


But there are lots of salads and other dishes that hold up well in a picnic basket, and bringing along some flatware and little plates is no effort at all. Some of our favorites are tortellini salad with pesto, a vinaigrette-based potato salad, and tofu with a variety of dressings.

Three-Bean Salad: humble, cheap, easy, nutritious. Boring?

When I was growing up, one of my mother’s quick salad recipes was the humble three-bean salad. It was cheap, easy, nutritious, and never one of my personal favorites. I thought it was boring.

Her recipe was the classic one used by so many cooks of the day: a can of wax beans, a can of green beans, and a can of kidney beans. To this she added a little onion, a little celery, a little sugar, and an oil and vinegar dressing. In the summer, she would substitute the gallons of fresh beans in the garden for the canned, and the summer version was tasty.

Fresh is best

So when I thought about remaking her recipe, I knew I would rely heavily on the fresh side of things. While at the market searching for fresh beans, I also found some lovely kumquats. They were so pretty I knew I had to use them.

In addition to the kumquats, the deli had some freshly cooked edamame (soy beans) and some beautiful bean sprouts, a mix of mung, adzuki, lentil, and pea, all at a perfect state of ready to eat! My three-bean salad had multiplied by at least three more, and I began to think Asian inspired!

One more for the repertoire

The salad was a hit, and I will make this again, perhaps for the next picnic.

Sandwiches are the easiest to transport. Although you can make a variety of them to please everyone, I love the idea of making a great big sandwich that is cup up and shared.

The classic “grinder”

On the way to my parents’ favorite campground, my mother would plan a picnic at a spot halfway there. We looked forward to it, and she always made the same thing – grinders with Catalina dressing. These were made using regular soft white grinder rolls, and packed with cheese, ham, tomatoes, onions, peppers, and lettuce. Other parts of the country call these by other names: subs, hoagies, wedges, heroes, or Italians. If you are from New England, it’s a grinder.

The Catalina dressing, often called “French” dressing, was extremely sweet, but we loved it, even when it sogged up the bread during transport. This is why I now carry the condiments separately, and add the tomatoes just before eating.

My update on this sandwich is to use a nice crusty baguette, stuff it with grilled vegetables, and drizzle on a homemade Catalina that is half as sweet.

When the weather clears, we’ll be able to enjoy the portable meals we dream about in January. Don’t forget the ice pack, bug spray, sunblock, and, perhaps a large umbrella.

This salad is equally at home on an appetizer plate for a party, or packed in a picnic basket.

Three-Plus-Three Bean Salad

This recipe is still cheap, easy, and nutritious, and is a great salad to bring to a cookout, as it serves 10 to 12 and keeps well at room temperature. Pack it up for a picnic, you can even stuff it into pita bread pockets so you won’t need flatware. My favorite is to fill endive leaves with this salad for a starter at dinner, or party finger food. You can also stuff it in rice summer rolls, or serve it for supper with a little marinated shrimp or chicken on top.

First, make the dressing. In a canning jar, combine:

  • 2 tbsp. toasted sesame oil
  • 2 tbsp. rice vinegar
  • 1/2 cup fresh orange juice
  • Zest of one orange
  • 1 tbsp. fresh ginger, finely grated
  • 4 tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
  • salt and pepper

Shake like crazy to emulsify.

Now the salad. In a large bowl, combine:

  • 1 1/2 cups edamame, cooked
  • 2 cups fresh green or wax beans, cooked, sliced on diagonal
  • 1 can black beans, unsalted, rinsed
  • 4 ounces mixed organic bean sprouts
  • 1/4 cup kumquats, sliced thinly
  • 1 jalapeño pepper, sliced thinly
  • 3 scallions, sliced on diagonal
  • 2 large radishes, cut in half and sliced thinly
  • 1/4 cup sliced almonds

Mix everything togehter, add salt and pepper to taste, then add the dressing and mix well.

This will hold in refrigerator for several days.

picnic basket 2

Roasted Vegetable Baguette with Catalina Dressing

You can use whatever vegetables you like, and grill them outside or inside (in case of rain) using a grill pan. Make them the day before to keep picnic day stress free.

Use a mix of colorful vegetables, and always what you like: zucchini, summer squash, portabella mushrooms, sweet red and orange peppers, onions, tofu.

Cut the baguette in half lengthwise and butter both sides to keep the bread from getting soggy. Fill with the vegetables, and slice into six portions. Wrap tightly, and when you are ready to eat, top with the dressing.

Catalina Dressing
This dressing has half the sugar than Mom’s original! 

Less Sugar Catalina Dressing

In a blender or canning jar, combine:

  • ¼ c. ketchup
  • 2 tbsp. brown sugar or honey
  • ¼ cup apple cider vinegar
  • ½ tsp. onion powder
  • 1 tsp. paprika
  • 2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
  • ½ tsp. salt
  • ½ tsp. pepper
  • ½ cup canola oil

Blend or shake well!

Round out the picnic basket:

Citrus Confetti Carrot Salad

carrot salad
CITRUS CONFETTI CARROT SALAD –– The edition of carrots and swap out of dried fruits combined with a lighter dressing give this carrot salad a makeover.

Roasted Artichokes

roasted artichokes
ROASTED ARTICHOKES from the freezer or can are transformed!

Rhubarb & Hibiscus Punch

3. Rhubarb and hibiscus punch
RHUBARB AND HIBISCUS PUNCH travels well on a picnic.

And don’t forget the quick refrigerator pickles!

SPICY REFRIGERATOR PICKLES ––Start with quick refrigerator pickles! You’ll be amazed at how delicious these are.

© Copyright 2019 – or current year, Dorothy Grover-Read, The New Vintage Kitchen.

8 Comments Add yours

  1. This all looks delicious! When we moved from Connecticut to Florida when I was younger, I confused a poor women taking our order when I called a sub a grinder. The look on her face while she tried to figure out what I was saying was priceless.

    1. LOL It really is a strange name for a sandwich!

  2. Saania2806 says:


    1. Thanks! The kids and the husband love this one…perhaps they will have different memories!

      1. Saania2806 says:

        Haha I bet 🙈💚

  3. Alicia says:

    I remember that salad! I did not care for it either, so this remodel looks like it is something I’d serve to guests. It also looks like it would be as simple as the original. I’m not crazy about black beans, so I would probably use a different bean, or just make it with the fresh beans.

  4. Thank you Alicia. I’m sure this would be absolutely fine using just the fresh beans. Happy picnicking!

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