Balsamic green bean cucumber salad is a bright and crunchy side salad with snappy steamed green beans, cucumbers, sweet cherry tomatoes, and red onions, and a tangy-sweet white balsamic dressing.
Grab your chef's knife, a steamer basket, and saucepan, and you’re off to the races.
This salad can be served as soon as you prep the veggies and dressing, or it can be made ahead and left to marinate. I advise eating it the same day you make it or add the tomatoes right before serving as they can get a little mushy after sitting with the dressing.
We all need a 4-ingredient veggie salad that can be made any time of the year. You can even substitute frozen green beans if fresh aren’t available (although fresh beans are always better).
Green beans – Aim for 1 pound or 3 cups of green beans.
How to trim green beans
Have you ever dumped out a bag of fresh green beans and noticed a tangle of brown stems? When recipes refer to trimming beans, that’s what they are referring to. You want to trim off the brownish stems.
The easiest way I’ve found is to line up the beans, side-by-side, about 15 at a time, and then just hack off the stems in one go. You can leave the tender green stems that are on the opposite end. I think they give beans a bit of character. Then, just snap them in half so that they are easier to eat.
Cucumber – Mildly sweet and naturally tender cucumbers soak up the dressing, giving you tangy sugary salad bites.
Should you peel cucumbers?
Here’s the short answer – it depends.
The peelings of cucumbers are highly nutritious and a great source of fiber. If you peel cucumbers, you lose the benefit of added calcium, magnesium, phosphorous, potassium, plus vitamins K and A.
So why peel them? For some people, cucumbers are an indigestion culprit. Cucumbers contain a substance known as cucurbitacin. It even sounds ominous, doesn't it?
The good news is that the bulk of the cucurbitacin is contained in the peels. In this case, enjoying the salad outweighs the benefits of the peels.
It’s also possible to buy 'low burp' cucumbers or the seeds to grow them yourself. Yes, there is such a thing.
If you shop at bigger supermarkets or farmer's markets, chances are, you’ve seen a few varieties of cucumbers showing up. Traditional salad or American cucumbers may share a space with baskets of longer, thinner English (hothouse) cucumbers or variegated yellowish-green Armenian cucumbers. There are Persian cucumbers that look nearly identical to English and small Gherkins (think pickles). Keep your eyes peeled, and you might spot short bumpy Kirby cucumbers or even yellow lemon cucumbers.
Seems we can’t have a discussion about peels without discussing treated or waxed veggies or fruits. Some plants naturally develop wax. It’s a reaction to preserving moisture in dry climates. Before shipping, many foods are treated with wax to help keep them fresh during transport.
Wax isn’t the same as being treated with pesticides or buying organic. In the US, waxed fruits and vegetables must comply with the Food and Drug Administration. They clearly state that all approved waxes are edible and safe.
It’s best to thoroughly wash fruits and vegetables. Use a ‘scrubby’ cloth or a soft brush for foods with tougher skins, like cucumbers. A minute does the trick.
Cucumber seeds are soft, so it isn’t a requirement that you remove them. I usually run a spoon down the middle of the cucumber after slicing it in half lengthwise. I'm not particular about removing all the seeds, but this takes out the softer middle.
Red onion – The thin slices of red onion will start to marinate in the dressing. This is similar to the flavor of quick-pickled red onions when an acid and a sweetener diffuses the oniony flavor and brings out the natural sugars.
Cherry tomatoes – Cut the cherry tomatoes in half if you want them to soak up the dressing. I do find that the tomatoes can get a bit soft when eating leftovers the next day. You could mitigate this by using grape tomatoes and leaving them whole.
White balsamic vinegar – If you haven’t used white balsamic before, you are in for a treat. The flavor is floral, sweet, and is gentler than dark balsamic.
If you spring for a new bottle of white balsamic, keep it handy. It makes tasty salad dressings and spruces up roasted vegetables without adding any color.
Lemon juice – You can get a good citrus buzz when you add fresh lemon juice. That’s about 3 tablespoons depending on the size of your lemon.
Date paste – I used date paste to give the dressing a sweet and sour vibe. If you like less sweet and a sourer taste, start with 1 tablespoon and add more as needed.
Black pepper – Right before serving, finish the salad with a few grinds of the pepper mill.
In my experience, the best way to prepare the beans is to steam them. If you want perfect beans, be sure that you have the water boiling before adding them to the steamer basket. Immediately cover the beans and let them steam for 2 minutes. They should turn bright green.
The beans will continue to cook after the heat is turned off, so be sure that you immediately uncover and remove them. Run cold water over them to stop the cooking process. Allow them to dry while you prepare the rest of the salad.
Mix the dressing in a separate small dish before adding it to the salad to ensure it is equally distributed.
If you decide to use fresh chopped tomatoes, add them a few minutes before serving. This helps to keep them firm. Be gentle as you mix them in so that they don’t fall apart.
You may be tempted to use dark balsamic for white; however, it will add a dark color that will stain cucumbers and tomatoes for this salad. A more suitable substitute is mild rice vinegar.
Maple syrup is a suitable substitute, although it will slightly alter the flavor. You can also use agave syrup, honey, or vegan honey, depending on your dietary preferences.
If you do not want to use cucumber, celery or zucchini are probably the best options. Be sure to thinly slice both so that they can absorb the dressing.
This is an intentionally simple salad intended to compliment your main dish. If you want to turn this salad into a more substantive dish, consider adding beans. Red or white kidney beans pair well with this combination of veggies and the dressing. You might also consider adding chopped herbs such as parsley or mint or few sunflower seeds or sliced almonds.