This flavorful Italian-style green bean salad recipe never fails to delight. With tender steamed green beans, nutty parmesan cheese, toasty walnuts, and aromatic fresh mint, there are abundant layers of flavor. It’s an effortless side dish that pairs well with a variety of Mediterranean recipes. The salad is dressed with a simple vinaigrette made with extra virgin olive oil and sweet, tangy balsamic vinegar. Consequently, this salad is both heart-healthy and delicious.
During the warmer months of spring and summer, I love preparing simple, healthy salads like this one. Green bean salads are lighter and more nutritious than starchy side dishes like potato salad and pasta salad.
The inspiration for this delicious Mediterranean green bean salad came from an Italian restaurant called Biba in Sacramento, California. My husband and I stopped there on a road trip a few years ago. The restaurant was owned by Biba Caggiano, an accomplished Italian cookbook author. Since then the restaurant has closed, and Biba has sadly passed away. We were lucky to visit her restaurant, and we truly enjoyed her menu.
As a starter to our meal, my husband and I split a string bean salad with parmesan, pine nuts, and mint. I liked the unique combination of green beans, yellow beans, mint, and parmesan. The aroma of this combination was positively delightful. I began wondering what it might be like with more crunch and a touch of sweetness. In my mind I whipped up something similar, adding white balsamic for a sweet flavor and toasted walnuts for crunch.
When I tried making my own version of the salad at home, it was everything I imagined… cheesy, crunchy, toasty, and just slightly sweet. The shaved parmesan adds an umami, nutty flavor that is simply irresistible. If you can find young green beans– the small, thin, more delicate ones– it will be even tastier. My local grocery store rarely carries them, but I can sometimes find them at the farmer’s market. This salad would also work well with a combination of green and yellow string beans, as it was served at Biba.
What Flavors Go Well with Green Beans?
Green beans are incredibly versatile; their mild flavor pairs well with a variety of ingredients and spices. When it comes to green bean salad, aromatic and acidic ingredients pack a punch. Balsamic, tangy cheeses, lemon juice, and flavorful herbs all work well. In addition to the green bean salad recipe in this post, you might also enjoy my colorful Green Bean Pepper Salad.
Are Raw Green Beans Good in Salad?
You can certainly use raw green beans in salads, and it is very safe to do so (as long as they are well washed!). Lightly steaming fresh green beans makes them crisp-tender, and helps them to become more digestible. I prefer doing a light steam before using green beans in salads and side dishes. Fresh green beans are more crunchy, and their stringiness can make them slightly difficult to chew. Using fresh or raw is really more a matter of preference than anything else.
For this green bean salad, if you want to prep ahead, steam and blanche the green beans ahead of time, then refrigerate until ready to serve. Dress the salad just before serving; the longer they sit in the dressing, the duller the beans will look. I like this salad best just slightly chilled, so leave the beans out of the fridge for a few minutes before dressing them to bring them closer to room temperature.
And don’t forget to toast the walnuts. That simple extra step adds a world of flavor.
One more note… if you’re vegetarian, look for a parmesan-style cheese with a microbial rennet (Bel Gioioso makes one). Kosher cheeses are often produced with a microbial rennet, but not always. Honestly, any hard cheese with a nutty flavor would work well here. Unie Kaas Robusto cheese is also delectable in this salad (not vegetarian, but fabulous). Enjoy!
Green Bean Salad with Parmesan and Walnuts
- 1 pound green beans (young beans are best), washed and trimmed
- 1/2 cup chopped walnuts – you may substitute sliced almonds or pine nuts
- 2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
- 2 tablespoons white balsamic vinegar (you may substitute red balsamic vinegar)
- 1/3 cup chopped fresh mint
- 1/3 cup shaved parmesan (for vegetarian use cheese with a vegetarian rennet)
- 1/4 tsp sea salt, or more to taste
- Freshly ground white pepper or black pepper, to taste
- Cut the green beans into pieces about 4 inches long. If you are using small young beans, there is no need to cut them. Put the green beans into a pan along with 1/2 cup of water. Bring the water to a boil and cover the pan. Turn the heat to medium and let the beans steam for about 5 minutes until tender-crisp. Smaller, younger beans will take less time to steam– check them after 2-3 minutes.
- Drain the green beans and transfer them immediately to a large bowl of ice water. Leave them there to cool.
- Put the chopped walnuts into a skillet over medium heat. Let the walnuts toast for a few minutes, stirring frequently, until the nuts are fragrant. Don't let them toast too long, or the skin will burn and the walnuts will taste bitter. When they're nicely toasted, remove from heat and pour them immediately into a bowl.
- Drain the green beans and pat them dry with paper towels. Put them into a large bowl. In a small bowl, whisk together the extra virgin olive oil, balsamic, and 1/4 teaspoon of sea salt. Pour the dressing over the green beans and toss to coat.
- Add the chopped mint and walnuts to the green beans and toss to coat. Taste the salad. Season with additional sea salt and freshly ground white or black pepper, to taste.
- Shave the parmesan cheese with a grater. Break apart the shavings into small pieces.
- Sprinkle the shaved parmesan over the salad. Serve.
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