Bagged Lunch Ideas: Pesto Bean Salad with Cranberries

This easy salad has become one of my favorite bagged lunch recipes. Tossed together quickly from just a few ingredients, this salad keeps well and can be made in advance to last you through the week. Packed with protein and other good-for-you things, it makes a great option for those of you looking for an easy, healthy meal.

The pesto for this dish can be made fresh if basil is in season where you live (I include a recipe below), but a prepared pesto is just as good--especially during the winter when fresh basil isn't as plentiful. (I used some that I'd made last summer and kept frozen in individual portions in my freezer; the kind you can find at the supermarket or gourmet store will work just as well.)

The unexpected addition here is the dried cranberries; they add a lovely touch of sweetness that really makes the dish so don't skip them. If you don't have cranberries, dried cherries, currants, or raisins will also work.

I like to serve this on a bed of arugula with a few extra shavings of cheese on top; that's optional of course, but I like the freshness it adds to the dish. Enjoy!

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Pesto Bean Salad with Cranberries

1 can low-sodium white beans (such as great northern or cannellini)
2 cans low-sodium black beans
3/4 cup basil pesto (prepared or homemade; see below for homemade recipe)
Zest and juice of one medium lemon (About 1 tablespoon zest, 2 tablespoons lemon juice)
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
3/4 cup dried cranberries
kosher salt and black pepper for seasoning

To prepare:

Drain and rinse the white beans and black beans and add to a large bowl. Add the pesto, lemon zest, lemon juice, and olive oil and stir until completely combined and evenly distributed. Add the cranberries and mix in well until evenly distributed. Taste and season with salt and pepper if needed. Best served room temperature, but can also be served chilled.

Will keep about 1 week in an air-tight container in the fridge.

Basic Homemade Pesto Recipe

1 bunch fresh basil (about 2-3 cups without stems), rinsed and patted dry
2 tablespoons pine nuts (you can also use almonds)
2 medium garlic cloves
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 cup freshly grated parmigiano reggiano (you can substitute pecorino or other hard, sharp cheese)
2/3 cup extra virgin olive oil

In a food processor or blender, combine the fresh basil, pine nuts, garlic, salt, cheese, and olive oil and process until smooth. Use in a recipe or top with additional olive oil and store in an air-tight container in the fridge for up to 2 weeks.

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