Old Fashioned Kidney Bean Salad

“Nick Anthe’s Bean Salad” Recipe {Healthier Copycat Reboot}

~ This super-easy Kidney Bean Salad is an updated riff on the beloved Bean Salad recipe served at the iconic Nick Anthe’s restaurant for more than 30 years. It’s uniquely delicious, but with no cooking and just a bit of quick chopping, it’s also ultra-fast. (Like, 7 minutes FAST!) And, since it uses just a few ingredients that are easy to keep on hand, it’s absolutely ideal for last-minute meal prep, or for cooking ahead for parties and potlucks! ~

This Recipe Is:     Ready in 30 Minutes or Less    Make Ahead    Vegetarian  

Looking for a memorable Kidney Bean Salad? One that’s a little unique and a whole lot delicious?

This is your answer!

Overhead of a curved whi serving bowl with cut-out sides, filled with this bean salad recipe, with a stack of 3 little bowls and 4 forks in the background and a serving spoon alongside.

It’s an absolute family favorite that’s become a mainstay at our holiday gatherings, as well as at simple, everyday meals. We eat it for lunch, as a side dish with dinner … even as a snackie appetizer (which is how Nick Anthe’s restaurant used to serve it).

No kidding – I’ve probably made at least four batches just in the last month!

It’s too good to miss, too simple not to try!

Why You’ll Love It!

As one local reporter reminisced, in a newspaper report of the restaurant’s 2011 closing, Nick Anthe’s Bean Salad was a, “mysteriously magical blend of textures and flavors.”

Through the years, the recipe has been re-published multiple times in the Akron Beacon Journal, and in the nearby Canton Repository (all of which, of course, delights die-hard fans who miss being able to pop into the restaurant for their Bean Salad fix).

Luckily, it’s ridiculously easy to make at home!

  • It has an addictive flavor combination of earthy-umami beans with a savory hit from the onions and an unexpected sweetness from the pickles.
  • Plus there are the satisfying layers of texture with the soft kidney beans, crunchy celery and creamy dressing.
Closeup side shot of the finished bean salad in a white serving bowl with curvy, scooped out sides.
  • Oh … and have I mentioned that it’s so insanely simple to make? (Ummmm … yes, I think I have.) Like, one hand tied behind your back simple. No cooking, just a tiny bit of chopping … stir it together and call it a day.
  • And (as though it couldn’t get any better!), you can make this Bean Salad ahead of time. Yep! It keeps perfectly for days! Enjoy it all week long, or make a big double-batch a day or two before you need it, to get a jump start on your menu for cookouts or family holiday celebrations.

Big payoff for practically no effort!

How My Version Is a Little Different from Nick Anthe’s Original Bean Salad

This Kidney Bean Salad has a loooooong history in my family.

For one thing, we used to eat it at Nick Anthe’s, dating back throughout most of the restaurant’s 30-year history.

The restaurant was a favorite of my father-in-law, who often stopped in for business lunches, or to join his wife, Jo, after work. Sometimes my husband and I (in our long-ago, pre-marriage, high school days) would snag an invite to come along with him, starry-eyed at dining where the city’s well-heeled business leaders liked to hang out.

And always, always, there was a dish of bean salad brought to the table as you sat down. Anthe’s offered it as a welcoming starter, in exactly the same way that other restaurants bring you free chips and salsa or maybe a dish of olive oil for dipping your complimentary bread.

In the years since the restaurant closed, my mother-in-law, “Grandma” Jo, has been filling the gap for us by tossing together her own version (thanks to the recipe she found printed in the local newspapers). Her take on that much-loved, old-fashioned Kidney Bean Salad has made frequent appearances at the amazing holiday meals she orchestrates for us (alongside her epic Sweet Potato Soup, of course!).

As a complete Bean Salad addict, I started making this salad, too. But you know me … if I was going to be making this allllll the time (or sharing it with you!) … I wanted it to be as healthy as could be. Fully tested, fully approved.

One little white bowl holding an individual portion of bean salad, with the full serving bowl and other empty bowls in the background.

I made just a few very small tweaks, and a whole family of “taste-testers” (but most especially Jo and I!) have tasted and compared, debated and tasted again … until it was exactly how I wanted it.

Here’s what Jo and I decided on …

The Pepper

Jo always used black pepper, instead of the white pepper specified in the classic Nick Anthe’s recipe. And after extensive testing (more about that later), I absolutely swear by that little change, too.

The Dressing

And, of course, I’ve lightened and healthi-fied the creamy dressing (just a little!). A healthier fat profile and a few less calories.

The new, healthier commercial mayos on the market make it easy to swap in some healthy fats instead of the old-fashioned, full-fat mayonnaise Nick Anthe’s would’ve used. And, after a bunch more testing, taste testers agreed that swapping in a smidge of nonfat, plain Greek yogurt for some of the mayo didn’t compromise on flavor at all.

The Sweet Pickles

Lastly, I have a specific recommendation about those sweet pickles that are so integral to the magic of this recipe.

Most sweet pickles still rely on high-fructose corn syrup (often as the #2 ingredient, right after cucumbers *ugh*), but there are actually a number of brands you can find that don’t use it.

Scour the ingredient labels at your own store to find one, like the Bell-View brand pickles we usually use.

Finding pickles without high-fructose was the simple, final tweak in updating an old-fashioned recipe for today’s more health-minded cooks.

Closeup of the left side of the serving bowl filled with salad so you can really see the texture of the kidney beans, celery and pickles.

Grandma Jo approved.

Family approved.

It checks all the boxes!

This is the version I now make almost constantly. As in … my fridge doesn’t really feel complete unless there’s a tub of the Bean Salad in there!

Here’s all you have to do to make it for your own fridge …

How to Make My Updated Take on Old-Fashioned Kidney Bean Salad

Start by draining and rinsing your kidney beans and chopping your onions, celery and pickles.

Honestly, you’re almost done already! REALLY!

Bascially, all that’s left to do is mix everything together.

Overhead of a clear glass mixing bowl with sections of chopped celery, onion, pickles and kidney beans, ready to be mixed together.

Then, stash it in the fridge and pat yourself on the back.

That’s all it takes! As easy as can be!

Let me walk you through some options on how to do that mixing, though:

How to “Throw Everything Together and Mix It Up”

Nick Anthe’s original recipe called for just tossing all the ingredients into a big bowl and mixing everything together. Done and done. It totally works, if you’re really careful to mix very, very thoroughly.

BUT … I prefer to mix all the dressing ingredients together first, so I can make sure all the components of the dressing are completely incorporated, and I don’t end up with pockets of pepper or globs of mayo that didn’t get mixed in smoothly. And also, so I don’t have to mix and mix too much, once the kidney beans are added – which can squash and tear the beans a bit if you’re not careful.

I usually mix up the dressing right in the bottom of the big bowl where I’ll add all the other ingredients, then carefully fold in the kidney beans and other veggies. (And that’s what I direct you to do on the recipe card below.) If you prefer, though, you can stir the dressing together in a separate, small bowl, and pour it over top.

Don’t overthink this – any of these methods work. Just be sure you end up with a well-incorporated mixture and without smashed kidney beans.

White Pepper or Black … the Big Debate!

So, as I mentioned before, all the published reprints I’ve seen of Nick Anthe’s original, old-fashioned Kidney Bean Salad recipe specifically call for using white pepper.

My family just can’t quite get on board with that, though. Believe me, we’ve tried.

Overhead of the curved white serving bowl full of the finished salad, with four forks and stalks of celery laying on a wooden cutting board alongside.

White pepper and black pepper actually taste really different from each other. And, after testing this Kidney Bean Salad with both finely ground and coarsely ground white pepper, I can tell you that I’m sticking with black pepper instead.

Here’s what I found through my research and testing:

√  Finely Ground White Pepper – The original, old-fashioned recipe calls for 1 teaspoon of white pepper. In many grocery stores, it’s most common to find white pepper sold finely ground (which I show in the little teaspoon visible in some of the photos of this post, so you can see what I’m talking about).

But, after trying that, I’ve gotta tell you … I’m pretty sure Nick Anthe’s did NOT use finely ground.

A whole teaspoon of that stuff is waaaaaay too strong.

√  Coarsely Ground White Pepper – Using 1 teaspoon of coarsely ground white pepper (if you’re able to find it sold that way, or to find white peppercorns to grind) is much better than the fine powder. Definitely less overwhelming.

But I guess I just don’t like white pepper, at least not in this Bean Salad recipe … it’s still just too, too overwhelming with its musky, earthy flavor. 

And, after much debate with other people who remember how Anthe’s old-fashioned version tasted “back in the day,” I’m not absolutely convinced that even the restaurant actually used white pepper.

Try white pepper if you’d like. I won’t judge!

But, for our family, black pepper is the gold-standard.

Closeup of a serving spoon holding a scoop of bean salad, with the rest of the serving bowl, some forks and celery stalks blurred out below.

FAQs At-a-Glance

Can I Use Dark Red Kidney Beans?

We prefer light red in this recipe, and some people feel that the light red ones have a slightly more delicate flavor and thinner, more pleasant skins. But feel free to use whichever you prefer, or a combination of both.

Can I Use Different Types of Onions?

We like the assertive flavor of Spanish onions, which is what was specified in the original, “classic” version of this recipe. But, in a pinch, we’ve used other types, such as sweet onions, which are also delicious.

Can I Skip the Greek Yogurt and Just Go with Mayo?

You can, but it’s not quite as healthy (it will increase the fat and decrease the protein slightly). But, the original recipe used only mayonnaise, and if you don’t happen to have Greek yogurt on hand, the taste will still be fantastic (and certainly more “old-fashioned”) with mayo alone. Just be sure to increase the amount of mayo in the recipe by 2 tablespoons, to make up for the missing 2 tablespoons of Greek yogurt.

What If I Want a Creamier Dressing?

The original Nick Anthe’s recipe specifies that you can add more mayo “to taste.” We always use the proportions specified on the recipe card below, but if you’d like a creamier dressing, you can slightly increase the mayo and/or Greek yogurt until you’re happy with the result.

Can I Substitute Dill Pickles, Instead of Sweet?

Nope, nope, nope! This is non-negotiable. The sweet taste of both the chopped pickles and the pickle juice used in the dressing are integral to the distinctive flavor profile of this Kidney Bean Salad.

How Long Does This Recipe Keep?

It’ll easily keep for 3-5 days in the fridge. It’s a great make-ahead, and my family absolutely loves having it on hand to enjoy all week long for lunch, or as a side dish at dinner!

Can I Double This Bean Salad?

Definitely! This recipe is super easy to scale up or down, as needed!

How to Serve Your Kidney Bean Salad

• If you wanna channel vintage Nick Anthe’s in its heyday, serve this as a starter. Offer some small, appetizer-sized slices of fresh bread or some grainy crackers to scoop it up!

• Most often, though, I serve it as a salad. Perfect alongside a sandwich (like our Cheeseburger Sloppy Joes) or a bowl of soup (mmmmmm … try our Italian Sausage-Tortellini Soup) for a quick lunch or weeknight dinner.

• It’s also terrific for a summer potluck or cookout. Maybe cozy it up alongside burgers or shish kabobs or North Carolina BBQ.

• And, I know it’s a little offbeat for Thanksgiving dinner or a Christmas buffet. But, I will always, always remember this so fondly as a standout at the lavishly prepared holiday meals Grandma Jo spends weeks planning, and days upon days cooking. A delicious part of our priceless family memories.

Overhead closeup of two hands cradling a bowl of Bean Salad, with the right hand holding a fork that's dipping in.

Truly, it’s delicious pretty much anytime, anywhere.

An old fashioned, classic recipe that’s stolen people’s hearts for decades.

It’s one of my favorites, and I hope you’ll love it just as much!

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Please leave a star-rating in the recipe card below – I truly appreciate all your wonderful feedback!

Overhead closeup of two hands cradling a bowl of Bean Salad, with the right hand holding a fork that's dipping in.

Old Fashioned Kidney Bean Salad

Yield: 7 cups
Prep Time: 7 minutes
Total Time: 7 minutes

This old-fashioned Kidney Bean Salad is an updated riff on a beloved dish from the iconic Nick Anthe's restaurant. Uniquely delicious, and so very easy!

  Ready in 30 Minutes or Less    Make Ahead    Vegetarian  

Ingredients

  • 6 tablespoons healthier mayonnaise (such as an olive-oil-based, reduced-fat mayo or other healthier mayo of choice)
  • 2 tablespoons nonfat plain Greek yogurt
  • 2 tablespoons sweet pickle juice (see note)
  • 1 teaspoon black pepper (coarsely ground)
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 5 cups canned kidney beans, rinsed and drained (we use light red; preferably organic or reduced-sodium)
  • 1 cup diced sweet pickles (see note)
  • 3/4 cup diced celery (about 2 medium stalks)
  • 3/4 cup diced Spanish onion
  • optional for garnish: finely chopped celery leaves

Instructions

  1. In a large bowl, combine the mayonnaise, Greek yogurt, pickle juice, black pepper, and salt, stirring to thoroughly combine.
  2. Add kidney beans, pickles, celery, and onions. Gently stir until everything is evenly incorporated.
  3. Cover and refrigerate at least half an hour (an hour is better, so the salad is thoroughly chilled), or until serving. Garnish with a sprinkling of chopped celery leaves, if desired.

Notes

Pickles: We recommend avoiding brands that contain high-fructose corn syrup (we like Bell-View brand). Read the ingredient labels carefully or purchase a natural or organic brand whenever possible.

Make-ahead tips: This salad keeps well for 3-5 days. Store, covered, in the refrigerator and stir before serving, if needed, to redistribute dressing that may have settled to the bottom.

Nutrition Information:
Yield: 14 servings Serving Size: 1/2 cup
Amount Per Serving: Calories: 124Total Fat: 2gSaturated Fat: 0gTrans Fat: 0gUnsaturated Fat: 1gCholesterol: 1mgSodium: 172mgCarbohydrates: 21gFiber: 4gSugar: 5gProtein: 6g

Nutrition information should be considered an estimate only, and may vary depending on your choice of ingredients or preparation. No guarantees are made regarding allergies or dietary needs. Always consult a physician or dietician for specific advice and questions.

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Published on
Updated on July 31, 2021
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