I’ve been eating this cheap, 4-ingredient salad for years, and it tastes better than it looks

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The salad only has four main ingredients. Elizabeth Heath for Insider

When people recall what they ate on their Italian vacations, they often rave about an unforgettable plate of pasta, tears-of-joy-evoking pizza, or a bottle of wine that made them want to buy a vineyard in Tuscany.

Salad isn’t usually on the list, but I had one of the most surprisingly tasty salads of my life at a little sidewalk café in Ravenna, Italy, more than a decade ago, and I’ve been making it ever since.

Read on for the four-ingredient, white-bean salad recipe.

The ingredients shouldn’t work together, but they absolutely do

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The dressing for the salad is also easy to make. Elizabeth Heath for Insider

When the dish was first presented to me, I thought it was odd and unappealing – until I tasted it.

The unlikely combination of white beans, corn, tuna, and onion was remarkably delicious. With extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, salt, and pepper as the only dressing, this salad absolutely sang to me.

Those ordinary ingredients (not even that visually appealing, really) yielded such a pleasing combination of sweet, salty, acidic, and umami flavors, balanced by the base of beans and olive oil.

I love that I can make this salad from pantry ingredients, meaning it’s cheap and I usually have all the items on hand. It’s also ridiculously easy to make.

I created this salad from memory, and I’ve never seen a recipe exactly like it anywhere. Most white-bean-and-tuna salads seem to omit the corn, but it’s really the game-changer in this mix.

If you do choose to omit an ingredient, make it the tuna. Keeping it in makes this a more substantial entrée salad, but it tastes just fine without it for a vegetarian version.

There are a few things to keep in mind before making the salad

The following measurements make enough salad for four to six people. If you want to double or reduce the recipe, it works out to roughly 2:1 ratios for beans to corn and beans to tuna.

I like raw onion as a background flavor, so I don’t use too much of it and keep it finely chopped. If you like a strong onion flavor though, consider adding more, dicing it bigger, or placing thinly sliced rings of white or red onion over the top of the salad before serving.

The extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic, salt, and pepper are all to taste, but I find equal amounts of oil and vinegar work best.

The ingredients are basic, and you might have most of them on hand

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Beans, tuna, corn, and onion are all you need for the base of the salad. Elizabeth Heath for Insider

Main ingredients:

  • 15-ounce (425.24g) can (about 1 1/2 cups) of white beans (cannellini beans work best, but you can sub for Great Northern beans)
  • 8-ounce (226.80g) can (about 3/4 cup) of sweet corn
  • 5-ounce (141.75g) can (about 3/4 cup) of white tuna (packed in water, not oil)
  • 1/4 cup of white onion, finely chopped

Dressing ingredients (all to taste):

  • Extra-virgin olive oil (EVOO)
  • Balsamic vinegar
  • Salt
  • Black pepper

Combining the ingredients is easy and quick

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Make sure to rinse the beans after draining them. Elizabeth Heath for Insider

Drain the liquid from the beans and rinse them in a colander, then drain the liquid from both the corn and the tuna.

With a fork, flake the tuna into small pieces.

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Just mix all the ingredients together in a bowl. Elizabeth Heath for Insider

Combine the beans, corn, tuna, and chopped onion in a medium-sized mixing or serving bowl, and stir gently so you don’t mash the beans.

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I recommend adding the dressing straight on the salad. Elizabeth Heath for Insider

Mix the items so that they’re evenly distributed, then add the vinegar and EVOO in roughly equal amounts.

Season everything with salt and pepper to taste.

You could serve this without dressing it and let your tablemates add their own, but I find people tend to hold back on either the vinegar or the oil, and this really requires a balance of both.

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This will keep in the fridge for a few days. Elizabeth Heath for Insider

This salad will stay fresh in the fridge for a couple of days, after which the onion flavor permeates a bit too much.

Be sure to store it in an airtight container to preserve the flavors and to keep your fridge from smelling like tuna and onion.

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