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Italian Bean Salad with Balsamic Vinaigrette Topped with Tuna or Tofu



When I lived in Italy, every few weeks, I would buy myself a ready-to-eat salad that contained frisée lettuce, corn, and borlotti beans. It was topped with a small mound of julienned carrots, basic balsamic vinegar, and extra virgin olive oil. Taste and texture-wise, that salad had everything going for it: creamy beans, sweet corn and carrots, bitter, crunchy lettuce, and tangy-sweet vinegar.

This salad takes its inspiration from the original. I use pinto beans, mixed greens, and chopped carrots instead. I also add raw onions. Rather than just splashing vinegar and oil on top, I make balsamic vinaigrette. It’s almost the same balsamic vinaigrette I use in my Strawberry Salad but with less honey and more Dijon mustard.

This salad can stand on its own but with the addition of grilled tuna steaks for meat-eaters or sautéed tofu for vegetarians, it becomes a hearty yet refreshing main dish. Each version serves four.

Veggie Version

14 oz package of extra-firm tofu packed in water

Salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste

2 – 3 TBS olive oil

4 cups mixed greens

1 cup canned pinto beans, rinsed and drained

½ cup frozen corn kernels, defrosted and drained

1 small carrot, peeled and chopped roughly the same size as the corn and beans

½ small onion, peeled and thinly sliced

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

1 tsp honey

2 tsp Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons fresh basil, chopped or torn (about 5 large basil leaves)

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt & pepper to taste

Drain the liquid from the tofu and rinse. Pat the tofu with a paper towel to remove excess moisture. Cut the tofu into 8 equal slices (about ½ - ¾ inch thick). Place a few sheets of paper towel onto a cutting board. Place the tofu slices in one layer on top of the towel. Cover the tofu with a few more sheets of paper towel and then a large plate, sheet pan, or cutting board. Place a few cans or a heavy pan on top. Leave for at least 15 minutes to ½ hour. The idea is to press out as much water as possible—it helps with the spatter and the tofu will brown better.

Remove the weight and paper towels from the tofu. Sprinkle both sides of each slice of tofu with salt, pepper, and garlic powder.

Add 2 TBS of olive oil to a large nonstick skillet. Heat the pan on medium. Place the tofu in one layer and cook for 5 – 6 minutes on one side or until golden brown. Flip the tofu and cook for an additional 5 – 6 minutes or until golden brown, adding more oil if necessary. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly (about 2 minutes). Using a serrated knife, cut each slice of tofu diagonally (you should have 16 triangles). Set aside.

While the tofu is browning, in a large mixing or salad bowl, add the greens, beans, corn, carrot, and onion. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and mix gently. Set aside.

In another bowl, add the balsamic vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, chopped basil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk together. Slowly drizzle in the ¼ cup olive oil and continue whisking until the vinaigrette is well-blended.

Add one-third of the vinaigrette to the vegetables and stir in gently. Divide the salad evenly between four plates and top each plate with four triangles of tofu. Spoon the rest of the vinaigrette evenly over the tofu and serve immediately. You can also serve the salad family-style on a platter.


Meaty Version

Because tuna cooks quickly (it should still be pink in the middle after cooking), have the salad and vinaigrette ready to go before putting the tuna on the grill. Two tuna steaks should be enough to serve four people as part of this salad; however, depending on appetites, you could always add another.

2 tuna steaks, about 8 oz each (I used Ahi / Yellowfin)

1 – 2 TBS olive oil

Salt, pepper, and garlic powder to taste

4 cups mixed greens

1 cup canned pinto beans, rinsed and drained

½ cup frozen corn kernels, defrosted and drained

1 small carrot, peeled and chopped roughly the same size as the corn and beans

½ small onion, peeled and thinly sliced

¼ cup balsamic vinegar

1 tsp honey

2 tsp Dijon mustard

2 teaspoons fresh basil, chopped or torn (about 5 large basil leaves)

¼ cup extra virgin olive oil

Salt & pepper to taste

Heat a grill pan on medium-high.

Rinse the tuna and pat dry with paper towels. Brush each side of the tuna with olive oil and sprinkle with salt, pepper, and garlic powder. Set aside.

In a large mixing or salad bowl, add the greens, beans, corn, carrot, and onion. Add a pinch of salt and pepper and mix gently. Set aside.

In another bowl, add the balsamic vinegar, honey, Dijon mustard, chopped basil, and a pinch of salt and pepper. Whisk together. Slowly drizzle in the ¼ cup olive oil and continue whisking until the vinaigrette is well-blended.

Add one-third of the vinaigrette to the vegetables and stir in gently. Divide the salad evenly between four plates.

Place the tuna steaks on the grill and cook for 2 – 3 minutes. Gently flip the tuna steaks over and cook for an additional 2 – 3 minutes. Remove from the heat and set aside to cool slightly. Slice the tuna. Equally distribute the tuna on top of the salad. Drizzle the tuna evenly with the remaining vinaigrette and serve immediately. You can also serve the salad family-style on a platter.


I make mistakes so you don't have to!

I grabbed the knife closest to me (serrated) to cut the tuna.

Don't use a serrated knife to cut tuna fish!

That being said, T. Rex assured me that despite its appearance,

the tuna still tasted delicious! Yay!

Don’t Freak Out!

1) For the Veggie Version, you can grill the tofu instead of sautéing it. Or substitute baked tofu or tempeh.

2) For the Veggie Version, if you want to add toasty goodness but don’t want to use soy, you can make homemade croutons. Simply cut a few slices of baguette, ciabatta, or artisan white bread into bite-sized cubes. Toss with a tablespoon or two of olive oil, a pinch of salt, pepper, dried basil, and garlic powder. Brown in a nonstick skillet on medium heat or place in one layer on a pan and brown in a toaster oven. Top the salad with the homemade croutons.