Tuna, Tomato, Bean and Basil Salad Recipe

by Dorothy Reinhold on July 26, 2010

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There are four good reasons to make this summer salad right now:

  1. It tastes FABULOUS!
  2. It takes about 15 minutes from start to finish, so lunch or dinner is on the table nearly as soon as you think of making it.
  3. If the summer heat is wilting you, a simple, well-crafted salad like this needs no cooking, no stove, no oven, no nuthin’.
  4. Summer tomatoes and summer basil, right from the garden (or farmer’s market). Nuff said.

Perhaps some of you have made this one before, or a version of it, and if you have, you know you don’t really need a recipe after the first time. You experts, you have my permission to click to another page here. How about this other squeaky clean tuna salad?

OK, back to the salad at hand…this is a classic, simple salad of tuna, tomatoes, cannellini beans and basil, and it is simply delicious, meant to be eaten at room temperature. Once you make it and understand the general proportions, you may join the panel of experts, ignore the recipe and wing it from now on. But for now, follow it and you’ll have the perfect proportions.

Use garden fresh tomatoes and basil, either from your plot or the farmers’ market, and canned beans and tuna. No need to get overheated about it.

Tuna, Tomato, Bean and Basil Salad

Start with 4 meaty tomatoes — 1 per person

Tuna, Tomato, Bean and Basil Salad

Pour beans into a small colander, rinse and drain

Tuna, Tomato, Bean and Basil Salad

This is NOT the BP oil spill. Stuff on top is salt; “island” is Dijon; sludge is balsamic

Tuna, Tomato, Bean and Basil Salad

Whisk the dressing ingredients into submission

Tuna, Tomato, Bean and Basil Salad

Toss chopped tomatoes in the dressing

Tuna, Tomato, Bean and Basil Salad

Throw all the rest of the ingredients into the bowl

Tuna, Tomato, Bean and Basil Salad

Gently toss all ingredients (don’t be rough or you will mash the beans!)

Tuna, Tomato, Bean and Basil Salad

For an even prettier presentation, use a mixture of red, orange and yellow heirloom tomatoes. If you don’t have expensive, syrupy balsamic, use an average balsamic and a pinch of sugar in place of it.

5 tablespoons olive oil
1 tablespoon thick, old, expensive, fancy balsamic vinegar
1 tablespoon cheaper, bulk balsamic vinegar
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/4 teaspoon crushed garlic
Pinch kosher salt
4 large tomatoes, seeded* and diced (1 tomato per person)
2 tablespoons finely chopped red or green onion (optional)
1/4-1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
2 (5- or 6-ounce) cans light or white tuna, drained
1 (15- to 19-ounce) can cannellini beans (white kidney beans), rinsed and well drained

In a large mixing bowl, add oil, balsamic vinegar, mustard, garlic and salt. Whisk until combined. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking, adding more vinegar or perhaps a grind of pepper if you like.

To the bowl with dressing add the tomatoes and toss to coat with dressing. To the bowl, add the rest of the ingredients: onion (if using), basil, tuna and beans, and toss gently, just enough to combine. (If you toss too vigorously, the beans will break apart and mash; this is why you tossed the tomatoes first, because they are sturdier.)

Taste and season with additional salt and freshly ground pepper if needed, and toss gently once more.

To serve, mound in a bowl, or for a fancier presentation, line a plate or bowl with spinach or lettuce leaves and mound the salad onto the greens. Serve at room temperature. Store leftovers in refrigerator.

Serves 4.

*How to seed a tomato:

The easiest way to seed tomatoes is to cut them in half at the equator, which opens all the seed pockets. Then simply hold the half-tomato over the sink and use a finger to scoop out the seeds into the garbage disposal.

Variation ideas:

Tweaking is fun on this salad! Spinach…garbanzo beans…Kalamata olives…fresh mozzarella…a little finely minced fresh rosemary…a final drizzle of truffle oil (should you be so lucky to have some)…let your imagination wander.

{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Julie August 11, 2014 at 4:17 pm

This was the perfect solution for a quick dinner from a meager pantry. Some yellow cherry tomatoes and fresh basil from my garden made this delicious and filling.


Dorothy Reinhold August 11, 2014 at 6:00 pm

So glad! I rely on this for lunch or dinner, when I cannot figure anything out.


Lentil Breakdown July 29, 2010 at 2:57 pm

That’s funny how you have two balsamic vinegars. I do that also and am so conscious about whether what I’m making is worthy of using the good stuff.


Dorothy July 29, 2010 at 6:26 pm

I am lucky enough to have relatives who spring for the great stuff as a gift to me! On occasion, when I have used ONLY the great stuff, it has overwhelmed the dish, so I think a mix of average and great stuff works well. I am always weighing, like you say…is this “good enough” for the great stuff?


Laurel Bustamante July 29, 2010 at 8:20 am


I love your site–I love to see each step. It’s perfect for this visual learner. By the way, I was going to ask you about using canned Salmon. We just discovered at the Monterey Aquarium, that canned tuna is still a no-no because they still use nets which kill a jillion other critters. The only problem is, the canned Salmon doesn’t taste quite as “fresh,” and I’ve been having a hard time making it taste good in as a tuna sandwich. Maybe because I’m not using dill? (I do use dill relish). I’m going straight to the market to make this recipe.

Let me know if you have other canned salmon recipes, as it’s what the doctor ordered, and fresh salmon is so pricey. Again, REALLY GREAT WEBSITE, Dorothy!


Gisele July 28, 2010 at 2:00 pm

So simple and it looks so yummy!


Lynne @ CookandBeMerry July 27, 2010 at 4:12 pm

Your salad looks just delicious. I love the taste combination of balsamic vinegar, tomatoes and basil, and this has those bonus ingredients of tuna and cannellini beans. Perfect. Dorothy, I love your sense of humor in your writing. You make me LOL.


Dorothy July 27, 2010 at 4:41 pm

Lynne, thanks! So happy to give you a chuckle!


Karen July 26, 2010 at 2:50 pm

Sounds yummy. Would it work with canned salmon? I got some planning to make salmon cakes but the lighter salad is probably better for this summer.

My homegrown tomatoes have wonderful flavor, but I almost have to blanch and peel them before using in a recipe. Kind of a pain.


Dorothy July 26, 2010 at 3:48 pm

Karen, it would be DEELISH with canned salmon! You might like to add a bit of dried (1/4 tsp?) or fresh (1 tsp?) dill, which is a natural with salmon, along with the basil. I am guessing at dill amounts. Start there and increase as you like.


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