A bean salad isn't just delicious—it's quick, filling, and cheap to boot.
mr-Pesto Chickpea Salad with Squash, Red Onions and Parmesan
Credit: Aaron Kirk; Prop Styling: Christina Daley; Food Styling: Karen Rankin

It's, let's say, a Thursday night. You're exhausted. You're home from work, and you don't want to go out to the grocery store again. Takeout doesn't seem great. You need something that falls into the category of "meals that are only marginally harder to throw together than a cheese sandwich but still have some vegetables in them." Do you have a can of beans in your cupboard? Good news: You also have the makings for an easy, cheap, filling salad.

Beans in salad are nothing new. You've probably seen the chickpeas lingering in the last salad bar you went to. But beans as the main component of the salad, rather than an addition to leafy greens, aren't as popular as they rightly should be. They're cheap and full of protein, and a remarkably great conveyance vehicle for dressing and sauces. They work particularly well when you treat them as you might a pasta, thrown together with pesto and zucchini as in this Pesto Chickpea Salad with Summer Squash.

The best way to assemble an on-the-fly can of beans salad is to assess what you have in your fridge that might influence the direction of the beans. If you have black beans or black-eyed peas, tomatoes, and avocado, you can make a riff on Cowboy Caviar, throwing in whatever other vegetables you might have wilting in the crisper. If you have a can of tuna and kidney beans, you can throw together something like this Four-Bean Salad, plus or minus a few ingredients. Happen to have some mango and green onions on hand? Toss them with black beans and lime, and have a Mango Black Bean Salad.

Watch: How to Make Instant Pot Black Beans

Even if all you have on hand is chickpeas, olive oil, lemon juice, and Parmesan, those things tossed together with plenty of black pepper and salt makes for a delicious, quick cold salad. On one particularly tired night after an event, I made a white bean Caesar salad, tossing together a can of Northern white beans with some leftover roasted brussels sprouts, some quick toasted breadcrumbs, Caesar dressing, and a handful of pre-grated Parmesan. It was delicious, had enough protein to keep me full and tide me over til morning, and didn't require leaving the house. Experiment with replacing the leafy greens you forgot to buy from the supermarket with canned beans, and you can come up with all kinds of combinations. Salad is in the eye of the beholder, after all.