There’s something very satisfying about being able to make my own condiments, salad dressings, and other foods from scratch. That doesn’t mean, however, that I never take advantage of good store-bought convenience items like canned foods. Here’s the thing: while I could probably never go back to eating canned vegetables, I do make sure I’m always stocked up on canned beans. Yes, beans taste better when they are cooked from dried beans but I’m an impatient cook and many times, I would rather open a can or two than spend an hour making beans from scratch. Plus, they’re a very healthy convenient food you can find anywhere, typically always vegan, and quite affordable, three things most of us can’t argue with. In my opinion, the big mistake isn’t eating canned beans, it’s eating canned beans without doing anything to them to make them delicious. Straight out of the can, any food is bland. Here are some tips on how to doctor up canned beans to make them tastier.
1. Basic Tips
It’s true that canned beans can have lots of salt, preservatives, and BPA in the can lining. That’s why I buy organic beans that don’t contain salt or preservatives and that come in BPA-free cans. Buy the best quality brands you can. No matter which brand you buy, a few simple steps can make the beans taste fresher and get rid of that “can taste.” Drain the beans into a colander and rinse them with cool water. This will freshen them up and also lower the salt content if the can held salted beans. You can also put the beans in a saucepan with some water and let them cook for just a few minutes. Then drain and use. Cook the beans with good-quality olive oils, herbs, spices, and other ingredients.
2. Spice Them Up
I love spices so much that even when a packaged food says it’s already seasoned, I still add my own. Adding fresh herbs and spices makes any food taste better. Beans don’t have a lot of flavor so they really benefit from liberal seasoning. Before I liked beans, I used to eat at Mexican restaurants and instruct them to leave the beans off my plate. Today I want a double order of refried beans because I love them so much. I make my own refried beans and while you can use any type of beans, I prefer to make them with black beans. To make my Refried Black Beans: saute ½ of an onion, minced, 4 minced garlic cloves and 1 seeded and minced jalapeno pepper. Add 3 cups cooked black beans to the skillet and toss with the aromatics. Season the beans with 1 tsp. kosher salt, 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. ground coriander and ½ tsp. black pepper and cook for a few more minutes. Garnish with 1 Tbs. fresh chopped cilantro and enjoy the fiesta. Eat them on the side of any Mexican dishes or use refried beans in this Mexican Lasagna and in this Southwestern Vegan Grilled Cheese Sandwich.
3. Get Saucy
Cooking beans in sauce is a wonderful way to add flavor to even the blandest of beans. The aroma and flavor of the sauce not only covers the beans but infuses into them. My favorite saucy bean dish is another I used to avoid in restaurants. Whenever I would go to my favorite Puerto Rican eatery, every dish came with a side of stewed beans. I didn’t want to eat the beans but I loved the sauce. Now I love the whole dish so much, I make it myself. To make my Habichuelas Guisadas or Puerto Rican Stewed Beans: heat 1 Tbs. olive oil in a small saucepan over medium heat. Add 1 Tbs. sofrito and cook for 1 minute. Add 1 Tbs. alcaparrado or pimento-stuffed green olives to the pot. Stir in 2 cups cooked red kidney beans and 1 cup tomato sauce. Let the beans cook in the sauce for 2 minutes. Add 1 tsp. ground cumin, 1 tsp. ground coriander, ¼ tsp. black pepper, and kosher salt to taste. Stir and cook for 1 minute. Add 1 cup water. Cook uncovered for 20-25 minutes until beans are tender and the sauce has thickened. If the sauce gets too thick, add more water. Serve while hot. A similar dish made Indian-Style is this Rajmah – Indian Red Beans.
4. Make Sauce
Besides cooking beans in sauces, we can also make sauces from beans. One of my favorite sauces in Chinese cuisine is black bean sauce. Despite its name, black bean sauce is not made from black beans but from fermented black soybeans, also known as Chinese black beans. It’s easy to make your own Black Bean Sauce that you can add to your favorite vegetables or tofu: heat 2 tsp. peanut oil in a small saucepan over medium-low heat. Add 1 Tbs. fresh grated ginger, 2 minced garlic cloves and ¼ of an onion, minced, and sauté until softened, about 4 minutes. Add 1/3 cup fermented black soybeans and 1 seeded and minced red or green chile to the pan and stir well. Add 1 cup water, ½ cup tamari, ¼ cup brown rice vinegar and 1 Tbs. sugar and stir well. In a small bowl, mix 2 tsp. arrowroot and 1 Tbs. water. Add this mixture to the saucepan and allow the sauce to cook on low heat until it thickens. Remove from the heat and stir in 2 Tbs. fresh chopped cilantro. Serve on the side of steamed vegetables and pan-fried tofu. Another amazing sauce is this Black Bean and Pecan Butter Sauce over Grilled Eggplant and Sauteed Spinach. White beans made creamy velvety sauces that make dairy unnecessary as in these Roasted Vegetables with Lemon-Cannellini Sauce and this Creamy Lemon Ziti with Roasted Asparagus.
5. Get a Head Start on Starters
Canned beans are a fast and easy way to make lots of appetizers when you’re having a party or get-together. Use canned chickpeas or step out of the box with other types of beans to make everyone’s favorite spread – hummus. Make this Homemade Hummus with Red Peppers, Spicy Chipotle Pumpkin Hummus, Quick Easy and Healthy Black Hummus, Smoky White Bean and Roasted Red Pepper Hummus, and even Low-Fat Vegan Pizza Hummus. Other bean-based spreads and dips include my White Bean Dip and this Great Northern Bean Dip, both made with canned beans.
6. Let Them Stew
When you make stews and soups, all the ingredients cook for at least half an hour. Canned beans are perfect for these recipes because, besides saving you time, they will soak up all the flavors they are stewing (or souping) in. You won’t believe the beans are canned when you try my Ethiopian Greens and Beans Stew or my Veggie Cassoulet. Try making this Spicy Collards and White Beans and Eggplant Garbanzo Stew with Polenta with canned beans. Don’t forget chili is a stew also. Use canned beans to make this Three Bean and Sweet Potato Chili and Healthy Vegan Chili.
My favorite bean soup is the Italian classic Pasta e Fagioli which I usually make with canned pinto beans. More soups with beans include this Mexican Black Bean Soup, Black-Eyed Pea and Wild Rice Soup , High-Protein Black Bean Mushroom Soup, and White Bean and Kale Soup.
7. Toss Them in Salads
Maybe it’s hot and you’re not in the mood to stand over a stove. Canned beans come in handy when you just don’t feel like cooking. Open a can or two, drain and rinse the beans and toss them into your favorite salad to make a healthier and heartier meal. Great options include this Hearty Vegan Cobb Salad, Tomato Basil Broccoli Noodle Salad with White Beans, Tangy Vegan Curried Chickpea Salad, Sprouted Green (Moong) Lentils and Peanut Salad, Chickpea “Tuna” Salad, and this Smoky Chickpea and Watercress Salad with Mango and Avocado. When you don’t mind cooking a little bit, make this Warm Potato Salad with Spinach and Chickpeas and this Kale Salad with Grilled Eggplant, White Beans and Fresh Figs.
8. Repurpose Them
If you shy away from canned beans because you think they aren’t flavorful enough, you might consider using them when you repurpose them to make a whole other food. Use canned beans as a quick way to make delicious vegan burgers and sausages. Mash up some beans with veggies, rice, spices, and a binder like flour or oats; you will have the most incredible vegan burger or sausage ever! I use black-eyed peas to make my Gluten-Free Italian Sausage, but you could use pinto beans as well. You can also make this Vegan Gutbuster Sandwich with homemade vegan Italian sausage. Black beans are the star of my Hoisin Vegan Black Bean Burgers with Spicy Sesame Sauce and kidney beans make up my Kidney Bean-Walnut Burgers with Mississippi Comeback Sauce. More incredible bean burgers include Mexican Flavored Bean Burgers, Potato and Black Bean Burgers, Black Bean Corn and Walnut Burger, Quinoa and White Bean Burger, Avocado and Black Bean Tortas, Black and White Bean Burgers and Hoppin’ John Sliders with Smoky Lemon Aioli Sauce and Sauteed Greens. Read How to Make Flavorful Veggie Burgers for tips on making the best burgers no matter what ingredients you use.
9. Cook Them with Grains
Whole grains take enough time to cook so opening a few cans of beans lessens the work of making a fabulous entrée or side dish. My all-time favorite beans and grains dish has to be my Jamaican Rice and Peas where the “peas” are pigeon peas but I also use red kidney beans. To learn how to make the best grains, check out Your Guide to Cooking Perfect Whole Grains. Then make this Goji Millet Tabbouleh, Quinoa, Lime and Black Bean Salad, White Bean Wild Rice Hash, Zen Lentil and Quinoa Kitchari, Barley Risotto with Fava Beans, Corn and Mushrooms, and this Cilantro, Lime and Black Bean Rice. Make an adventure out of it and combine a new bean you’ve never tried before with a whole grain that’s new to you as well. For ideas, see Now That You Can Pronounce Quinoa, Try These Other Whole Grains.
10. Make Desserts
One of the best ways to use canned beans is to make desserts with them. That’s right, I said desserts. You can use all kinds of veggies in sweet desserts and beans are no exception. Put beans and legumes in a food processor and you have a thick paste that not only adds flavor and moistness but can also help replace flour and eggs in recipes. I love making my Peanut Butter Black Bean Brownies—no one one believes they have beans in them! Try them or these Black Bean Chili Chocolate Brownies. Learn how to make similar brownies using sweet red lentils here. Use white beans to make these Pumpkin Bean Bars.
While dried beans are more economical and fresher, it’s a good idea to keep several types of canned beans in the pantry for those times when you need to whip up something quick or you just don’t feel like cooking beans from scratch. It’s easy to doctor up canned beans to make them so tasty, no one will know the difference.