20 Ways to Love Canned and Dried Beans
Cooking beans? Find tips, tricks, and recipes for pantry-friendly meals.
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Beans. They’re there when you need them. On the shelf, they can wait for months — in the case of canned beans, years. Whether you’re new to the club or a seasoned member, these recipes will please your pantry, budget, and appetite.
Cooking with beans you already have eliminates outings to the store; buying beans makes it possible to go longer between trips. Beans help you stretch other, more costly perishables like meat and produce. It all translates to a smaller grocery bill, and less exposure for you and those in your community. And that’s no hill of beans.
Canned and dried bean conversions
One cup of dried beans will cook up to about three cups (it all depends on the variety).
A 15-ounce can of beans, drained and rinsed, is about 1-3/4 cups.
How many dried beans equal one can? Roughly 2/3 to 3/4 cup.
Types of beans — when to use which
Chickpeas, black beans, navy beans, and kidney beans tend to keep their shape very well. Use them in recipes where you’d like distinct, intact beans.
Pintos, butter beans, cannellini, and cranberry beans are creamier and have more delicate skins. Use them when you’d like them to melt into a soup, or puree dreamily.
Tips for using canned beans
What about the liquid in the can? Recipes usually instruct you to drain and rinse the beans. That’s partially because too much liquid will mess up the recipe, but also to reduce sodium, allowing you more control over how much salt is in the final recipe. Feeling thrifty? You can use the aquafaba (bean water) from chickpeas or white beans to create vegan meringue.
How long do they keep? Canned beans keep for…ages (two to five years, according to the USDA). If you overstocked and are nervous about getting through them all, relax. You’ve got plenty of time.
Tips for cooking dried beans
Cooking dried beans when you’re not accustomed to doing it can feel intimidating, but it's easy to master the basics.
Do you have to soak them? No, but it cuts cooking time and the beans cook a little more evenly. Here's how to cook dried beans: Soak beans in a large pot of cold water (use enough water so the beans have several inches of water over them) at least four hours, or do an overnight soak. Then use the soaking water or start with fresh water (it's up to you) and cook the soaked beans until tender. Add any acidic ingredients (such as tomatoes or lemon juice) and salt towards the end of cooking time; otherwise, they can make the beans tough.
Does a quick soak work? Yes, but they don't cook as evenly. Put rinsed dried beans in a large pot with cold water to cover by a couple of inches. Bring to a boil and cook 2 minutes, then remove them from the heat and let them soak 1 to 3 hours before continuing with cooking.
Dried beans are best cooked within a year; otherwise they do this weird thing where, after hours of cooking, they fall apart outside yet are still hard inside. The older the bean, the longer it takes to cook.
You don’t have to add anything but cold water to cook your dried beans, but a couple of dried bay leaves bring more dimension. I also like to lop the top off a head of garlic (peels still on) and toss the whole thing in there. A halved peeled onion or a halved peeled carrot are nice, too.
Beans love your pressure cooker! It’s worthwhile to learn how to cook beans in an Instant Pot, since it shaves off up to two-thirds of the cooking time.
Freezing cooked beans
If you cook a bunch of dry beans, you can freeze some for later. It’s like money in the bank! The hardest part is remembering to thaw them.
Let the beans cool in their liquid completely before packing them into freezer-safe containers or zip-top bags. Freeze them in the liquid, which will prevent them from getting freezer burned. They’ll be good for up to a year.
Maybe you’re not a bean lover, and you’re here because pandemic cooking = beans. Great news — not all bean recipes are bean-y. Try them pureed, in silky butter bean hummus. Or incognito, in amazingly spicy (and vegan!) walnut and back bean chorizo.
Instant Pot Black Beans
You can eat on a pot of black beans all week long. For the best color, don’t presoak. Just add those dried beans straight to the pot! This recipe calls for chicken stock, but you could use bouillon cubes, or water. Eventually, with cooked beans at the ready, you have the base for tons of meals (including at least a few of the recipe below).
Pizza Beans / Tomato and Gigante Bean Bake
Store still out of all-purpose flour? No worries, you can dig into pizza beans! Perfect for bean haters, because…pizza! Top tender white beans with tomato sauce and cheese for melting. (The recipe calls for gigante beans but you could use another you like, such as cannellini.) Serve this with a simple tossed salad, and crusty bread for dipping.
Chickpea Chorizo Tostadas with Avocado Crema
Chorizo made from nuts and beans? That’s right. High in fiber and much lower in fat and sodium, these meaty faux sausage crumbles are packed with earthy and fiery spices. The avocado crema tempers the kick, but for brevity you can skip it and use sour cream instead.
Creole Red Beans and Rice
Smoked sausage holds up for a long time in the fridge, as do the other perishable ingredients here. If you’re shopping for a few weeks in one go, factor this one into your menu planning as fresh ingredients dwindle.
Vegetarian Taco Soup
Ground beef has been hard to come by, depending on when and where you shop, but taco soup is so hearty you can get away without any meat at all. This can-opening extravaganza (four in all, and zero knife prep!) is so quick on the stovetop, there’s really no reason to do it any other way.
A one-skillet dinner saves on dishwashing duties. This calls for canned red kidney beans, but pintos or black beans would be equally at home. In about half an hour, your meal is on the table and everyone’s happy, because this is comfort food supreme.
Cooking dried black-eyed peas is a breeze, because they’re faster than most any other bean — even with no soaking! You have the option of using a ham hock or bacon. Southerners eat Hoppin’ John for good luck on New Year’s Day, but this economical rice and bean dish is suitable for anytime. Besides, who can’t use a little more luck? Serve this with braised kale or collards for the full-on experience.
Slow Cooker Ribollita
Eschewing pasta or potatoes as a star carb, this cucina povera recipe utilizes stale crusty bread for a filling main that’s burly enough to please, but not so heavy it evokes the frigid winter evenings we’re all glad are behind us. You add the greens and tomatoes in the last hour so the flavors and colors maintain vibrancy. Besides that, it’s a basic “set it and forget it” treatment. You can use any cooked beans you like, canned or dry. A grating of lemon zest makes this pop.
Easy Refried Beans
Have you ever made refried beans from scratch? It’s even simpler than mashed potatoes, and they’re a total revelation — smooth and creamy instead of pasty, like that stuff from the can. This method starts with cooking dried beans, and gives you instructions for both slow cooker and stovetop. Olive oil gives them richness, but you can use bacon grease for a smoky, porky edge that’ll be more like what you get on a restaurant combo plate.
Crock Pot Cowboy Beans
When baked beans go deluxe, they’re these. A pound of bacon, a pound of ground beef, and the usual baked bean trinity of ketchup, molasses, and mustard launches this easy slow cooker canned bean recipe from side dish territory to full-on main. Bake a quick pan of cornbread, and you have an easy meal.
3 Bean Salad
Remember this classic? It’s sweet and tangy and downright devourable. You can swap out whatever canned beans you like. Another plus: This calls for canned vegetables, which may be the only form you have at the moment. Since we’re all getting a little wild with recipes these days, sneak another can of beans in there to make it four bean salad! Chickpeas or black beans work great. This keeps well in the fridge for an instant side at lunch or dinner. In fact, it’s even better the next day.
5 Ingredient Coconut Curry
A pantry superstar! A can of coconut milk, a can of chickpeas, and a gob of the red curry paste hanging out in your fridge lead to a rich curry to serve on rice or noodles. This calls for two heads of broccoli, but cauliflower, chopped cabbage, or a combination lets you cook down what you have.
Black Bean Burrito Bowl
If you miss trips to your favorite fancy burrito chain, whip up a burrito bowl at home. This recipe gives you all the trimmings, from spiced sweet potatoes to a rich and tangy drizzle, but you can use it as a lunching pad to work on whatever random veg and open jars of salsa you have in your fridge. And if you busted out your dry beans on the Instant Pot Black Beans, this is the place to put them to further use.
Marinated White Beans
Just a few ingredients go into these savory beans, which are a handy meal booster, and better than spendier imported versions you buy in pretty jars. They’re terrific toppers for toast or a hearty salad, or add-ins for tuna salad or pasta.
Beans on Toast
It doesn’t get much simpler than this. In the U.K., baked beans on toast is an institution — one that’s ripe for adopting in homes all over now. A can of beans, buttered toast, and anything else you like: a grating of cheese, a fried egg. This is more of an ode than a recipe — open the can, heat it, plop it on toast, and boom, you’re done — but for meals when you can’t rally to go 100%, beans on toast will save the day.
Smoky Butter Bean Hummus
Is hummus still hummus of you use alternative beans? It doesn’t really matter, as there’s so much to love about this dip dusted with smoked paprika. Smear it on bread or dunk veggie sticks in it to satisfy shelter in place snacking yens.
This fresh and springy Instant Pot riff on the French cassoulet brings new meaning to “green beans.” You make a pesto-like mixture with kale and parsley as the beans cook, and then marry the two together. No pressure cooker? Just do the beans on the stovetop.
Baked Falafel Burgers
If you’ve never made your own meatless burgers, this is a great place to start, because the flavors may be familiar to you. Baking them in the oven is easy-peasy. The parsley is a pretty touch, and it does add a bracing flavor, but if you’re out, you certainly can skip it.
Pinto Bean Pie
Yes, you read that right. This one is sweet, not savory. There are plenty of Asian desserts featuring sweet beans fillings, so why not bean pie? If you stocked up a little too heavy on canned pinto beans, here’s a novel way to put them to use. The filling is a smooth puree with warming spices, not unlike sweet potato pie.
Black Bean Brownies
If you have a yen to bake a chocolate-y treat, but you’re all out of flour and eggs, a can of black beans can rush to the rescue! These vegan treats have been tearing up the internet the past few years, and if you’ve been wondering what the big deal is, now’s a great time to find out!