The magical power of canned beans

What’s in your pantry?

If you aren’t well stocked with canned beans, maybe you should be. After all, they’re the ultimate convenience food. Beans are meal-builders. With a can or two of beans in the house, you have dinner. They are the basis for so many dishes — soups, chilies, mains, salads, dips, and just good old rice and beans.

You can even make a sweet bean pie, pureeing them and adding eggs, sugar and spice.

If you’re vegetarian or vegan, chances are good that beans are a big part of your diet. And besides, canned beans are convenient, inexpensive, super-filling and tasty.

Plus, beans are good for health. Registered dietitian nutritionist and author Jackie Mills of New York City says that beans pack a powerful nutritional punch. “They offer a great source of fiber and protein as well as folate, the vitamin that helps prevent certain birth defects,” she adds.

Aside from their great flavor, beans add fiber to your diet, Ms. Mills says. “The recommended daily intake of fiber is 25 grams for women and 38 grams for men. Most Americans get a measly 15 grams,” she says. “Fiber helps with digestion, makes you feel full after a meal, helps lower cholesterol and helps control blood sugar.”

If you’re having trouble digesting beans, it might be better to add them to your diet in small amounts. “Depending on the variety,” she says, “a half cup of cooked dried beans will provide five to seven grams of fiber. If you sprinkle a handful on a salad, add them to soups and chilies, or eat them as a side dish, a small serving of beans will add flavor and texture to your meals as well as providing a lot of fiber.”

Canned beans can be high in sodium. If this is a concern, drain and rinse the beans before using. This will eliminate about 40 percent of the sodium in the beans. Also, some types of canned beans are available with no added salt. These tend to be bland, however, so you’ll have to step up other seasonings to make them palatable.

But beans love flavors. In the recipes that follow, they star in many cuisines, from Indian to Italian, from kicked-up burgers to soup, deliciously and nutritiously.

— mmmrubin@gmail or on Twitter @mmmrubin.

Pinto Beans and Greens With Roasted Tomatoes

PG tested

Beans and greens are a favorite combo, most often seasoned with sausage. Here’s a lighter, fresher vegetarian version of the classic.

1/2 pound (about 8) small Campari tomatoes, halved

Olive oil

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Pinch brown sugar

3 garlic cloves, thinly sliced

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

1 cup coarsely chopped sweet onion

2 cans (15-ounces) pinto or red kidney beans (or one of each), rinsed and drained

1/3 cup vegetable broth or chicken broth or water

1 bag (about 9-ounces) prewashed spinach

Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Put tomatoes cut side up in 9-inch pie plate. Drizzle with 1 tablespoon oil, sprinkle with salt, pepper and a pinch of brown sugar. Roast tomatoes until juicy and just starting to brown, 20 to 25 minutes. Set aside.

Meanwhile, in large heavy skillet, cook garlic in 3 tablespoons oil over medium heat, stirring, until just fragrant, about 3 minutes. Stir in oregano, red pepper flakes and onion, cooking until tender and lightly golden, about 6 minutes. Add beans and broth or water, and warm through.

Add spinach, in batches, tossing gently. Season with salt and pepper, cover and simmer about 3 minutes, until spinach is wilted. Taste for seasoning. Spoon tomatoes and their juices on top and serve.

Makes 3 to 4 main-dish servings or about 6 side-dish servings.

— Miriam Rubin

Chickpea and Cavatelli Soup

PG tested

Easy to make, this soup is sheer comfort on a chilly day. Use any small pasta you like. The pasta sops up the broth as the soup stands or chills, so add more broth or water on reheating. I use a little less pasta for a brothier soup.

3 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

2 celery ribs, coarsely chopped

1 large carrot, peeled and coarsely chopped

1 small onion, coarsely chopped

Leaves from 3 sprigs rosemary, finely chopped

6 cups vegetable broth

1 can (15-ounces) chickpeas, rinsed and drained

6 to 8 ounces cavatelli 

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper

Chopped parsley and freshly grated Parmesan for serving

Heat oil in 6-quart saucepan over medium-high heat. Add celery, carrot, onion and rosemary, and cook, stirring often, until soft, 8 to 10 minutes. Add broth and chickpeas; bring to boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer 5 minutes.

With slotted spoon, remove half of chickpeas and some vegetables and puree in food processor or blender until smooth; stir puree into soup. Return soup to low boil.

Add pasta and cook, stirring often, until al dente, 6 to 10 minutes.

Season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve with parsley and Parmesan sprinkled on top.

Makes 4 to 6 servings.

— Adapted from: “Saveur Italian Comfort Food” by the editors of Saveur (Weldon Owen)

Black-Eyed Peas with Yogurt and Ginger

PG tested

You can make this with canned black-eyed peas, but I found that frozen black-eyed peas work better. Cook the peas in advance or while you’re prepping. Serve this bracing vegetarian dish over fluffy rice.

1 (12-ounces) package frozen black-eyed peas or 2¼ cups drained, canned black-eyed peas (about 1½ cans), 1/2 cup liquid reserved

1/4 cup olive oil

2 medium onions, chopped

1/4 cup finely chopped, peeled fresh ginger

6 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon ground coriander

3/4 teaspoon ground cumin

1/4 teaspoon ground cardamom

2 medium tomatoes, chopped

1/2 cup plain yogurt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper 

Kosher salt

1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro

Cook frozen peas, if using, according to package directions until tender. Drain, reserving ½ cup cooking liquid. Or drain canned beans, reserving ½ cup liquid.

Meanwhile, in large, deep, heavy skillet, heat oil over low heat. Add onions and cook, stirring often, until tender, 10 minutes. Add ginger, garlic, coriander, cumin and cardamom; cook, stirring, 2 minutes. Add tomatoes; cover and cook 2 minutes.

Uncover pan; raise heat to medium. Stir in the yogurt, 1 heaping tablespoon at a time, stirring until each addition is fully incorporated.

Add peas, reserved ½ cup cooking or can liquid (or even water), cayenne pepper and salt to taste. Reduce heat to low, cover and simmer, stirring often as this has a tendency to stick, about 10 minutes to blend the flavors. If sauce seems thin, simmer, uncovered, a minute or so to thicken. Garnish with cilantro and serve hot.

Makes 4 main-dish or 6 side-dish servings.

— Adapted from “Williams Sonoma Cooking at Home: More than 1,000 Classic and Modern Recipes for Every Meal of the Day” by Chuck Williams (Weldon Owen)

Mean Bean Burgers With Chipotle Mayo

PG tested

Follow author Sandra A. Gutierrez’s helpful tips for making perfect bean burgers: Chill them before cooking or they’ll fall apart. Dredge the patties in flour and first saute them to get a golden crust. Then bake so they cook all the way through “without burning; it also helps them retain their shape.”

For chipotle mayo

1 cup mayonnaise

1 minced, medium canned chipotle chili

2 teaspoons adobo sauce from can

For the burgers

1 cup chopped white onion

3 garlic cloves, chopped

4 cups cooked black beans, drained well, divided (about 3 15-ounce cans)

3/4 cup dry bread crumbs (plus more if needed)

1/2 cup chopped cilantro (leaves and tender stems)

1 large egg

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon ground cumin

1/2 teaspoon ground coriander

1/2 teaspoon ancho chile powder

1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1/4 cup all-purpose flour (for dredging, add more if needed)

1/3 to 1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For serving: Kaiser or hamburger rolls, split, lettuce, tomato slices and ketchup 

For chipotle mayo, mix all ingredients, cover and chill until ready to use (up to 4 days).

To make the burgers, line large baking pan with foil. Pulse onion and garlic in food processor just until finely chopped. Add 3 cups beans, ¾ cup breadcrumbs, cilantro, egg, salt, cumin, coriander, ancho chili and pepper. Pulse until nearly smooth, scraping sides.

Transfer to medium bowl; stir in remaining beans and about 1/4 cup more breadcrumbs, 2 tablespoons at a time, until mixture holds together without being dry. (It firms as it chills.) Using heaping 1/2 cup bean mixture for each patty, with moistened hands. Place on prepared pan. Chill 1 to 2 hours, or more.

Heat oven to 375 degrees. Spray large baking sheet with cooking spray.

Dredge patties in flour, removing excess. Heat half the oil (adding rest as needed) in large, heavy skillet over medium-high heat. In batches, cook patties, turning once, reducing heat if needed, until golden, about 2 minutes per side. Place on sprayed baking sheet.

Bake 15 to 20 minutes until heated. Brush rolls with chipotle mayonnaise; dress with lettuce and tomato. Place patties in rolls. Serve hot, with ketchup, if desired.

Makes 7 to 8 burgers.

— Adapted from “Beans and Field Peas: A Savor the South Cookbook” by Sandra A. Gutierrez (University of North Carolina Press)


Hot Topic