When the pandemic was first hitting and you made a mad dash to the grocery store to stock up on food, you bought canned beans without even checking if you had a handy canned beans recipe first. Don’t deny it — I did it, too, because beans are the ultimate stockpile food. They’re packed with nutrients, they’re cheap, and because they’re already cooked, they last forever. This is why, in practically every TV show and movie set in the post-apocalypse, canned beans are always our fallen civilization’s final culinary survivor.
The only problem with canned beans is that no one particularly wants to eat them. They taste bland, they can be mushy, and while you probably cook meals that call for a couple of cans, like chili, you rarely need them in recipes (unless you’re a vegetarian). And now you have a pile of them sitting in your pantry, and you have no idea what to do with them all.
But there are ways to turn the contents of those cans into a tasty dinner where beans are the star of the show. It’s not hard, and it doesn’t require fancy ingredients like exotic vegetables or handpicked Southeast Asian spices, either. In fact, most beans are so versatile that they can be used for practically any of the meals and uses below, so it doesn’t matter which can you grabbed in your frenzied shopping spree. Sure, maybe they won’t become your new favorite meal, but they’ll be healthy, filling and good. If nothing else, they’ll get those cans out of your goddamn kitchen.
Canned Beans Recipe: Chili Out
Obviously, anyone’s first canned beans-meal is going to be chili. While there’s a vocal contingent of Texan enthusiasts who believe any beans in chili is a crime against God and man, in reality, you can make a perfectly respectable chili using nothing but beans. “Red kidney beans are great because they’re so meaty and full-flavored,” says Joe Yonan, the Washington Post’s Food and Dining Editor, but also the author of Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking With the World’s Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein, which came out this past February (have we mentioned how much we love the concept of cool beans?). It’s why they’re the chili standard, but adding a few more beans — black and pinto especially — will make for a solid chili as long as you have a can of tomatoes, some chili powder, cumin and an onion to throw in there.
Canned Beans Recipe: Burgertime
Beans can replace the protein in a lot of meals (as you’ll see), but bean burgers are a vegetarian favorite. You can make them with pinto beans, black-eyed peas or white beans like cannellini and Great Northern, but black beans are the traditional choice. “I think that’s partially because they’re the closest to the color of a regular burger,” muses BeanInstitute.com project manager Adam Veile. He suggests sautéing them in a bit of olive oil and garlic, and you can add spices, onions or jalapenos, if you want. All you really need is an egg to help bind the beans together into a patty shape (although some breadcrumbs would also be helpful). And remember to mash the beans manually, not in a food processor, warns Yonan, or you’ll end up putting black bean dip on a hamburger bun.
Canned Beans Recipe: Fry and Fry Again
While refried beans are also sold by the can, it’s extremely easy to make your own, which will ironically taste significantly better, even though you’re using canned beans to make it. “Pinto beans are the most popular option for refried beans, and black beans are a distant second,” says Veile. Like with bean burgers, you sauté the beans with oil and garlic, and add spices like cumin and/or chili powder (Yonan likes a dash of cinnamon). This time, when you mash them, add a bit of liquid — water, broth, a bit of bean juice from the can — and cook them a bit longer, until they reach your desired refried consistency.
Now, if you’re only thinking about refried beans as the side next to rice in Mexican restaurants, you’re not thinking big enough. Add some shredded cheese, and they can be put on nachos and tostadas, or make for a perfectly tasty burrito all on their own. “I love a bean taco,” says Yonan.
Canned Beans Recipe: Tossed (in a) Salad
Yes, really. Beans and salad. It’s a thing! “Beans can add a lot of heft to a salad,” explain Yonan. “There have been studies that have shown meals based on beans are more satisfying than meals based on meat.” That’s because it’s also adding a ton of fiber and protein to your bowl of leafy greens, making it a healthy replacement for chicken or ham. There’s also bean salad — as in a pasta salad, but, you know… with beans instead. You can add some corn and tomatoes to black beans, go Mediterranean with a chickpea-centric salad or mix it up with kidney, cannellini and garbanzo beans with cucumber and celery. Yonan’s got a third option as well: “I make a salad that uses tofu and navy beans, so it’s sort of like a chicken salad.”
Canned Beans Recipe: Fagioli Me Once
Pasta Fagioli — pronounced in America as fa-ZOOL — means “pasta and beans.” It refers to a specific Italian soup that includes a white bean like cannellini or Great Northern beans and a smaller pasta such as macaroni or ditalini. But here’s a secret: You combine other beans with other pasta. “White beans go great with pasta and pesto sauce,” says Veile. “In a red sauce, you might add whole kidney beans, or you could mix any type of bean with [a pasta] sauce in the blender for added protein.” Yonan admits he has baked cannellini beans in cannelloni pasta. “You just combine them with some swiss chard and some onion and garlic and you stuff them with some mozzarella,” he says. “I mainly did that so I could call it Cannellini Cannelloni.”
Canned Beans Recipe: Rice and Easy
Nothing shows the incredible versatility of beans better than beans and rice, because there’s practically an infinite number of ways to combine the two foods. It’s a staple dish in South America, the Caribbean, the Middle East, Asia, Africa and even New Orleans, which makes America’s most famed variant, red beans and rice. It’s made with kidney beans, green peppers, onions, celery and a wide array of Cajun spices (it’s also usually made with Andouille sausage, but the beans provide all the protein you need).
But why stop there? You can choose any bean, make the rice any way you want, use whatever spices you want and toss in practically any other food, and it’ll be okay! Peppers! Yams! Raisins! Coconut milk! Almonds! Throw it all in broth to make it a soup, or eat it as a risotto! Stuff ‘em in a burrito or a green pepper! Take a good look at what else you have in the kitchen, and go with what feels right. “Just make sure [the beans] are extra flavorful because the rice is a bit of a blank canvas,” says Yonan.
Canned Beans Recipe: All Things Bean Equal
If you still have a few cans lying around after all this, don’t despair. Yonan’s Cool Beans cookbook has recipes that use beans for baking, including desserts. “There’s a fairly simple oatmeal cookie I work a can of navy beans into,” he says. “Navy beans are the only food classified by the U.S. government as a vegetable and a protein, but they’re also very starchy, so they can work really well in things like baked goods.”
Veile’s Bean Institute also points out that pureed beans can be used as a low-calorie, low-fat and high protein replacement for butter or oil, meaning you can use it to make cakes, doughnuts, frosting and even mousse, if you want to get fancy about it. If you don’t want to get fancy about it, put them in your oatmeal or a smoothie and enjoy an extra dose of protein, so you can start your day with an extra dose of energy.
There’s so much you can do with beans that you honestly should have a stockpile of them at all times. Post-apocalyptic you will thank you for it.