Pantry

Why You Should Braise Your Beans (& 6 Ways to Make Them Dinner)

October 24, 2017

Most people appreciate beans for their brusque, no-nonsense nutrition; they are healthful, packed with iron and fiber, and, most importantly, they are always there. No matter your mood, no matter your level of hanger, no matter your astrological symbol, beans are always waiting, patiently, in your cabinet, ready to be braised (and dinner).

Just one way to make braised beans into a meal. Photo by Bobbi Lin

Convenience and health aside, beans can also be a meal that you look forward to eating. When you braise your beans it turns them from kidney-shaped protein packets into something silky, luxurious, and covetable. Yes, you should use dry beans, if possible (here are 10 reasons why, if you needed more of a nudge)—but we don't always live in the ideal world. Don't fret—canned beans take to braising like a fish to water. (If you are using dried beans, should you soak them overnight? It's unclear—but we tentatively say not worth it). Canned or dried, braising will increase your beans' appeal tenfold.

What type of bean? Any will work (except maybe green—though try it and let us know how it goes). Cannellini beans work well if you're aiming for an Italian-esque dish, though Gigante beans are delicious, too, and their large size equates to creamier interiors. Pinto, Great Northern, Borlotti, kidney, and black beans are all excellent options, as well.

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Tip: Before cooking, make sure to check how old your dried beans are and prepare them accordingly.


First, Braise Your Beans

The beginnings of a bean braise. Photo by Bobbi Lin

If you're using beans from a can, strain them, rinse them, and tip them into a large pot. Said pot might contain some softened alliums, or possible some sautéed carrots and celery; it must contain a generous glug (or two) of olive oil. I like to throw in some thyme or rosemary stems and even a Parmesan rind, if I have one kicking around in my freezer (yet another reason to save your rinds!). Cover the whole mess with broth (vegetable, parmesan, or chicken work best), and bring it to a simmer. Turn down the heat and cook until the beans are very tender (or as long as you can possibly stand it). This typically takes around 30 minutes, but you can leave them going for longer if you have the time—they'll only improve. Periodically smash some of the beans against the side of the pot with the back of a spoon to thicken the whole situation into something on the spectrum between a thick stew and a smooth purée.

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Top Comment:
“cans (undrained) of your favorite baked beans (I like the original or homestyle flavors for this because you will be adding so much flavor). Then add 1T. of mustard (Dijon or yellow), 1/4 cup brown sugar (lt. or dk.), 1T Worcestershire sauce, and 1 cup of your favorite salsa or a can of Rotel (mild, med., or hot per your taste - I like chunky). Now simmer and reduce to a thick oven baked bean consistency. Crumbled cooked bacon (obviously de-veganizes the dish though. But if you're not vegan/vegetarian, you can cook said bacon first, then saute your onions in peppers, & garlic in bacon grease instead of olive oil. Honestly, that's what I do;) and cilantro or sliced green onions sprinkled over just before serving is a nice finishing touch. Enjoy!!”
— Jan Z.
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If you're using dried beans, everything can happen in one pot. Once your legumes are cooked (which can take anywhere from thirty minutes to two hours depending on your cooking method, the age of the beans, and their size), along with the onion and carrot and bay leaf and herb stems and whatever else you threw in to flavor them, just keep simmering; as the liquid reduces, smash some of the beans with the back of your spoon. Keep stirring, smashing, and reducing until the whole thing is silky, creamy, and as thick as you'd like.

Once your beans are braised and bubbling and flavorful, here are 6 ways to turn them into a meal. (Though if you want to just shower the whole thing in cheese and eat it straight from the pot, no judgment.)


Put them On Toast

An oldie but a goodie. Grill, toast, or even fry thick slices bread, drizzle them with olive oil, and rub with a garlic clove. Cloak the whole thing in a thick blanket of braised beans. Grate on some cheese, sprinkle with spices, or gild the lily with more olive oil and a pinch of fancy-pants salt.


Turn Them Into Soup

Add some more broth to your bean pot, perhaps a can of tomatoes and/or some chunks of sausage or greens, and call it a soup! Throw in a few shakes Southwestern spices, a diced pepper or two, and chunks of sweet potato and you've got a vegan chili. Or go the Marcella way (absolutely never a wrong turn) and keep things pleasantly simple to let the beans' flavor sing.


ladle over grains (or pasta)

Quinoa or couscous would be an ideal grain base to catch all of the bean liquid, but farro, polenta, bulgar, or rice would work beautifully, too! Or cook some pasta to al dente, add it to the pot of beans along with a hefty splash of pasta cooking water, and simmer until everything is thick and lovely. (If you want a guide, follow this recipe for pasta e fagioli). In all cases, it's a good idea to top the whole situation with a fried or poached egg.


Use them as filling

You could always do as Sarah Jampel does and turn your braised, smushed beans into a filling for quesadillas, burritos, wraps, or sandwiches. Or use them to make enfrijoladas or enchiladas. Ladle them into store-bought arepas (or homemade ones, if you're a domestic god/goddess). Use them as a layer in lasagna or a tortilla casserole. Every dish deserves to be filled with braised beans!


make them your base

Braised beans: the most inviting bed of all. Photo by Mark Weinberg

Braised beans are a silky, protein-heavy base for whatever leftovers you have lying around. On a busy night they can serve as a creamy buffer for the remains of a rotisserie chicken or some charred broccoli and lemon, and on a fancier occasion they can be a bed for meats (like this lamb shank). They're also an excellent gluten-free, complex carb-heavy base for juicy braises or stews.


Use them as a dip

You could always just say "screw it" and reduce your braised beans until they're thick and creamy, and then use tortilla chips, pita crisps, slices of carrot or bell pepper, or a torn baguette to scoop them up like a chunky dip. Done and done.

Are you a fan of the braised bean? What's your favorite way to eat them? Tell us below!

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A New Way to Dinner, co-authored by Food52's founders Amanda Hesser and Merrill Stubbs, is an indispensable playbook for stress-free meal-planning (hint: cook foundational dishes on the weekend and mix and match ‘em through the week).

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20 Comments

Pete January 4, 2018
Above you recommend vegetable, Parmesan, or chicken broth as best braising liquids. While there is nothing wrong with those I have found that a bottle or two of a nice dark beer is a wonderful braising liquid. Give it a try. Thanks for all the recipes!!
 
jo A. November 5, 2017
When using dried beans do you add the oil at the begining? Or after the beans are cooked?
 
Sara October 29, 2017
Great Article... Haitians have be making bean stews with rice for forever! Green bean stew is a fav! So nice to see it here in with such variety of ways to cook. <br /><br />My grandmother taught us early. Fry the beans in oil, garlic and thyme or rosemary. Boil till dry three times over and then purée in blender. Leave a 1/2 cup of beans aside to add back to purée. Simmer for few and serve over rice, meats or eat with bread! Any dry bean will do.
 
Charles B. October 29, 2017
Umm. "Braising" is a form of cooking which involves sauteing and then further cooking.<br /><br />As described, you are not braising them!
 
susan.h.schneider October 29, 2017
I checked the many definitions of braising and, though none refer to sauteing, there is mention of frying in small amount of fat and then slow cooking in liquid with a lid. Other definitions omit any reference to frying or searing.
 
Charles B. October 29, 2017
One problem many have with using dried beans (the cheapest way to buy them,) is that they fear the prep time.<br /><br />The easiest way around this by far is to use a pressure-cooker.
 
susan.h.schneider October 29, 2017
Vanda Hembree- I, too, love pinto beans this way. A former sister in law taught me how to make them. Sooo good. And comforting! I have also discovered, recently, Maine Soldier Beans and Yellow Eye Beans. Soldier Beans make a lovely baked bean and I like yellow eye beans because they hold their body, not turning to mush like some with many re-heatings. So glad I discovered eating dried beans!<br />
 
susan.h.schneider October 29, 2017
Vanda Hembree- I, too, love pinto beans this way. A former sister in law taught me how to make them. Sooo good. And comforting! I have also discovered, recently, Maine Soldier Beans and Yellow Eye Beans. Soldier Beans make a lovely baked bean and I like yellow eye beans because they hold their body, not turning to mush like some with many re-heatings. So glad I discovered eating dried beans!<br />
 
vanda H. January 18, 2018
I've heard of Maine Soldier Beans, but I haven't tried them. This is the first time I'm hearing about Yellow Eye. I'm definitely going to look for them and give them a try. Thank you!
 
vanda H. October 29, 2017
I learned to make beans from my 100 year old Aunt. Kidney beans, salt and water. Boil them down 3 times. That’s it. When I’m feeling fancy, I add a smoked ham shank or turkey wing and shred the meat into it. I serve all with cornbread. It simple and delicious and always garners compliments.
 
Julie M. October 29, 2017
Does she use dried beans, and if so, do you soak them first? Or do you just toss them in the water dry, and boil them down 3 times?<br />
 
vanda H. January 18, 2018
My aunt used dry beans and she always soaked them. I also use dried beans, but I do not soak them. I just toss them in the water dry before boiling down 3 times. I cannot taste a difference and the texture is velvety, just like my aunt's beans.
 
FS October 29, 2017
Sounds tasty! I'm not a big bean fan, but this recipe is one I'll try tonight!
 
Jan Z. October 29, 2017
"Homemade" Stovetop Baked Beans - quickly and easily elevate canned baked beans!<br />In a Dutch oven, saute diced onion (1), bell pepper (1), garlic (a few cloves), and a jalapeno (optional) in 2T. olive oil until soft & translucent. Add 2 lg. cans (undrained) of your favorite baked beans (I like the original or homestyle flavors for this because you will be adding so much flavor). Then add 1T. of mustard (Dijon or yellow), 1/4 cup brown sugar (lt. or dk.), 1T Worcestershire sauce, and 1 cup of your favorite salsa or a can of Rotel (mild, med., or hot per your taste - I like chunky). Now simmer and reduce to a thick oven baked bean consistency. Crumbled cooked bacon (obviously de-veganizes the dish though. But if you're not vegan/vegetarian, you can cook said bacon first, then saute your onions in peppers, & garlic in bacon grease instead of olive oil. Honestly, that's what I do;) and cilantro or sliced green onions sprinkled over just before serving is a nice finishing touch. Enjoy!!
 
Noel K. October 29, 2017
I have been making a braised cannelini bean with carrots and onions and Swiss chard, yum! By the bowl or over toast it is my go to comfort food. Great article thank you!
 
Kay D. October 26, 2017
We like to take navy beans, add some finely minced garlic, and some diced onion, a good glug of olive oil, salt and pepper and mix them in a casserole dish. Bake at a convenient temperature, usually for an hour and you have a lovely dish of beans that you can serve as is, or with nearly anything.
 
Anastasia October 29, 2017
Key Dee, this sounds like a welcome alternative to my pressure-cooked beans ... do you use dry beans, without liquids other than oil, in your baking method?
 
Anastasia October 29, 2017
Key Dee, this sounds like a welcome alternative to my pressure-cooked beans ... do you use dry beans, without liquids other than oil, in your baking method?
 
delbor October 25, 2017
" They're also an excellent no-carb base for juicy braises or stews."<br />Beans are full of carbs.... I don't know what you were thinking. Or did I misunderstand what the subject of this statement is?
 
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Catherine L. October 25, 2017
Good point! I suppose I was thinking gluten-free or *good* carbohydrate-filled (complex, glycemic-friendly ones). I'll edit right away!