Weeknight Cooking

7 Bean Recipes for the Broke Kitchen

June 19, 2013

Cooking on the cheap shouldn't mean minute rice and buttered pasta every night. With a little creativity and a little planning, you can make the most of a tight budget -- without sacrificing flavor or variety.

Today: Gabriella celebrates beans, the cheap chef's best friend.

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From lentil to pinto, cannellini to chickpea, beans are variable and versatile, delicious hot or cold. They're reliably hearty in soups and they shine in salads. Combine them with a grain and you've got an instant nutritional powerhouse on your plate. And of course, they're so darn cheap.

Most of the time I go for canned; patience has never been my strong suit. But beans are cheapest when they're bought dry: a pound will cost you two dollars, yield 8 cups cooked, and last you through at least as many meals. If you're worried about how to cook them, don't be -- we've got your back with this step-by-step guide.

Some of my favorite ways to enjoy beans are decidedly non-recipes. I'll toss cannelini beans with chopped red onion, olive oil, and balsamic vinegar, or I'll mix chickpeas with olive oil and whatever spice I'm in the mood for and bake them in the oven until crispy. That's not to say they can't get dressed up, though -- try them in these discreetly frugal dishes: 


Sweet Pea Hummus 

Ignacio Mattos' Grilled Favas


Yam, Zucchini, and Chickpea Salad  

Raw Kale Salad with Lentils and Sweet Apricot Vinaigrette


Smoky Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili


Mujaddara with Spiced Yogurt


Pasta e Fagioli

Tell us: what are your favorite ways to eat beans?

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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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See what other Food52 readers are saying.

  • Sewassbe
  • Mark Oviatt
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    Alyssa Wiegand
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  • Michele Jacobson
    Michele Jacobson
Yes, my name rhymes.


Sewassbe December 24, 2013
Love making "cowboy beans," which is black, kidney, and pinto beans slow cooked from dried, then add tomato paste, onions, bacon or sausage, garlic powder, and smoked spanish paprika for an amazing dish to serve over rice, polenta, or cornbread.

I also love refried beans of pintos cooked very soft, then melt a tablespoon or so of bacon fat in a pan, add garlic and smoked paprika, then add the pintos and puree with an immersion blender until very smooth. My favorite Mexican restaurant makes refried beans similar to this (but better). It makes a meal with a sprinkling of melted monterey jack cheese.

I love mujaddarah also, but I make it with wheat bulgur and serve it with cottage cheese. Sometimes I add cabbage to the onions for a middle eastern/eastern europe twist.
Rotisserie or leftover chicken sauteed with cooked black beans, onions, and spices (chili pepper, smoked paprika, garlic) and served on tortillas with sour cream and fresh white onion soaked in lemon juice is also divine.
Mark O. June 23, 2013
My favorite I got from my Rick Bayles cookbook - Country Style Refried beans. Cook 1 lb of dried beans in water (doesn't matter what kind) which makes 6 cups. In a large frying pan add a couple tablespoons of EVOO and add a large chopped onion and garlic. Once the onion is translucent add the cooked beans and some of the bean water. Rough mash with a potato masher aand season with salt, pepper and anything else you like. You can put the leftovers in a plastic tub in the fridge and just nuke when you want to use. Very healthy unlike commercial refried beans which uses cup+ of oil.
Alyssa W. June 20, 2013
Wow, must try the black bean and sweet potato chili! That sounds so good. I love a bowl of brothy beans with a lovely smoked ham hock and some crusty, buttered bread.
Indrani June 19, 2013
Thanks for the great ideas! I love beans with tuna, thin-sliced red onions and capers, doused in lemon juice and olive oil. Also we use beans to bulk up chicken and vegetable soups all the time.
Michele J. June 19, 2013
Beans are so underutilized in the American diet! Despite studies showing evidence that the fiber in beans help fight cancer, just a small percentage of Americans consume them on a daily basis. This may be due to a lack of creativity - addressed beautifully here! - or concerns over, well, infamous digestive issues. Soaking dried beans in plain tap water, then making sure to switch this water out for fresh prior to cooking, is one way to address this problem. Another is adding the traditional Mexican herb epazote - either fresh or dried - to the beans during the cooking process. Either way will solve the issue and add to your enjoyment of this healthy and delicious food!
Kenzi W. June 19, 2013
Love this -- thanks for reminding me to stock up! Chickpeas are one of my favorite ways to round out a lunch. (Not Sad Desk Lunch, anyone?)
Marian B. June 19, 2013
Chickpeas are my favorite bean! Whenever I cook them from scratch I find myself picking them out of the pot, plain, with just a sprinkle of salt. So good.