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The Best Ways to Use Canned Beans

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Inspired by conversations on the Food52 Hotline, we're sharing tips and tricks that make navigating all of our kitchens easier and more fun.

Today: Those cans of beans in the back of your pantry? Here are the ways they can save dinner (or lunch, or breakfast).

Canned beans from Food52

Let’s all agree that using dried beans, not the precooked kind, will result in the most pleasant taste and texture. And when trying to impress family or a legume-loving friend, it’s best to take the time to soak and boil

But that doesn't mean you should throw away your cans of kidneys, pintos, and cannellinis; precooked beans are still a convenient and powerful ingredient to have on hand, whether you need to thicken up a pot of soup or spruce up a bland salad. So for a moment, put the dried beans aside and open up the potential of canned beans. 

Good Beans

When shopping, choose canned or boxed brands with a BPA-free lining to avoid tinny tastes and chemicals. The healthiest and most versatile options will be those with the least ingredients; all you really need is beans and water. Skip the seasoned products and add your own flavors at home, or at least give them a good rinse to drain up to 30 to 40% of the sodium content. And, if you're keeping vegetarian, keep a lookout for mention of animal fat on the label.

Beyond the Pot

There’s nothing wrong with a hearty pot of chili. But beans can do a lot more than stew. Like rice and canned fish, they can whip up last-minute meals or make up for missing ingredients in a flash. And if when find yourself in a food pinch, you’ll be happy to have this culinary secret weapon in your cupboard or desk drawer. 

White bean dip from Food52

When short on time: Make this spunky bean dip for a quick appetizer; an open-faced bean tortilla tostada for a Not Sad Desk Lunch; or an avocado bowl for a last minute get-together of any kind.

When short on texture: Top salads and stews with toasted chickpeas or thicken up watery minestrones and casseroles with a cup of blended white beans.

Toasted chickpeas from Food52

When short on ingredients: Add to simple pastas, bolognese sauces, meatballs, and burgers for bulk.

When short on sides: Mix leftover drippings from the sauté or oven pan with a pot of pintos, kidneys, or cannelini beans for a simple compliment to the main dish. Or throw leftovers beans back on the flame for these genius refried beans.

Refried beans from Food52

When short on dry beans: Remember that a 15-ounce can of beans will replace 1 1/2 cups of cooked, dried beans. 

When short on ideas: Use for bicep curls, paperweights, or additions to emergency kits.

What are your favorite ways to use canned beans? Let us know in the comments!

Photos by James Ransom

Tags: Bean, Weeknight Cooking, Everyday Cooking