Kitchen Hacks

The Best Ways to Use Canned Beans

February 20, 2014

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

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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

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In January of 2004, I received a diagnosis that changed my life. I was diagnosed with Lupus, an autoimmune disease that in my case attacked my kidneys and brain. Due to the intensity of the initial “flare up” of the disease, I became renal insufficient and eventually faced kidney failure. Amazingly, through great medicine, wonderful family and friends, and an enormous amount of support, I became stronger and healthier and miraculously, my kidneys partially regenerated. I no longer depend on dialysis and by regulating my diet, I depend on fewer medications. Five years later, I work part time and live a full and utterly enjoyable life. My dietary restrictions have transformed into a real passion for food and I hope to be able to pass along my favorite finds to others facing similar dietary challenges. Be creative, be friendly, and be full!


mkeating February 27, 2014
I love Beans! In fact I own a bean company. Boxed beans and canned beans do not compare with glass packed beans. Every bean lover should try Randall Beans. There is a huge taste difference.
Mr A. February 26, 2014
So, don't just talk about how good toasted chickpeas are, tell us how to make them. I've heard of it but never have done it.
Paula Z. February 27, 2014
Here's the easy way to make what we call "nahit" all around the Mediterranean Basin: rinse and drain one can of chickpeas. Have your salt, pepper and the juice of 1/2 lemon ready. Heat up a non-stick or cast iron pan over medium high heat, add a splash of olive oil. If you use a steel pan, pour in a thin layer of oil, add a pinch of salt, it will make it non-stick (Thank you to Chef Tal Ronnen for the tip). Toss in your chickpeas, cover and shake the pan to get them well coated with oil. Cook for about 7-10 minutes, tossing the chickpeas around in the covered pan occasionally. The peas should be nicely browned in spots. Uncover, add salt, pepper and lemon juice, stir quickly and cook a few minutes more until the pan is dry, stirring. Use hot or cold in salads, as a snack or in whatever dish you like.
VanillaQueen February 26, 2014
Cannellini beans, some lightly smashed then mixed with lots of garlic, olive oil, lemon juice, chopped tomatoes and basil, served on crusty bread.
OldGrayMare February 26, 2014
Chickpeas with a fresh dill pesto (recipe found on Food52 I think?) whole package of fresh dill weed, scant 1/4 cup toasted pecans or walnuts, 1/4 cup parmesan, 1 fat garlic clove, and enough olive oil to make the right consistency. Whir all that in blender. Rinse and drain a can of chickpeas. Dump the green yum on top.....throw the entire thing on top of several pan fried pork chops....and dig in! Leftovers? Never.
caseymsy February 24, 2014
Although we grow and freeze fresh cannelini and borlotti beans , I still have a shelf of various tinned beans and lentils. I find them quick and easy to add to soups and casseroles etc. they're so easy. They're good for people on diets ,and I'm always on a diet
Tereza February 21, 2014
I always keep cans of chickpeas around. Such a great and versatile ingredient!
Michelle L. February 20, 2014
Canned beans were a favorite filler for my son's toddler snack cup. Easy to grab, healthy and zero prep work!
Jackie S. February 20, 2014
Hummus and chana dhal for chick peas, salads with haricots, reds well just chilli
Eliz. February 20, 2014
If pressed for time and not afraid of power shortages, packages of frozen beans are a great alternative to cans. I am not sure if they are a fairly recent development in the world of food products, but I know Whole Foods Market carries black-eyed peas which have a superior texture to anything canned. I admit one brand of vegetarian refried beans was a staple during grad school and in puréed form, compromised texture isn't an issue.
Marian B. February 20, 2014
I used to make toasted chickpeas all the time -- sometimes even just in the broiler -- but now, for some reason, I don't. This needs to change; thanks for the reminder, and all the helpful tips, Jess!
Sodium G. February 20, 2014
Marian - I am all things toasted chickpea obsessed. They go on everything. All the time. Glad to help rekindle your addiction!
Shannon D. February 26, 2014
Can you toast canned chickpeas? For some reason my brain does not want to accept that.... I guess they really aren't any different than cooked dried chickpeas, right?
Marian B. February 26, 2014
You can! Just make sure to pat them dry before you add oil, etc. The flavor isn't as good as scratch-made chickpeas, but in a pinch, they always do the trick!