A Pot of Beans & Greens

April 25, 2021
11 Ratings
Photo by Julia Gartland Prop Stylist: Sophie Pappas Food Stylist: Anna Billingskog
  • Prep time 10 minutes
  • Cook time 1 hour 20 minutes
  • Serves 4-6
Author Notes

A person whose opinion I greatly respect once wrote me a letter sharing a lot of nice things, among them noting my “deep, abiding love of beans.” And let me tell you: Truer words have never been written. (I may have cried a little, too. It’s nice to be seen.)

As someone who’s dabbled in vegetarianism on and off for years, I’ve never met a bean I don’t like. They’re appropriately filling and, when seasoned well, deeply flavorful—not to mention a third of the cost of meat. While I’ve always been one to stir a can of beans into soup or use to top a tray of cheesy nachos, I really first got into making huge pots of beans—from dried, not canned—when I started living on my own in New York. I always had a job (or jobs), but let’s be honest: I’ve never stopped being on a budget.

Back then, instead of going out to dinner (which was bound to cost a lot), I started inviting friends over to eat. And that dinner was, more often than not, a pot of beans. These days, I’m not having friends over, and while I yearn for a pandemic-free reality, I’m still eating on the cheap.

It varies depending on where you shop, of course, but this meal, this gorgeous pot of beans, is the opposite of pricey. A pound of dried beans—which can easily serve four people—typically costs under $2. And for $4, you can get some alliums, a lemon, and a head of greens (whatever’s on sale). I jazz them up with dried chile, olive oil, and salt from the pantry, plus a Parm rind from the freezer (free flavor; don’t toss ’em!). I think they’re best served with crusty bread, either bought fresh (about $4, and you won’t eat the whole thing tonight) or revived from the freezer.

Belly-filling, yet easy on the bank account.

As for the beans themselves, you can of course adapt as you’d like. I tend to use cannellini, great northern, white lima, pinto, or chickpeas in a pot like this, but really, anything goes. Unless they’re very large, I rarely soak beans in advance (prehydrating overnight can shorten the cooking time, which, great, but I always forget)—but if you’d like to do it anyway, just to feel something, then follow all of Step 1.

Some like to cook beans with celery or with a huge pile of herbs, but after many (many) pots, I’ve found that these additions don’t impart that much extra flavor. Sure, if I happen to have a handful of herbs on their last legs or a few stalks of limp celery hanging in the crisper, I’ll certainly toss them into the pot. But ultimately, I like to save buying those ingredients fresh for when they can be the star of the show. And this dinner definitely stars beans. —Rebecca Firkser

Test Kitchen Notes

Nickel & Dine is a budget column by Rebecca Firkser, assigning editor at Food52, and major bean fan. Each month, Rebecca will share an easy, flavor-packed recipe that feeds four (or just you, four times)—all for $10 or less. —The Editors

What You'll Need
  • 1 pound dried beans, such as cannellini, pinto, or chickpeas
  • 5 tablespoons olive oil, plus more, for serving
  • 1 large onion (red, yellow, whatever you have) or 2 large shallots
  • 1 head garlic, halved crosswise (don’t worry about the skins!)
  • 1 lemon, halved crosswise
  • 1 fresh chile (halved and seeded if preferred) or whole dried chile, optional
  • 7 to 9 cups boiling water
  • 1/4 cup Diamond Crystal kosher salt, plus more for seasoning if necessary (if using Morton, start with 2 tablespoons and add more to taste)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Rind from Parmesan cheese, optional
  • 1 head sturdy greens, such as kale, broccoli rabe, or escarole
  • 1 to 2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
  • Crusty bread, toasted (and rubbed with a clove of raw garlic if you have one), for serving
  1. Pick through the beans for any debris, then rinse well in a colander or strainer. Optional step (but recommended if using very large beans, like corona or gigante): Place the beans in a bowl and cover with filtered water by 2 inches. Cover, transfer to the refrigerator, and soak the beans overnight, or up to 12 hours. When you’re ready to cook, drain the water and rinse the beans.
  2. Heat the oil in a 5- or 6-quart Dutch oven or pot over medium-high. Quarter the onion (no need to peel, but you can if you want), keeping the root end intact; if using shallots, halve lengthwise. Gently place the onion, garlic, and lemon in the pot, cut side down. Cook until charred (you can do both sides of the onion if you want), about 5 to 8 minutes.
  3. Meanwhile, heat a kettle filled with water or bring a medium pot of water to a simmer over the stove.
  4. Add the beans and chile, if using, to the pot along with enough simmering water to raise the liquid to about 2 inches from the top of the pot, or cover the beans by about 5 inches (about 7-9 cups, depending on the size of your pot. Keep more simmering water on hand, and replenish if the water dips lower than 2 inches from the top of the pot—using preheated water helps keep the bean-cooking liquid hot throughout the pot, therefore making the beans cook faster.)
  5. Stir in the salt (yes, 1/4 cup is correct if using Diamond Crystal!) and several grinds of black pepper and bring the mixture to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low, or whatever heat your stove needs to keep the beans at a simmer.
  6. Stir in the Parmesan rind, if using, and half-cover the pot with a lid. Cook the beans for 30 minutes, then taste the liquid. Does it need more salt? Add more! Is it too salty? Add more water by the cup until it tastes right. If using a green with firm stems, strip the greens from their stems, chop the stems finely, and add (only the stems) to the pot now, as they are edible.
  7. Continue cooking for another 30 minutes, then taste a bean. If it’s at all crunchy, keep cooking, checking every 30 minutes until the beans are creamy all the way through, which can take anywhere from an additional hour to several hours, depending on the size and age of your beans.
  8. When the beans are cooked to your liking, turn off the heat. Find the halved head of garlic and use a spoon to smash the cloves against the side of the pot, then remove the spent root end of the garlic and discard. Scoop out the lemon halves, and Parmesan rind and spent dried chile if using, and discard. Roughly chop or tear the greens and stir into the mixture to gently wilt. Stir in 1 tablespoon of vinegar, adding more to taste.
  9. Spoon the beans and greens into bowls with plenty of broth and serve with a drizzle of olive oil, several grinds of black pepper, and toast.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Rebecca Firkser
    Rebecca Firkser
  • Steven Williamson
    Steven Williamson
  • greens n things
    greens n things
  • Stephanie Seal Brown
    Stephanie Seal Brown

14 Reviews

greens N. November 19, 2022
All-time most important recipe for me, it's SO good and cheap. If I was teaching someone how to cook, this is where we would start. I make this constantly. Wish we were getting more of this series!
Stephanie S. February 24, 2022
As a big bean fan myself, I loved the (new to me) addition of lemon and how everything is charred in the beginning. This added so much great flavor! As far as the salt, I went with my old stand by: add a heaping teaspoon early, taste and adjust later letting it simmer for another ten minutes or so before serving. I ended up using about 2 heaping teaspoons of Morton's kosher.
judy January 30, 2022
Comment about the salt. I stared using Diamond Crystal salt based on watching it recommended on FN years ago. I find I need HALF as much salt as a recipe requires when I use it vs. regular salt. Every recipe calls for double which I always find is way too much. I often start with less than half, and add more if needed. Saltiness is an individual taste as much a anything else, I guess. This recipe looks great, otherwise. I do not keep a lot of the ingredients, and I live in an Assisted Living situation. I will give this one a try, as I have some beans and kale on hand Will probably cook the beans first, then proceed with the recipe, using no sodium vegetable stock instead of water. More flavor to start. I like th suggestion of serving with rice or other hearty grain--maybe barley or faro would be a good one.
Kestrel August 6, 2021
This was very good, but I felt like it needed a grain. Will make rice or quinoa with it for next time.
Katie April 15, 2021
I finally made this tonight after eyeing it for months and it is as great as promised! I halved the recipe since I'm cooking for one and it still made plenty for leftovers tomorrow. I thought I messed up a couple times but this recipe is fairly foolproof. I made it with chickpeas and kale and topped with feta and zaatar at the end and it's so good!!
brokenyolk March 19, 2021
I was so excited about this recipe! And ended up so bummed. 1/4 cup of salt was way, way too much, and I feel that the 1 hr 20 min cook time above the ingredient list is a little misleading. After 3+ hours of cooking my beans (recently purchased) were still a bit crunchy, and the whole thing was inedibly salty. I'm guessing this recipe was tested with Crystal, not Morton, salt, which I know has a higher sodium content. I hesitated at the quarter cup but the instructions were quite emphatic and typically if there is a need to adjust it's mentioned in the recipe. I'll know for next time, I just hate throwing food away and I wanted to mention this in case it's helpful for others.
Rebecca F. March 21, 2021
hi there! I'm sorry to hear your end result was too salty—this was indeed tested with diamond crystal kosher salt, which tends to be less salty by volume than morton. I'll add a note to the recipe to indicate that!

When it comes to the cook time, it's nearly impossible to know for sure how long beans will take, as no two beans are the same; after multiple tests with beans purchased from various locations, I've found that some beans are done in 1 hour 20, while others, as I note in the recipe, can take anywhere from an additional hour to several hours, depending on the size and age of your beans. For a shorter cook time, Should you make again, for a shorter cook time, I'd recommend increasing the heat and/or soaking the beans overnight first.
rhiwri March 13, 2021
Beans and greens, the ultimate duo! First attempt was okay - it's definitely a good idea to have the whole afternoon to make this recipe. It's a slow dance of letting the liquid cook off, then adding more water. Tho I don't think the 1/4 cup of salt was crazy, I definitely needed the "several hours" end of the cooking time in order to add enough water to balance the intense saltiness. I quit and ate after about two hours of simmering (impatience/hunger oops), and some of the beans were still a bit firm.

Today I scooped a bunch of the leftovers into a pot, added rice, more water, some carrots and cumin, and am turning it into a pilaf. Delicious!!

Just give yourself plenty of time to play with the spices and water level, and you're in for a treat! I can totally see myself working this into a regular meal schedule, because even if it's slow to cook, it's mostly hands-off and the leftovers are super versatile.
Rebecca F. March 15, 2021
I'm so glad you enjoyed! And the pilaf is such a fun idea to make use of the leftovers :) Should you make again, if you find beans are taking longer than 2 hours to cook, I'd recommend increasing the heat and/or soaking them overnight first. They also might be old, and I've found that old beans take absolutely forever to get tender!
Sara March 5, 2021
This recipe is EXACTLY what I was hoping it would be; creamy beans, rich pot liquor, bright kale. Perfection. Thank you! Definitely putting it in the dinner rotation immediately.
gandalf February 24, 2021
So, as I read your recipe, you leave in the quartered onion (root end, skin, and all), and do not remove it at any point; and then serve the beans with the partially disintegrated onion (including root end and skin) in the bean mix?
Rebecca F. February 24, 2021
That's correct! It's all totally edible, but if you're not into it, just peel the onion and trim the root end. And I'd call the onion "tender, bordering on jammy," not "partially disintegrated," but potato potahto :)
gandalf February 24, 2021
Well, I usually toss in a half of an onion (peeled) and cook it with the beans, and remove what's left when I am done. Perhaps "disaggregating" might have been a better word than "partially disintegrating".

I've never cooked the papery onion skins except when I make a chicken or vegetable stock, and then I discard them along with everything else; so I really haven't paid much attention to their texture when cooked.
Steven W. February 24, 2021
That was my question too, but then I recall having missed a few halved onions in a stew more than once! You CAN eat the skins provided they aren't to thick. I usually find them and remove them though.