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The Easiest Way to Make Canned Beans Taste So Much Better

November 15, 2020
Photo Credit: Kristin Teig

Canned beans are one of life’s great conveniences. One of a handful of foods categorized as both a vegetable and a plant-based protein, they’re cheap, wholesome, and endlessly versatile.

There’s just one tiny problem: Canned beans often taste muted, even a bit tinny, like they came, well, from a can. They also tend to lack the buttery, ultra-creamy texture you get when you cook dried beans from scratch. Dried beans, however, take time. More often than not, I don’t have the foresight to prepare them ahead of when I want to eat them. So it’s canned beans that always come to my rescue.

Luckily, there’s an easy way to make canned beans taste so much better.

Braise Canned Beans in Olive Oil

I discovered this trick while developing recipes for my cookbook, Mediterranean Every Day. My goal was to make every recipe as unfussy as possible, which is why I wanted to stick with canned beans in my recipes. I found that braising canned beans in olive oil reinvigorated their tired flavor and mushy texture. They ended up tasting like their best selves and getting that perfect creaminess I was craving.

While my recipe in Mediterranean Every Day is for white beans, you can apply this trick to all canned beans. I especially love using chickpeas, because they take on a nutty, roasted quality when braised. Black beans are nice, too.

For added flavor, I like to toss a few smashed garlic cloves, fresh sage, and a generous pinch of red pepper flakes into the mix, but really, just sticking with simply olive oil, salt, and pepper will make a huge difference. I also love sprinkling in spices like chili powder, smoked paprika, curry powder, or za’atar. Try stirring in a spoonful of harissa, tomato paste, or chipotle in adobo, or add a handful of pitted olives or capers. You can also add seasoning when they come out of the oven: Sprinkle the beans with crumbled goat cheese or feta, or shower them with grated Parmesan.

How you serve the beans is up to you. I love scooping them warm into shallow bowls for dinner with crusty bread but that’s just one of endless possibilities. Serve them room temperature over greens, grain bowls, or toast. Toss the oily beans with cooked brown rice, farro, or quinoa, or use them as a hearty sauce for pasta. Dinner from a can never tasted so good.

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