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Recipes for better beans

I love the idea of cooking a pot of beans to have with all sorts of things later in the week like rice, tossed on top of salad, as a side, with cornbread, as taco filling, and everything else.

Here's the problem: inevitably, the next day I look at the beans in the refrigerator and kind of wince. They sit there until they eventually get thrown out (I can't freeze them) and I hate being so wasteful. I realized I just need a better recipe. I've tried adding all sorts of aromatics and spices willie-nilly but I almost always end up with something bland, bland, bland. I also don't want to add a ton of salt (but my cooking in general could certainly use a little more) because then I might as well just use canned.

I want to do better, anyone have a better approach? Give me your best bean recipes, tricks, and tips. Simple, complicated, or exotic- absolutely anything so long as it LEAVES OUT THAT DAMN HAM HOCK! Any kind of beans- black, pinto, navy, adzuki...variety is the spice life.

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  1. I also have this problem. I've currently got these beans on the stove, I'll let you know how they turn out! https://icuban.com/food/frijoles_negr...

    (Already I've modified a bit though, it seemed like a little more vinegar & salt would help them not end up bland.)

    2 Replies
    1. re: wegsjac

      Awesome, do tell! I love black beans and they work so well with all the extra avocados and red onions I usually have.

      1. re: PinkLynx

        Ok, very yummy! I think that adding the vinegar, salt, & sugar and then adjusting those three to taste really made this delicious & not bland. We ate it with some plain rice & a hot italian sausage & topped everything with some finely chopped red onions & shredded cheese.

    2. What I do is pick a flavor family:

      Italian (garlic, onion, oregano, black pepper, etc)
      Mexican-ish (taco seasoning, cumin, chili powder, etc)
      Indian (curry powder, turmeric, tamarind, etc)
      Thai (lemongrass, coconut, galangal, curry paste)
      Chinese (five spice, soy sauce, miso, etc)
      Carribean (jerk seasoning, allspice, etc)
      Etc, etc.

      Cook the beans in water with some salt, a pinch of baking soda (soft and creamy, yum!), 1-2 chopped onions, 1-2 bay leaves and about triple as many spices as my instinct tells me. I just look at my spice drawer and grab whatever I see that's in that day's flavor profile. When they're done cooking, I add a bit more salt to taste (it'll still be less than canned), and usually add a bit of vinegar corresponding to that week's cuisine (balsamic vin, apple cider vin, rice wine vin, etc) to kick up the flavor. Don't add the vinegar earlier or the beans won't soften properly.

      Let me just tell you, I seriously crave my beans all week long and am sad when they run out! If by some magical chance you have leftover beans, puree them into a yummy hummus alternative :)

      2 Replies
      1. re: mariathewholefoodie

        I like the baking soda idea. I usually double the amount of spices I think I want but I guess I need to go ahead and triple it, I'll try it. I bet the vinegar is a pretty big part of what's missing in my beans...when I eat mine on a salad next to something vinegary I really like them (it's just rare that they make it out of the refrigerator and onto the salad in the first place) Thanks for the ideas!

        1. re: mariathewholefoodie


          but not just for a meal, explore and exploit the vegan potential of Moroccan, or Italian, or Bengali cooking for a few weeks, then move on to France, Thailand or Mexico. Stops vegan cooking form getting dull.

        2. I see a conflict here:

          The desire for more flavorful beans vs. wanting beans to replace a canned product.

          The nice thing about the canned beans is that they are handy, quick AND "bland" or unflavored. The downside (?) is that you cannot control the salt content.

          If you wish to switch to dried beans in order to control salt intake, for thrift, or whatever, you might consider cooking batches and simply dividing the cooked beans into smaller refrigerated jars (or canning or freezing for longer-term storage).

          Then, when composing a meal simply use your home-cooked beans in the same way you would have otherwise used a canned product.

          3 Replies
          1. re: pedalfaster

            I see your point. My particular situation is a little odd because I have very little pantry and refrigerator space (plus no freezer) so I usually stick with a flavor profile for the week and build very quick meals around it- more often than not I choose things I can throw in a lunchbox and assemble later so I pretty much need my beans ready to go at the beginning of the week. I also need my refrigerator pretty much cleaned out by the end of the week. Especially the wine, so I tell myself!

            While I do like to use dried beans because they are thrifty, I also like to control the salt (mine need more salt but I always rinse canned beans because they are TOO salty for me) but hands down the biggest motivation for me is simply to be a better cook with a better bean repertoire.

            1. re: PinkLynx

              There is a huge gap between not enough salt and the amount in most canned beans. Beans really do need salt and a lot of spice and or herbs. I also find that eating them with various grains makes them more interesting.
              Also, use good fresh beans like rancho gordo, heirloom varieties that are flavorful in themselves. I am mad for Christmas limas, which taste like chestnuts.

              1. re: magiesmom

                My family went low-nil salt and I have no problem. I used an organic mix of herbs Kirkland no salt seasoning for the salt replacer and I make a lot of Indian dal, usually with quick cooking red lentils. They are your friend as I've made Greek bean soup and Italian soups with them. And no I don't use salt & it tastes great. I also enjoy a big pot of chili, you can bake a potato, load it in and then add raw veggies, tomato, etc great easy dinner

          2. My beans always wind up as pre-fried instead of refried beans. That's how I like them though. Not a recipe so much as a method.

            I soak 6+ cups sorted and rinsed black beans for around 4 hours. This takes up a whole bunch of counter space as I turn every large bowl or vessel I own into a soak pot. I was taught not to soak in metal... don't know if it's an old husband's tale, I just do as I was told.

            After soaking I rinse the beans, add to the pot and cover with water about 2 inches. To this I add:

            Mexican Oregano
            1 yellow onion, 2 carrots, 3 ribs celery , 4+ garlic cloves all of which I've pulverized in the food processor.

            90 minutes later I have beans. At this stage I usually add a small can tomato paste and *poof* a giant vat of pre-fried beans.

            In the winter I freeze these in many containers by setting them on my subzero deck before I stick them in the freezer. Winter does have a couple perks. That way I don't put too much strain on my freezer.

            3 Replies
            1. re: MplsM ary

              All of the above ingredients plus some dashes of liquid smoke to mimic the (absent) ham hocks or smoked turkey.

              1. re: Sherri

                Here on the vegetarian and vegan board we usually leave out the smoked turkey too...;)
                Liquid smoke is a great point though! Just a few droplets can add a ton of flavor

                1. re: Ttrockwood

                  Lapsang souchong is another way to achieve a smoky flavor.

            2. I've not managed to include beans as a "side", for me they always need to be in a specific dish so they're incorporated into the meal.

              For salt the flavor of sea salt added at the end of cooking is never ever going to have that same overly salty flavor as canned beans. Consider adding acid, fresh herbs, or different kinds of "salt" like miso, soy sauce, or nutritional yeast to add flavor.
              These are a few of my favorite beany recipes:
              The technique of frying the beans is amazing here, totally changes the texture! I used all olive oil and omitted the feta

              These stewed beans i had as is, then added to a bowl of roasted veggies, then had ontop of polenta, and even added to a salad-very flavorful.

              I used homemade basic beans for this and loved it

              And just use whatever cooked mild white bean here, i used cannelini and it worked great, kept well in the fridge a few days

              1. I couldn't get dried beans to cook worth a darn until I tried them in the little slow cooker (little like you might keep dip warmed in). In go: beans, cloves of garlic, ground allspice, cumin & coriander, maybe chopped onion and salt. Cover with water (up to top of the cooker). I bring them to boil on high then turn to warm for 10-12 hours. They come out tender and tasty. Just check the water level once in a while.

                1. Mash with onions browned in butter or olive oil use as a base for a sauced vegetable or spread onto flatbread, add good tomatoes, and roll into a wrap.

                  Puree and let them disappear into a pasta sauce.

                  Also think about mixing beans or lentils in modest quantity into cooked rice, as a base for a curry or other spiced sauce.

                  Cook more lentils, to vary things up. Red lentils do very different things than common brown,and French (green) lentils are altogether different.

                  Remember that green peas (even delicious m convenient frozen petit/baby peas)and small, frozen lima beans are also loaded with protein, and vary a vegan diet conveniently.

                  Salt-free canned beans exist. Eden brand. Gives you small quantity, for a price.

                  1. Thanks for all your suggestions, I really appreciate them. I've got some navy beans soaking right now and I'm mapping out my plan of attack.

                    1. I find with beans you need a little bit of both acidity and sweetness. I love bean salads. I dice different vegetables, carrots, peppers, onions, tomato, parsley, other herbs and spices, whatever and apples. I usually premix with some sort of salad dressing, but since you don't want to add salt, try using sherry vinegar and lots of pepper. If the apples aren't sweet, I'll add chopped raisins. They add a nice chewiness. I also add crushed nuts for more texture.

                      You can squeeze lemon and add a little oil, maybe sprinkle a little sugar if it's too sour or add mustard or honey mustard. Def. add some sort of raw onion, chive or acallions, cilantro, parsley.

                      When I make bean salads, I make a huge batch that can last for a while, and with everything mixed in, it's already set to go.

                      Trader Joes has already shelled edamame with adds to the mix. I love the texture of them.

                      There's a recipe for black bean brownies. I tried bean brownies with red, black and red adzuki. I do blend them and it makes a really dense earthy fudgy brownie.

                      1. I know you said you can't freeze them, but that's what I do, lol. The problem is that one bag of beans can make so much food. How about only making 1/2 bag or 1/3 a bag of the beans? Then, you wouldn't waste so much. I assume palate fatigue is the main problem.