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Sep 4, 2014 03:56 PM

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!

    (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.

          7 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

                1. re: magiesmom

                  Totally agree with Magiesmom that using good quality freshly dried beans makes a huge difference. I have been hooked on Rancho Gordo beans for a number of years. If I stew a pot of RG pintos with nothing added but chopped onion, I find them so delicious, they need little seasoning. If you purchase beans of unknown source, it is likely that they could be years old and really old dry beans never cook up to creamy goodness.

                  1. re: ElsieB

                    If you throw a couple of pieces of Kombu in they are even better

                      1. re: thymetobake

                        We do have a local store that sells them but I buy them online when I have to.

              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.

                4 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. re: Sherri

                      Smoked paprika is also great. I also have some smoked salt that must be kept in a glass jar otherwise everything smell like campfire - I'm using a pinch of that in my next pot of beans!

                  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