“Can of beans.” It’s on a lot of people’s shopping lists week in, week out. A can of beans is pretty fast and convenient, but you’ve only got what you need for one dish. With a small amount of prep and planning, you can grab a bag of dried beans and get so much more than one meal out of it.
Why Dried Beans?
Dried beans take a little more work upfront, but the payoffs of cooking with them far outweigh that work.
It Saves You Money: The biggest benefit of using dried beans is getting more bean for your buck. A pound of dried beans, depending on the variety, can cost on average $3-6. Most 15 oz cans of beans cost anywhere from $1-3. Once cooked, a pound of dried beans makes about 6 cups of beans while a 15 oz can is just shy of 2 cups. Buying a bag of dried beans and cooking them at home is about half the cost of buying one can and you’ll have at least 3 times the amount of beans.
It Saves you Time: Cook the whole pound of dried beans and portion them out into 15-16 ounce freezer-safe containers. This way, you’ve already got beans ready for future meals for a few weeks or months, depending on how often you use beans.
You can leave the beans out on the counter for a few hours or leave in the fridge before heading to work and your beans will be ready to cook when you get home.
How to Cook Dried Beans
You can cook dried beans in a few different ways. The method you choose depends on how much time and equipment you have.
On the Stove: You can go the traditional route and cook them over the stove for 1-2 hours (check the package, bean cooking times and the amount of water you need vary). Once the beans come to a boil in the pot, they’ll just simmer, freeing you up to do other things. Check on them every 5-10 minutes and add a little bit more water as needed. This is a good weekend activity when you’re prepping for the week or just doing things around the house.
In a Slow Cooker: You can also cook them in a much more hands-off method in your slow cooker for half or most of the day. Look up recipes to find the right amount of water and time per bean variety. This is perfect for a busy day or even for when you’re at work.
In a Pressure Cooker: The opposite of slow cooking, pressure cooking with cook your beans in half the time it would take on the stove top. You need to presoak your beans for a few hours to help get the texture of the beans right. You can do this by putting them in a large bowl with water overnight or you can use your stove for a quick-soaking method which takes around an hour.
Once the beans are soaked you’ll add them to your pressure cooker and cook according to your bean variety (which could be anywhere from 6-50 minutes).
What to Make with Your Beans
Now that you’ve got a lot of beans ready to use whenever you need them, here are a lot of healthy dishes you can make to give yourself some variety and have fun cooking with these beans.
Dip: Throw them in a food processor with some garlic, olive oil, salt, pepper, maybe some herbs or roasted vegetables and you’ve got a great snack for the week or a party appetizer.
In Soup: Add some beans to your soup to boost its fiber content and make it more filling. You can add the beans to a pureed soup or in a vegetable soup. Because they’re already cooked, add them towards the end so they warm up and absorb the broth’s flavor, but don’t fall apart.
Burgers and “Meatballs”: Beans are a great meatless alternative for making burger patties and meatless meatballs. You can also add sauteed vegetables like mushrooms, broccoli, or peppers in your mixture to add even more vitamins and minerals to your meal. There are also a lot of baked recipes out there to cut down on frying.
Taco Filling: Beans, nuts and aromatics pulsed in a food processor can make a great taco meat that any meat eater would enjoy. You can also keep the beans whole and add them into your taco too.
In Salads: Tossed in a greens or grain salad, beans can add a great flavor and some heft to your salad. Add any and all of your favorite vegetables, either raw, roasted, or sauteed and mix in your favorite dressing.
Side Dish: A side of beans is very common in certain cuisines. You can enjoy the beans as is with your next meal or you can add some herbs, garlic or onions, maybe some finely diced vegetables or peppers. Adding a few more things to your beans can make them more interesting and up your vegetable intake.
As a Filling: Mixed with vegetables and maybe a grain, beans add lots of flavor and substance to a filling for stuffed vegetables (like squash, sweet potato, peppers, eggplant, tomatoes, to name a few) or for burritos, enchiladas or wraps.
However you decide to cook with your pound of dried beans, have fun. Push yourself a little outside your comfort zone and find some new recipes that will make beans more interesting to you than before. By making your own big batch of beans and freezing most of it for later, you’re giving your future self lots of affordable, healthy meals to make for weeks to come.
Healthy Eating 101 returns with the essential foods you should stock your pantry with for healthy cooking.
Aimée Suen is a Nutritional Therapy Practitioner who shares nourishing, gluten-free recipes and nutrition wisdom at Small Eats. She is driven to help others enjoy whole foods and empower them to find their own healthy in all aspects of life, one small step at a time. When she’s not in the kitchen, she’s practicing yoga, in the gym, or learning something new. You can find Aimée on Instagram, Twitter and Pinterest.
Second Photo Credit: Andrey Starostin/shutterstock.com; Third Photo Credit: gcafotografia/shutterstock.com; Fourth Photo Credit: foodlove/shutterstock.com; Fifth Photo Credit: Prometheus72/shutterstock.com