Wednesday, October 21, 2009

A Beginner’s Guide to Beans, Plus 42 Bean Recipes

Some will balk at their flavor and size. Many will have texture issues. And still others just won’t enjoy the farting.

But know this: there are few cheaper, healthier, and more versatile foods than the humble bean. Members of the legume family, beans can be found everywhere from gourmet restaurants to campfire cauldrons. They’ve been vital to the survival of certain populations, and instrumental to the development of particular cuisines. Also, they taste good.

Still, there are folks out there unfamiliar with chickpeas and pintos, kidney and black beans. And for them, CHG proudly presents the following: a breakdown of why beans are wonderful, plus 42 tried-and-true recipes in which to use them.


Low in fat, high in protein, and astronomically high in fiber, beans work beautifully as the main components of recipes, but also as fabulous alternatives to meat. This is for a few reasons: A) they create a complete protein when paired with nuts, seeds, or grains, B) their chemical composition makes you feel sated longer than a lot of other foods, and C) they have a bulky and substantial mouthfeel, so you never feel deprived. Studies have found them to be solid tools in weight loss and maintenance, and integral to the prevention of all kinds of diseases.

If that ain’t enough for you, this WebMD blurb is pretty convincing: “In a recent study, bean eaters weighed, on average, 7 pounds less and had slimmer waists than their bean-avoiding counterparts -- yet they consumed 199 calories more per day if they were adults and an incredible 335 calories more if they were teenagers.” Sweet.

P.S. True to the well-known rhyme, beans make you both smartier and fartier. They contain both certain vitamins that improve brain function AND undigestable sugars, which lead to exciting intestinal activity, which leads to gas. So there you go.


Grown globally from Ethiopia to Australia, beans are some of the most plentiful - and subsequently cheapest - edibles anywhere. A pound of dried beans in Brooklyn will generally run about $1, and will produce four to six cups of food after rehydration.

Compare that to meat. In my neighborhood, a pound of chicken breast (one of the healthier animal options) runs $1.69 on sale. It shrinks slightly when cooked, ultimately producing around two cups of poultry.

Let’s do some math, then. One cup of cheap chicken is $1.69 divided by two, or $0.85. One cup of beans is $1.00 divided by five, or $0.20. Using these (incredibly) rough numbers, chicken breast is 425% the price of dried beans.

Of course, the numbers will vary by area, sales, and math skills, but you get the idea.


It’s a controversy as old as storage itself: dried or canned beans? On one hand, dried beans are universally cheaper, and widely considered to possess a creamier consistency and better overall flavor. On the other hand, canned beans aren’t terribly expensive themselves, and the taste difference is pretty negligible when you’re talking about everyday kitchen use.

The tiebreaker, then, is time. If you have the wherewithal, forethought, and 90 to 480 minutes to rehydrate a bag of dried chickpeas, you’ll be rewarded in kind. If you‘re throwing dinner together and an hour-long prep time is crazy talk, canned beans are the way to go.

It’s worth noting that if respected cooks aren’t using canned beans already (Giada DeLaurentiis, Sara Moulton, etc.), they’re starting to come around. Even die-hard dried fans like Mark Bittman have been giving props to metal dwellers recently. Meaning: don’t fear the Goya.


If you’ve ever tried chili, hummus, minestrone, Texas caviar, Mexican food, Indian food, Italian food, or, er, refried beans, you’ve already experienced the wonder of the bean. They’re omnipresent in cuisines all over the world, and come in a range of flavors and sizes that can be adapted to thousands of dishes. Here are six of the most common found in the U.S., along with a few recipe suggestions for each.

(A quick note before we get to the beans themselves: there are a zillion types of legume, and some [like the soybean] are rocketing in popularity stateside. But to keep things manageable, we’re sticking to a few big ones.)

Black Beans
Used frequently in Latin cuisines, the black bean is a small, ebony bean with an earthy flavor. I find it pairs very well with grains, and makes for a stellar soup.
Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa
Black Bean Brownies
Black Bean Burrito Bake
Black Bean Salad with Fresh Corn
Black Bean Soup
Calabacitas Burritos
Stuffed Peppers with Black Beans and Corn

Black-Eyed Peas
A terrible band, but a wonderful food, black-eyed peas are all over Southern cuisine. Like other beans, they’re great sources of fiber, folate, and protein. Unlike other beans, you will always feel like they’re looking at you.
Black-Eyed Pea (Texas) Caviar
Black-Eyed Pea Salad
Collard Greens and Black-Eyed Peas

Cannellini/White Beans
There are a ton of variations on the white bean, but I dig cannellinis in particular for their creaminess and flavor. Found in many Italian dishes, you’ll find that Microsoft Word often corrects its spelling to “cannelloni,” which is annoying.
Escarole and White Beans
Garlicky Long Beans and Beans
Grilled Zucchini with Quinoa Stuffing
Guacamole Bean Dip
Penne with Lemon, Potatoes, and Cannellini
White Bean and Tarragon Soup
White Chicken Chili
Spinach and Cannellini Bean Dip

Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)
Without chickpeas, there would be no hummus. And without hummus, there would be no joy. Vital to Italian, Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisines (among others), the plentiful and versatile garbanzo bean can be found in virtually every form, from dip to stew to flour (though I have yet to see a chickpea smoothie). Due to its subtle flavor and increasing ubiquity in the U.S., I like to think of the chickpea as a gateway bean; if you like it, odds are other legumes will soon follow.
Beets and Greens Curry with Chickpeas
Chickpea Salad
Couscous with Chickpeas, Tomatoes, and Edamame
Curry in a Hurry
Greek-Style Chickpea Salad
Lemony Light Hummus
North African-style Chickpea Salad
Pasta e Ceci
Pasta with Zucchini and Chickpeas
Pasta with Broccoli and Chickpeas
Pindi Chana (Spicy Chickpea Curry)
Roasted Chickpeas
Shredded Zucchini and Chickpeas Over Polenta

Kidney Beans (red and pink)
Substantive and quite large in comparison to other common legumes, kidney beans go great on salads and substitute fabulously for meat in chilis and stews. And seriously, what’s a frugal kitchen without red beans and rice?
Chili Corn Pone Pie
Pumpkin Turkey Chili

Pinto Beans (Frijoles)
Wonderful on their own and even better mashed, these pink-brown legumes claim the great honor of being the only bean my mom likes. Also, I could be talking out my neck here, but I find pintos a little sweeter than black beans and chickpeas.
Refried Beans
Swiss Chard with Pinto Beans and Goat Cheese

Multiple Beans
Each of the following recipes use more than one type of bean.
Bodega Beans (any)
Camp Stove Veggie Chili (black, kidney)
Curried Chickpeas and Black Beans (chickpeas, black)
Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili (any)
Gallo Pinto (pinto, black)
Indonesian Curried Bean Stew (chickpeas, black, kidney )
Light Leftover Turkey Chili (black, kidney)
Turkey Chili with Beans (white, pink, kidney)

And that's our ballgame. Readers, how about you? What are your favorite bean recipes?


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I Heart Kale said...

While I do use canned beans sometimes too, I've found that having a pressure cooker has made it MUCH easier for me to deal with dried beans. They cook faster and the texture is great! I can't believe I ever cooked dried chickpeas (which take, oh, about a week on the stovetop) without one.

CJ said...

I'm a bean fan.
Thanks for the list of recipes!

So glad you're back!!

DMBY said...

I totally agree that beans are awesome, and I am trying to find ways to incorporate more of them - thanks!
I could really use some tips on how to get dried beans from the package into their more consumable form. I have tried both the overnight soak and then the boil+soak method, and both times they seemed to be still quite hard. Do I need to just keep on cooking them?

Kris said...

DMBY, I have to admit: I am terrible at rehydrating beans. It's like a flaw in my DNA. Kale has a great idea with the pressure cooker - maybe that'd work?

Caro said...

One big issue with canned food is that they are finding BPA is present in high amounts in canned food (the lining of the can has it, and the heating/processing process causes it to leach into food.)

If you are worried about this, Eden's organics processes their canned beans differently and doesn't have any BPA.

I started buying black eyed peas frozen but it still takes a lot longer to make them nice so I often brave the BPA, even though that stuff scares me.

AJP said...

Using a pressure cooker usually gets my black beans soft in about an hour or less. Also, I will put beans straight into a crockpot at night or in the morning, no soaking, leave it on high while I'm sleeping or at work, about 10 hours or so, and soft happy beans are the result. Bean soup in the crockpot is so easy! I made dinner before I left the house yesterday in about 10 minutes. Or, the night before you could chop everything up, put in the beans, put in some water, cover the crock and put it in the fridge. Soaking the beans all night means you could probably put the crockpot on low during the day while you are gone.

MS said...

I'm a bean lover married to a bean hater, so I don't cook a whole lot of beans at home. One dish I ALWAYS cook (or eat) every year is New Year's black-eyed peas (I'm a good Southerner like that). I rehydrate a bag of black-eyed peas (usually with the quick-soak method b/c I've forgotten to prep them the day before), then drain them and pop them in my crockpot with some canned roasted diced tomatoes, cumin, garlic, onion, dried mushrooms, salt, pepper, maybe some herby goodness like oregano or parsley. I just let them simmer away in the crockpot until I'm ready to eat New Year's dinner (which also includes turnip greens in my family). I'll taste along the way and add whatever seems to need adding, and also check in on liquid levels and bean consistency. I am getting away from my Southern roots with the way I make this dish. My grandmother would've just thrown in some cut of pork and some water to cook with the beans and called it a day, but I usually invite a bunch of people over to enjoy this New Year's feast, and that group inevitably includes a vegetarian or someone kosher. Regardless, my nouveau-Southern version is delicious and goes great with Alton Brown's cornbread recipe (from his baking cookbook, I think, no sugar ;-) and turnip greens.

MS said...

One more thing I forgot that I add to my black-eyed peas: vegetable stock instead of water for added flavor and richness. Mmmmm.

Lacey said...

Thanks for this wonderful info. Once I found out that the cans are lined w/ BPA, I switched to dried. They line all cans w/ BPA, sigh.

Kris said...

Caro and Lacey, thank you for the BPA info. I'll definitely look more into that.

MS, can I come to your house for New Year's?

AJP, excellent! The slow cooker sounds like it's really the way to go.

Anonymous said...

I love beans and almost always use dried. I also almost never soak more than two or three hours if I do soak. It's just not really necessary. Pinto beans cook up in a snap with no soaking and so do white beans. The Pioneer Woman's Pinto beans are some of the best I"ve had.

ilikecoffee said...

as for rehydrating, i've never done it w/ other beans, but i put pintos in a crockpot w/ a million cups of water on high for 8 hrs which makes them soft enough to mash into "refried" beans.

ellenp1214 said...

beans are a perfect food, and will become the perfect convenience food as soon as the can situation is rectified. for now, i can get beans in glass jars and boxes as well as fresh (in italy). i'm a huge fan. thanks for this great list!

Jamie Dougherty said...

I adore beans and eat them in some form every day. That's right! Here are a few of my favorite recipes.
Also, if you've never tried heirloom beans, you must! Go to and pick out the one that look good to you. You won't regret it. Enjoy!

Rosemary said...

Does anyone know what to do with dried Fava beans? My husband came home with a package and presented it like it was mana from heaven, but I'll be darned if I know what to do with them. They look like huge, crazy, dried up lima beans!
Let me know if you have ever cooked these things!

Meal Makeover Mom Janice said...

I just found this blog via my CSA newsletter. What a fabulous resource! I'll add this to the blogs I follow regularly. Thanks! I don't soak beans either. Canned are so easy and I've never cooked dried beans in a way that are as soft and yummy.

C said...

One suggestion if you want to make dried beans easier - prep a whole bunch of them at a time (like 2 whole bag's worth) then freeze them in 2 cup-portion sizes in ziploc bags. 1 can is about 2 cups, so that's an easy sub in any recipe. Plus, you don't really have to worry about thawing them before cooking with them - they're so little that they'll thaw and warm up in no time. BTW, I soak overnight then boil the next day; I've found that most beans, with the exception of garbanzos, can be cooked in less than half an hour using this method. If they're still hard, then keep boiling them!

Rebecca N. said...

My favorite black bean recipes is Black Bean and Couscous Salad

Anonymous said...

Leave your personal opinions out of subjects non related, and yes I like the band black eye peas. It just sounds like you might be a bit dull. As far as beans go though, good info...I guess.