Beef Up Your Canned Beans With Just A Few Ingredients

When you need a hearty stew or a classic bowl of chili to warm you up, taking hours to soak and cook dried beans is a commitment that we may not always have time for. That's when reaching for canned beans can be a convenient, time-saving option that won't require you to wait around for the beans to rehydrate. Choosing the canned route does come with its drawbacks, mainly that beans from a can are often lacking in flavor and contain higher amounts of sodium.

If you go the extra mile to drain and rinse your canned beans, this removes around 41% of the sodium that these little morsels have absorbed, according to The Bean Institute. But what about the taste? Although the rich flavors of homemade, self-spiced beans will always come out on top, one easy way to elevate a simple can of beans is to soak them in olive oil.

Any bottle you've got in your pantry will do, but it's best to avoid cheap olive oil when using this technique, which involves simmering your canned beans in the oil for about 10-15 minutes. Make sure whatever legumes you choose are fully submerged for the entire process, and consider tossing in other ingredients like bay leaves, garlic cloves, or mustard seeds to add some depth. It's really that simple. White beans lend just a hint of their buttery quality to this recipe, but you can also use black beans. You can always get more creative with your ingredients, too.

Ditch the microwave and add in some fats or broth

If you're dumping your canned beans into a bowl and heating them up in the microwave, you're missing out on a much richer tasting experience that comes with adding other ingredients and aromatics. Letting those pre-cooked legumes gently simmer on the stove lets you turn their mushy texture into something a little more palatable. After pouring your beans into a pan, it's a good idea to add a little fat to the mix.

In the world of cooking, fats are used as a flavor enhancer and blend well with many types of beans. While you could go for a lighter type of cooking oil like olive, or coconut oil,  butter or bacon grease will really amp up the savoriness of your canned beans. Simmering them for just a couple of minutes is enough to get the job done. If you don't like the taste of the sodium-heavy broth the can of beans comes with, this is a great way to get rid of it. For those that enjoy the taste of the can's broth, you can go ahead and dump it into the pan too, especially if the canned beans are low sodium or have no salt added. It's really up to you.

Spice it up or make it saucy

You may have already guessed that alliums like finely diced onions and garlic will be your best friend for leveling up canned beans. Simply sauté the onions over medium heat until translucent, then you can mix in your garlic and other aromatic spices. For those who need a spicy kick, adding some chopped jalapeños to the pan is a no-brainer.

If your goal is to give your canned beans a creamier, thicker consistency, you can mash them up before adding a splash of milk, coconut milk, and even tomato sauce. Depending on what dish you plan to use the beans for, you can get creative with what sauces and flavors you want to meld together. Squeezing in fresh lime juice can add a nice acidic zing to your canned beans that would be perfect for many great Mexican-inspired recipes. Let your rich and creamy former canned beans simmer for around 10-15 minutes to thicken, and you're ready to spoon it on everything from toast to taco salads. 

Try spice blooming with your beans

If you've never heard of blooming spices, no worries. This is just a special term for heating your spices in order to release flavor compounds that get trapped in when the ingredients are dried. Some choose to do this in a dry pan, but you can also bloom spices in oil. Measure about ⅓ cup olive oil per every two 15-ounce cans of beans. Use your favorite whole spices like chili flakes or cumin seeds for an extra kick, or ground-up dry spices like smoked paprika or coriander, and don't forget to stir often. The now-fragrant olive oil should start to pop as the spices bloom, and you'll notice the ingredients get darker as they infuse the oil with delicious flavors. Next, add other aromatics such as shallots, red onion, or leeks before dumping your beans in to simmer in the savory oil you've concocted.

Honestly, the sky's the limit for what you might add to this olive oil marinade, and you may decide to use it with all your amazing canned bean recipes from here on out. Try adding these beans to a fresh salad, eating them atop a toasted baguette, or serving them alongside garlicky greens. Canned beans may seem lackluster compared to slow-cooker beans, but they don't have to be.