5 Chefs Share Their Favorite Recipes That Start With a Can of Beans
The budget-friendly pantry staple has never tasted so good.
Open your cupboard, and you’ll likely spot a can of beans—or two or three—hanging out on the shelf. And for good reason: They’re inexpensive, last (practically) forever, and are healthy—packing an impressive amount of protein, fiber, iron, and more essential nutrients.
They’re also easy to doctor up—or in this case, “chef up”—with the right mix of seasonings and ingredient accouterments. Whether in a salad, soup, dip, side, or main, beans can shine as the star of almost any dish—and they’re celebrated in just about every cuisine around the globe.
We asked five of the country’s best chefs for their favorite way to elevate the often unsung legume, from a creative spin on cannellini to a reimagined use for refried frijoles. Try one or all of their go-to dishes for a fresh spin on canned beans that will give your recipe repertoire new life.
Pati Jinich’s Fresh Pantry Salad
“One of the biggest misconceptions [about] Mexican food is that it’s greasy, fatty, cheesy, and overloaded in heavy amounts of condiments,” says Pati Jinich, host of Pati’s Mexican Table on PBS and author of Treasures of the Mexican Table. “One thing that surprises people who delve a bit more into the Mexican culinary world is how crazy we are about salads.” This satisfying recipe starts with a simple mix of pantry staples enhanced with fresh vegetables and drizzled with a bright, flavorful cilantro vinaigrette. “It has so many textures, so many flavors, so many colors, and is so very playful,” she says. “It can be your main dish any time of the year with some crusty bread on the side. It can also be a great side salad for your barbecues and picnics in the summertime.”
Hearty Bean & Corn Salad with Cilantro Vinaigrette
By Pati Jinich
For the salad:
1 (15.5 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15.5 ounce) can garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1 (15.5 ounce) can corn, drain and rinsed, or 1 ¾ cup fresh or frozen corn kernels, cooked
1 cup red bell pepper, chopped
2 tablespoons finely chopped red onion
1 (14 ounce) can hearts of palm, rinsed and cut into 1/4-inch rounds
For the vinaigrette:
1/2 cup cilantro leaves and upper stems, roughly chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1/4 cup vegetable oil
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
1 garlic clove, peeled
1 teaspoon granulated sugar
1/2 teaspoon kosher or sea salt or more to taste
Place all the ingredients for the vinaigrette in a blender and puree until smooth. You may make the vinaigrette up to a week ahead and store covered in the refrigerator. If made ahead, whisk with a fork or whisk to re-emulsify prior to using. You may also shake it in the covered container.
In a large mixing bowl, combine black beans, garbanzo beans, corn, red bell pepper, and red onion. Pour vinaigrette and combine well. Add hearts of palm, gently toss and serve.
Erick Williams’ Warming Winter Stew
“I love this recipe and using beans in particular this time of year because it’s versatile, filling, and flavorful," says Erick Williams, James Beard Award-winning chef and owner of Virtue Restaurant, Mustard Seed Kitchen, Daisy’s Po-Boy and Tavern, and Top This Mac and Cheese in Chicago. Williams is known for his approach to Southern cuisine and his incorporation of seasonal and local ingredients. “The addition of the vegetables gives it texture and adds color as well, which helps during the Midwest winters,” he says. The addition of fennel seed and Aleppo chili pepper add depth and warmth to the dish.
Winter Bean Stew
By Erick Williams
3 (14-16-ounce) cans cannellini beans
5 cups chicken broth
1⁄4 cup cooking oil
2 cups onion, diced
10 cloves garlic, sliced
1 cup red bell pepper, minced
1 cup green bell pepper, minced
1 tablespoon fennel seed
1⁄2 teaspoon Aleppo chili pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon black pepper
Salt to taste
2 cups grape tomatoes, halved
2 quarts spinach
Simmer beans in chicken broth in a medium saucepan for 10 minutes.
In a separate saucepan, sweat onions in cooking oil until translucent. Add garlic and simmer until aromatic, then add bell peppers, simmering an additional 2-3 minutes.
Add fennel seed, Aleppo pepper, black pepper, and salt to vegetable mixture and stir.
Pour vegetable mixture into beans and simmer for 10 minutes.
Add tomatoes and simmer for 10 minutes, then add spinach. Cook until wilted. Adjust seasoning as needed.
Tim Hontzas’ Homage to Greek Comfort Food
One of the most popular sides at James Beard Award-nominated chef Tim Hontzas’ Johnny’s Restaurant, a “Greek and three” in Homewood, Alabama, is an unassuming combination of chickpeas and spinach. “This recipe is special, because it’s not like I saw it in a Greek cookbook and tweaked it,” Hontzas says. “I’d never heard of it, never seen it. I was just thinking about Greek, Israeli, and Syrian flavors and what I could do with chickpeas. It’s got that citrus on the back of your palette at the end, and then you get Greek seasoning and garlic.“ Hontzas, who comes from a rich tradition of Greek restaurateurs in Birmingham, acknowledges that the amount of olive oil required in the recipe is hefty, but “the Greeks love olive oil, and that’s flavor, not a pool of butter or beef fat.”
Chickpeas and Spinach
By Tim Hontzas
2 cups extra virgin olive oil, divided
3 (5 ounce) bags baby spinach
2 shallots, minced
5 cloves garlic, minced
1 (32 ounce) container chicken stock
2 (15 ounce) cans garbanzo beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup fresh-squeezed lemon juice
3 tablespoons Greek seasoning
Sauté spinach in 1 tablespoon extra virgin olive oil for 5-8 minutes until wilted. Drain, set aside to cool, and rough chop.
Meanwhile, in a 6-quart sauce pot, add remaining olive oil and cook shallots over medium heat until caramelized, 5-10 minutes. Add garlic and sauté for another 5-8 minutes until it just begins to brown. Add chicken stock, beans, and chopped spinach.
Add Greek seasoning and simmer for 15-20 minutes. Add lemon juice, simmer for another 5-10 minutes, remove from heat and serve.
Look for Greek seasoning with an ingredient list that does not begin with salt, Hontzas says, or make your own.
Helene Henderson’s California-fresh Salad/Side Mash-up
“My favorite thing is to blur the line between sides, salads, and vegetables,” says Helene Henderson, founder of Malibu Farm Restaurant and Cafe in Malibu, California, along with a forthcoming Malibu Farm outpost in Tiburon and a new pizza restaurant concept in Newport Beach. With a son who’s been a vegetarian since age 5, beans and lentils are a major staple in Henderson’s recipe arsenal. “I often add beans, lentils, quinoa, or farro to my vegetables and toss them with herbs or greens and simple variations of a lemon dressing,” she says. “When I am in a rush, basically every day, the pantry is my friend and my savior as it turns dull into delicious but also slightly different than whatever I made before.”
Sliced Celery, Walnut, Parmesan, Arugula, and White Beans in a Miso Lemon Dressing
By Helene Henderson
For the salad:
3 stalks celery, thinly sliced
4 cups arugula
1 cup walnuts, lightly roasted
1/2 (15 ounce) can white beans, drained and rinsed
1/2 cup shaved Parmesan cheese
For the dressing:
Juice from one lemon (about 3 tablespoons)
1 tablespoon honey, agave, or maple syrup
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 clove garlic, grated
1 tablespoon yellow miso paste
Salt and pepper to taste
Combine salad ingredients in a bowl.
To make vinaigrette, whisk together ingredients, adding salt and pepper to taste.
Toss salad ingredients with vinaigrette, top with Parmesan, and serve.
Katsuji Tanabe’s Flex on a Childhood Favorite
Chef Katsuji Tanabe of Top Chef and Chopped fame was born to Mexican and Japanese parents, raised in Mexico City, and now helms a’Verde Cocina + Tequila Library in Cary, North Carolina. His recipe for enfrijoladas is a play on his favorite childhood dish, enchiladas. It’s also versatile. “Enfrijoladas can be topped with anything from cheese to meat to fried eggs, and it’s good for breakfast, lunch, or dinner,” Tanabe says. It’s also a great dish for all ages. “When you’re a kid in Mexico, enchiladas seem spicy, so enfrijoladas are a good way to get your kids to eat spicier food.” The recipe calls for ingredients from heritages of both of his parents, including epazote, a regional herb from Mexico that lends a nice aromatic flavor. Dashi powder is another significant element in the dish. “In my house, dashi is as important as chicken broth. It adds umami and saltiness and is a quick and easy way to turn beans into a different dish.”
By Katsuji Tanabe
2 tablespoons butter
3 teaspoons shallots, rough chopped
3 teaspoons garlic, rough chopped
1 small fresh jalapeño, rough chopped
2 (15 ounce) cans refried beans (Tanabe prefers Ducal brand)
2-3 cups chicken broth (water works too)
5 epazote leaves
1 teaspoon dashi powder
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
12 corn tortillas
1 rotisserie chicken, pulled (store-bought works great)
1/4 cup canola oil
For the Garnish:
White onion, sliced
In a medium Dutch oven, add the butter, shallots, garlic, and jalapeño and cook over medium heat for 4-5 minutes until garlic is soft.
Add the beans, broth or water, epazote, dashi, and salt, and bring to a boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low and simmer for 5 minutes.
Transfer to a blender in batches, filling blender halfway and covering it with a loose towel to allow steam to escape. Blend slowly at first, increasing speed slowly and blend until smooth. Return blended mixture to the pot and keep warm over low heat while you prepare chicken-filled tortillas.
Meanwhile, stuff each tortilla with 2-3 ounces of pulled chicken. Fold in half, and pan-fry in canola oil until semi-crispy, about 2 minutes per side.
Add three chicken-stuffed tortillas to each plate, cover with about 1 1/2 cups of sauce, and garnish with lettuce, onions, cheese, and sour cream.
Tanabe prefers Ducal brand refried beans because “they’re smooth and don’t taste canned, which some do with that sodium benzoate aftertaste,” he says. “They taste natural and are rich and creamy.”
Look for epazote leaves in any Latino market, says Tanabe. If you can’t find epazote leaves, you can substitute fresh bay leaves.
You can find dashi powder in your local Asian market or online, Tanabe says. If you can’t find it, you can substitute MSG.