What Do I Do With Beans?

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You know what, I’ve never really done much more with beans than open a can of baked beans and pop it into the microwave for a few minutes. Good, but not brilliant.
When I met my husband he opened my eyes to fool. Funny name, but it’s just a really lovely mix of beans (usually fava beans) with tomatoes, paprika, cumin, coriander, oregano, and lemon juice that is seasoned with salt and pepper to create a Middle Eastern breakfast dish. It’s a much fancier version of ‘baked’ beans and is much healthier for you as it doesn’t contain the additives like the baked beans do.
As a woman who doesn’t eat red meat I needed an alternative protein source for my meals, so I had to turn to beans and I needed a bit more than baked beans three times a week.
But there are just some things that they don’t tell you about beans and that I’ve discovered along the way:
  • They are horrible if not fully cooked (think pellets and you’d be correctly imaging what I mean).
  • Soaking them from dried requires forethought (and I’m not so good at that but learning to be better). 
  • They’re a little boring if just used by themselves, which means you need to think ahead about what else to eat with them.
  • There are so many types it’s so hard to know which one you’ll like, or which recipe you can use that variety of bean in.
  • Is it okay to just swap one type for another if you don’t have the same ones as in the recipe (its okay depending on your tastes and the overall cooking time)?
  • That soaking the beans from dried is supposed to cause less gas than the tinned ones (how the hell they tested that I don’t know).
  • That while those of us with Irritable Bowel Syndrome need the fibre, too much is just plain painful and has unpleasant side effects, but how to know how much is too much? (I’ve found its usually about a cup of beans that is okay but any more and I have trouble).


And there is one last question I had in regards to beans: If I use them for blind baking (i.e. as the weights when cooking pastry in the oven) can you use them next time you want to make soup? The answer to this one, I discovered last night, is no. Oops.
Nobody told me!
So, one thing you cannot do with beans is use them for baking and then in a dish a few days later. I’m guessing the oven dried them out even further. Okay, lesson learnt there.
So, what can I do with beans?
Black beans are great for Mexican food. Try them in burritos, tacos, quesadillas and enchilladas, mixed with chicken or just by themselves. They are also small and cook faster than the larger types of beans, so they are a good choice for something like a minestrone soup (and I throw them in dry and let them cook with the soup).
Did you know chickpeas are actually beans? They’re also called garbanzo beans. Chickpeas are the main ingredients in felafels and hummous, and both are super easy to make if you have a food processor.
Chickpeas are really tasty used cold in salads or spiced and oven roasted as a snack alternative to salted nuts. They are also fantastic as part of another Middle Eastern breakfast called fatteh (pronounced fah-tah). I really love this one. Here’s a recipe for you because it’s the one I follow each time I make it. However, I don’t heat my yoghurt much, and I usually put the garlic in with the warmed chickpeas rather than straight into the yoghurt. I think it tastes better and I add paprika to the chickpeas as well as for a decorative touch on top. If you’re in Sydney, Al Aseel restaurants make a fantastic version of this. It was here that I first tried it and loved it. I even took it home for dinner that night too.
Kidney beans are also good with Mexican, but you can use them in so many ways. Here’s a nice recipe for carrot, cumin and kidney bean patties. Jamie Oliver also makes a great burger patty out of a tin of four bean mix called Happy Cow Burgers. I would suggest adding an egg to the mix to make the burger patties a bit firmer, unless you like them really soft. I find them hard to cook being so soft. I also find that borlotti beans are fairly interchangeable with red kidney beans for most of the recipes I make.
Speaking of four bean mix, you can use them in salads also, but I found a really clever idea by accident a few weeks ago. I needed refried beans in the nachos we were having but I didn’t have a can on hand. I also didn’t want to go to the shops just for a can of beans so I made my own. I blitzed the drained can of four bean mix with some olive oil, lemon juice and salt and pepper. I added only enough oil to make a firm mix, not to make it too runny. You can also add herbs and spices for your own signature blend. It worked brilliantly, saved me the cost of a more expensive brand, and my husband never knew the difference!


Any type of bean can be blitzed into bean dip as well, as long as they are soft beans you’re using. Some mixes add oil, others add sour cream or Greek yoghurt and don’t forget to add lemon juice and then some herbs or spices to add great flavour to the dip. You’ll just have to experiment to find the texture and taste you like, then sit back and scoop it up with some Doritos or pita chips for a much more filling snack than plain corn chips. Or go for the trio of dips with guacamole, tomato salsa and bean dip to make it a bit fancier when you’ve got guests.
The one recipe I regularly use for cannellini beans is that of the Moroccan salad that I wrote about in the Textured Salads post. Simply mix them with some grated carrot and Moroccan seasoning mixed with a touch of oil and you’ve got a really easy side salad that will boost the protein count for the whole meal and is a really easy way to add flavour to a pretty plain kind of bean.
No tin of beans, only soaked beans? No worries.
Lamb shanks with chickpeas done
in the pressure cooker
Follow this easy tip for perfectly soft beans every time: I use my pressure cooker instead of a pot on the stove. The first twice I tried cooking the beans on the stove I kept boiling the pot dry because I forgot to check the level of the water regularly (and you need to cook them for about 1.5-2 hours). I use the pressure cooker and they are done in minutes. For the smaller beans like black beans and the softer beans like cannellini beans I do them for about 8-12 minutes. Chickpeas and kidney beans get around 15-25 minutes in the pressure cooker while the fava beans (dried broad beans) need about 30-35 depending on size because they have a harder shell. My pressure cooker is an electric one, so if you’ve got a stove top pressure cooker you’ll have to adjust your cooking times.
Another handy hint for the pressure cooker is this: if you find the beans aren’t quite cooked when the time is up, simply put the lid on top of the pressure cooker and keep the beans in the hot water (i.e. don’t drain the water yet). If you leave it for about 10-15 minutes while you start preparing the rest of your meal they will continue to cook and you don’t run the risk of overcooking them and turning them into mush.
So, think you might be more willing to try a few beans this week? Once you get the hang of it, you can find so many uses for beans that you’ll have a range of regular meat free meals in no time. And they say it’s good to have at least two meat free meals each week.
How do you eat your beans? Please leave me a comment as I’m always looking for new ways with beans.
They are so versatile and so cheap and I’d love to learn along with you.


Happy beaning!

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