Eating cheaply isn’t as easy as “cooking it yourself”. Besides the cost of the groceries, cooking takes time, and — if you’re working multiple jobs or long hours to support yourself or your family — you might not have an excess of hours.
This is why it’s important to find convenient, quickly-prepared foods, and to learn how to make them taste good. Canned beans may not seem like the sexiest dinner option, but they’re filling, versatile, and can come together into a meal in under half an hour.
Here are some of our favourite ways to make them downright delectable.
Simmer them in olive oil
Drain your beans — I like navy beans for this — and add them to a pan with enough olive oil to just cover them. Add in a few cloves of garlic, some salt (depending on how much your beans were seasoned in the can), and your favourite herbs (rosemary, thyme and tarragon are mine), and simmer them over medium heat until they’re warmed through.
The creamy, flavour-infused legumes are then ready for mixing into a simple pasta, or to be enjoyed on a thick pieced of toast with some wilted greens.
Don’t want to use that much oil? Simply sauté them in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil (or butter) with some garlic and shallots.
Season them with a blend
Buying a lot of individual spices can really add up — especially if you’re just starting out building a spice rack — so it’s good to have a blend or two you can use to flavour everything. I’ve found that blends that were meant for meat are particularly helpful when the beans are the star of the dish.
Making your own spice blends isn't particularly challenging, but buying a single bottle of a blend is both more convenient and fiscally responsible than buying five bottles of five different spices. Plus, if you're just getting into the world of seasonings and spices, blends can be a bit less intimidating.
Add just a little meat
When used as an accent, rather than the main ingredient, a little bit of meat can be a very cost effective way to add a lot of flavour to a batch of beans. Just a few grams of chorizo or bacon provide a good hit of savoury smokiness to a can’s-worth of beans.
Add a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of fresh herbs (such as coriander, or maybe even some garlic sprouts or fried leek greens), and scoop ‘em into your mouth with warm tortillas.
Refrying your own pinto beans is a cheap and easy way to upgrade your nachos, as you can choose the fat and seasonings, but you can actually refry any bean to turn it into a creamy and comforting mashed version of itself.
Just heat some aromatics (bay leaf, garlic and oregano are all great choices) in a sauce pan or small Dutch oven with a tablespoon of your favourite cooking fat (schmaltz and bacon grease are particularly flavour forward), and add a (drained) can of any bean of your choosing.
Cook ‘em until they start to disintegrate, remove the bay leaf and any herb stems, and mash until you get the consistency of your dreams. (I take an immersion blender to mine.)
I have nothing against food that comes in cans, especially when it comes to beans, but refried beans are something that I absolutely prefer making myself. Beyond just tasting 'better', you can manipulate them to suit your specific palate as you adjust the seasonings, aromatics and - most importantly - the fat.
Make a dip
I have nothing against eating chips and dip for dinner, especially if the dip is a hearty bean dip.
Take any can of drained beans, and add it to the food processor with a big tablespoon of something creamy (labneh, sour cream and tahini all work), along with a teaspoon or two of some acid (vinegar or lemon juice) and a drizzle of honey (or some other sweetness).
Add in a pinch or two of garlic or herbs, or sprinkle in a good spice blend. Whirr it all together in the food processor, top with fresh herbs, and enjoy with chips, toast points or pita bread.
This article has been updated since its original publication.