Quick & Easy Beans
Dishes to warm you from the inside this winter

By Chef Nancy Berkoff, RD, EdD

With a high protein, fiber, and mineral content, along with low sodium and fat levels, beans can magically transform a pot full of low cost into a nutrition-packed, flavorful "yum."

Beans can be boiled, steamed, slow-cooked, and even barbecued, but baking seems to rate very high among wintertime cooks. Baking brings out the sweetness and the tenderness in beans while helping them to retain their shape and texture.

Keep a ready supply of prepared beans on hand. This can include canned beans that simply need to be drained, frozen beans that need a fast steam or microwave, or dried beans that have been cooked, drained and stored in the refrigerator. Cooked beans can last up to three days in the refrigerator. Canned baked beans are a nearly perfect dish, as they are creamy and saucy in texture and can have flavors ranging from nutty to smoky. They can be served as a side, perhaps English style on toast at the breakfast table, or as a simple main course. Try mixing them with scrambled tofu for a tasty addition to a burrito. Heinz Vegetarian Baked Beans are very versatile; if you prefer to avoid brown sugar, Hain's and Celestial brands have great flavors as well.

If you would like to make your own batch of baked beans, you need cooked, drained beans and a liquid sauce for baking. The sauce is used to moisten and flavor the beans. Decide on which role your baked beans will play – entrée, casserole, side dish, or dessert – and then you can decide on the ingredients.

You can use canned, drained white beans to create your own baked beans. A rule of thumb for baking beans is to start with ¾ cup of sauce for every 1¼ cups of cooked beans. The beans will absorb a lot of the liquid and will help to soften the fiber. If you would like your beans to taste strongly of a certain flavor, add the ingredient you want to taste most prominently at the beginning of cooking. If you'd like just a hint of a certain flavor, add it during the last 10 minutes of cooking. For example, if you would like to have an oniony bean casserole, finely chop onions and mix them with the beans before putting them in the oven. If you'd like just a whisper of onions, sprinkle them lightly over the beans several minutes before removing from the oven.

Baked beans benefit from slow baking. Try to bake them between 300 to 325 degrees over a long period of time, from 2-6 hours, depending on the amount. If you bake beans quickly, you may wind up with tough, dry beans.

You can select one type of bean and vary the sauces, or vary both the beans and the sauces. We've given you some ideas below. If you use about 3 cups of cooked beans, you can add about 2¼ cups of sauce; bake covered, in an 8 x 8-inch glass casserole dish or a small glass loaf pan. It's always a good idea to bake beans in a non-reactive dish, so no off flavors develop.

If you like one type of sauce, then vary your beans for a different flavor. Tomato-based sauces work well with white, pinto, cranberry, black-eyed peas, and green or gray lentils. Garlic and lemon based sauces work well with kidney, appaloosa, garbanzo (chickpeas), and lima beans, as well as split peas and yellow or orange lentils.

Baking Bean Combos

To create these dishes, start with cooked or canned drained beans.

Green Gratin: Combine soymilk with fresh shredded spinach, kale, or collard greens (if using frozen greens, thaw them and squeeze out as much water as possible), dried thyme, dried sage, and fresh garlic. Add beans and bake. If desired, top with dried breadcrumbs and place baked beans under a broiler for several minutes until browned.

Lemony Vegetable: Combine vegetable broth with chopped onions, garlic, fresh or dried mint, and lemon juice. Toss with beans and bake.

Cacciatore Baked Beans: Combine canned tomatoes (with juice), tomato purée, garlic, oregano, basil, black pepper, and white wine or a dash of cider vinegar. Toss with beans, top with a small amount of nutritional yeast, and bake.

Curried: Combine vegetable broth, chopped tomatoes, fresh grated ginger, curry powder, fresh cilantro or parsley, and ground cumin. Toss with beans and bake.

Traditional New England: Combine chopped onions, prepared mustard, black pepper, vinegar, molasses, and maple syrup together. Toss with beans and bake.

Elegant: Combine mushroom broth, white wine, garlic, and rosemary together. Toss with beans and bake.

Pizza Baked Beans: Combine chopped tomatoes, prepared tomato sauce, sliced mushrooms, chopped bell peppers, chopped onions, basil, and black pepper. Toss with beans and bake.

Fast and hearty bean ideas:
  • Toss together three or four kinds of cooked beans, such as pinto, black and white. Mix with a little vinegar and oil and serve as a side dish or toss into salad as a combination dressing and ingredient. Without the vinegar and oil, the bean combination can be stirred into soups to add flavor and texture. You can also purée this bean combination and add it to soups to give a "creamy" appearance.
  • Purée cooked white or red beans and stir into tomato or creamy pasta sauce, or "cream of" soups. This adds more flavor and texture and cuts down on the amount of fat needed.
  • Combine four types of cooked beans, such as black, Great northern, black eyed peas, and pinto. Add cumin, chili powder, chopped tomatoes, and tomato purée and make a fast four-bean chili. Try heating the mixture in the microwave, adding chopped onions and peppers, and scooping it up with tortilla chips or pita bread. Top with chopped peppers, shredded carrots, and bean sprouts.

For a fast side dish, toss the combination with cooked pasta, a small amount of vegetable or mushroom broth, and seasoning combos (such as basil, oregano and garlic or curry powder, cumin and black pepper). Top with breadcrumbs and bake.

Bean Buyers Guide

Purchase dried, or canned and ready to use

Great Northern beans
These are medium-sized, white, round and mild. They work well for baking and soups.

Cannellini Beans
These kidney-shaped white or beige beans are very mild and are good for soups and casseroles.

Navy Beans
If you need a smaller bean, try these pea-sized white or beige beans. They are also very mild, and good for baking, soups, and casseroles.

Pinto Beans
Try using these medium-sized, kidney-shaped pink beans for puréeing in soups and sauces.

Kidney Beans
The medium-sized, deep red kidney bean is popular in chili, cold salads, and soups.

Black Beans
Completely black and medium in size, these beans are good for sautéeing, steaming, and for topping rice and pasta dishes.

Lentils
These fast-cooking legumes are small and flat and can be black, brown, gray, green, yellow, or orange. They are good for use in vegetable stew, soups, and curries.

Garbanzo Beans (Chickpeas)
Purée these small round and beige beans into a dip (hummus), mash into patties for baking (falafel) or toss into a cold salad.