There's no shame in opening a can of beans. That might be a surprising statement coming from someone who wrote an entire cookbook extolling the virtues of beans of all varieties, especially when cooked from dried, but the fact is, I put canned beans right up there with canned tomatoes as one of the world's great convenience products. Few other vegetables packaged this way compare; the less we say about canned beets or mushrooms, the better.
Still, as with any such product, it's important to know the trade-offs. With canned beans, you gain plenty of time, but you lose access to one of the best reasons to cook a pot of legumes from dried: that cooking liquid. It's the best possible medium for storing beans, either in the fridge or freezer, and, as with pasta water, it also can add silky body to soups, stews and sauces.
I was reminded of the differences when I tried a recipe from Lindsay Maitland Hunt's recent cookbook, "Help Yourself." It's a pretty straightforward affair, but with nice touches: White beans and brussels sprouts get a smoky flavor from one of my go-to spices, smoked paprika, and brightness from a generous squeeze of lemon juice before serving. The first time I made it, I used canned beans and tap water, and the dish was tasty. The second time, I used some heirlooms I cooked from dried and their liquid instead of water, and it was outstanding, with a velvety sauce and an even deeper flavor.
Make the recipe however suits you best. Use a can of beans if and when you're in a hurry (which, I realize, might be most, if not all, of the time). Just promise me this: If you do find yourself with the time and inclination to cook some beans from dried, please do — and try the recipe again. You'll see.
Serve with rice, bread or another grain of your choice.
Smoky White Beans and Brussels Sprouts
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
- 2 garlic cloves, chopped
- ¾ teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika
- ½ teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
- ¼ to ½ teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
- ¼ teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste
- 1 ½ cups cooked or canned no-salt-added white beans (from a 15-ounce can), drained and rinsed
- ¾ cup drained bean cooking liquid or water
- 2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh chives
In a large skillet over medium-high heat, heat the oil until shimmering. Add the Brussels sprouts, cut-side down and in one layer. Cook, without disturbing, until deep golden brown on the bottom, 5 minutes. Turn them over, add the garlic and cook until the sprouts are just barely tender, 2 to 3 minutes.
Stir in the smoked paprika, salt, red pepper flakes and pepper and cook until fragrant, 30 seconds. Add the beans and bean liquid or water and cook, stirring often, until the beans are heated through, the liquid has reduced and turned creamy, and the sprouts are tender, about 5 minutes.
Stir in the lemon juice and chives, taste, and add more salt and pepper if needed. Serve hot.
Makes 2 servings.
Nutrition information: Each serving contains approximately 415 calories, 21 g protein, 15 g fat, 57 g carbohydrate (6 g sugar), no cholesterol, 656 mg sodium and 18 g fiber.
Carbohydrate choices: 4.
Recipe adapted from "Help Yourself" by Lindsay Maitland Hunt (Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2020).