With more people cooking at home these days, odds are you have a cache of canned beans in your cupboard, too.
A stellar source of protein, fiber, iron and folate, these little legumes provide a wonderful and inexpensive health boost to any meal, dietitian Leslie Langevin, RD, author of The Anti-Inflammatory Kitchen Cookbook, tells LIVESTRONG.com.
Though cracking open a can of beans saves you precious time and money on busy weeknights, you might also find yourself floundering for fresh ideas in the cooking department.
If you've already exhausted your culinary skills on bean burritos, chili and soup, these ten creative ways to cook with canned beans will breathe new life into your legumes.
1. Make Into Meat
Perfect for meatless Mondays, making homemade bean burgers or meatballs is a smart strategy for sneaking more vegetarian meals into your weekly menu. "Coming in at 14 grams of protein, just one cup of black beans has the same amount of protein as two ounces of chicken," Langevin says.
If you don't want to concede your carnivorous lifestyle completely, you can still add mashed beans into turkey meatballs, meatloaf or burgers, according to Langevin. That way, you use less ground meat while heaping on a helping of healthy nutrients like fiber and valuable vitamins and minerals.
2. Knead Into Gnocchi
Toss out the taters and bring on the beans! Lovely legumes transform the normally high-carb, lower-nutrient gnocchi into a dish full of fiber, folate, B vitamins and iron, Langevin says.
Just keep in mind, you'll need to pair this pasta-inspired plate with a complementary protein such as a handful of high-protein cheese for a nutritious culinary coupling.
A Recipe to Try
3. Sass Up Your Sauce
Whether you're vegan or dairy-free, you might find yourself craving classic comfort foods like mac and cheese. Langevin says you can still savor this scrumptious staple by puréeing chickpeas or cannellini into a creamy "cheese" sauce.
By making your sauce from scratch, you also eliminate all the processed junk that comes in boxed varieties of store-bought mac and cheese. A bean-based cheese sauce would also spruce up scalloped potatoes nicely.
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4. Create a Crispy Snack
When you need something nutritious to nosh on between meals, roasted beans are your best bet.
"All the rage right now, roasted chickpeas are a quick, healthy, low-fat, high-protein version of a crunchy snack food rich that'll keep you feeling full," Langevin says. Though chickpeas are having a moment, you can also use any kind of canned beans to get your crunch fix.
A high-fiber food (they contain up to 16 grams per cup), beans also boast big benefits for weight loss and heart health and are linked to a lower risk for developing diabetes and cancer, Langevin says. So, if you're hit with a hankering for chips, nibble on some oven-roasted beans instead.
A Recipe to Try
5. Mash and Mix
If you're vegan or watching your waistline, mashed potatoes packed with butter and cream are out of bounds. But they don't have to be if you ditch the dairy for beans. Believe it or not, mixing in cannellini (or other white) beans serves up the same silky texture as butter.
Plus, this simple swap to your traditional spuds multiplies the protein content and provides prebiotic fiber to help feed the healthy bacteria in your gut, Langevin says.
6. Bake Into Brownies
Sneaking beans into your brownies and other baked goods effortlessly boosts the nutrient profile of your favorite sweets without sacrificing their flavor.
"Using puréed beans in a dessert recipe decreases the amount of fat and reduces the glycemic index by increasing protein and fiber, which balances out the carb effect on your body," Langevin says. This means your bean brownies can help keep your blood sugar levels stable and shoo away cravings.
If you're looking to experiment, Langevin recommends baking with black beans and chickpeas. Lobbing in these legumes will make your brownies moist enough to melt in your mouth.
A Recipe to Try
7. Fry Into Fritters
Let's face it: Frying makes everything taste better and beans are no exception. When you mix them with egg and flour, canned beans produce patties that are perfectly prepared for a dip in your frying pan.
Langevin recommends frying beans lightly over medium heat with extra light virgin olive oil for added heart health. You can even fry up a big batch and freeze your fritters for a future meal.
8. Develop a Delicious Dip
When it comes to dips, healthy hummus — which is made of chickpeas — is the head honcho. But black beans and cannellini beans blend just as nicely to dish up a delicious dip. From savory spreads to dessert dips, your legume options are limitless.
Langevin loves a cannellini-based chocolate hummus for satisfying your sweet tooth. Serve it up with fresh fruit — juicy strawberries come to mind— for a good dose of complex carbohydrates.
9. Blend into Pancake Batter
Beans for breakfast? Perk up your pancakes' protein and nutrient content by adding beans to the mix. For an easy bean-based batter, Langevin recommends combining puréed chickpeas or cannellini beans with flour, eggs and oil to create filling, fiber-friendly flapjacks or crepes!
If the batter is a tad too thick, thin it with a bit of water or plant milk.
10. Sneak Into Smoothies
No protein powder? Supplement your protein smoothies with legumes instead. Just a half a cup of beans will provide 7 grams of muscle-building protein, Langevin says.
But which breed of beans bode the best for smoothie making? Mild-flavored and light in color, puréed cannellini beans blend seamlessly into shakes, according to Langevin. While they won't overpower the taste, they will add a thicker texture and creamier consistency.