As omnipresent as rice among so many cuisines, beans nevertheless tend to be unsung heroes. Maybe they're just too commonplace, too much a peasant staple, to ever fully shed their humble image. And that's okay—because, however ordinary, their nutritional profile, their versatility, their incredible diversity of flavors and textures, and even their rainbow of colors and patterns have firmly secured their spot in the world's list of essential foods. And, with a little attention and proper care, they can be spectacular in a huge range of dishes. Here, we've compiled a collection of 23 of our best bean recipes, including soups and stews, salads, refried beans, and much more, all of them ready to convince you that "a hill of beans" is actually a magical place to be.
The Lazy Cook's Black Beans
Many of us assume that a "lazy meal" and the improved flavor you get from dried beans are mutually exclusive—because you've gotta invest all that soaking time, right? Well, turns out that's not always true; in fact, if you're using black beans, skipping the soak will actually result in better flavor. That means you can in fact make this simple black bean dish in just a couple of hours. Just simmer dried black beans with the aromatic powers of smashed garlic, a halved onion, and a whole orange, then let them reduce and serve them over rice with a bit of fresh cilantro.
Quick and Easy Pressure Cooker Black Beans With Chorizo
Even with our lazy recipe, there's no getting around the two long hours of simmering time to soften up those tough little beans—unless you've got a pressure cooker. That miracle gadget will cut down your cook time to just 40 minutes. We use chorizo here to provide a quick flavor boost, first rendering out its fat to infuse the dish, then adding the remaining ingredients and cooking at high pressure until the beans are tender and creamy.
Easy French Lentils With Garlic and Herbs
Few dishes are as satisfying as a properly prepared bowl of French lentils. Cooking the lentils in well-seasoned water alongside flavorful aromatics like garlic, onion, and celery, as well as with a sachet of herbs, ensures that each little legume is delicious on its own, and fortifying everything with butter and vinegar serves to just gild the lily. We really cannot stress how important it is to finely dice the vegetables that get mixed in; there's just something so nice about having everything lentil-sized.
Perfect Refried Beans
Too many people are familiar with only the canned version of refried beans. There's no shame in that convenience, but homemade refried beans are so easy to make, you might be hard-pressed to go back once you try them. Simmer the beans with onion and herbs until they're tender, then fry them in hot fat, mashing them until you've reached the consistency you like—smooth or chunky. Pinto beans are traditional, but we recommend trying this technique with black beans, cannellini, and chickpeas, too.
Spicy Vegan Refried Beans
Even though lots of refried bean recipes use lard for their fat (and man, are they good that way), refried beans are simple to veganize. When you swap in vegetable oil, you'll have to incorporate a couple of extra ingredients to add flavor, like jalapeño and chipotles in adobo. You can simmer your beans on the stovetop, heat them in a pressure cooker, or even use canned in a pinch.
The Best Barbecue Beans
For great barbecue beans, don't skimp on seasonings, or cooking time. We start by rendering bacon, then use the fat to sauté aromatics. After that, in go the beans (Great Northern or navy work as well as pinto), plus ketchup, vinegar, mustard, brown sugar, honey, molasses, barbecue rub, and hot sauce, and it all simmers for several hours to let the flavors deepen. If you want to throw in some pulled pork, that certainly wouldn't hurt.
New Orleans-Style Red Beans and Rice
For a dish with an amazing amount of flavor, red beans and rice in the style of New Orleans has a surprisingly simple ingredient list. Aside from the andouille sausage and the smoked ham hock, you might even have most of the stuff that goes into the recipe on hand. It's a classic recipe for the most classic of reasons: It's delicious!
Smoky Barbecue Beans
Doubling down on the phrase "made for leftovers," these beans both use whatever leftover smoked meat you have on hand and taste just as good the next day as they do fresh from the hob. They might be a little different than the barbecue beans you're used to, since they aren't really as sweet as the run-of-the-mill variety. Instead of a big hit of molasses, they get a lot of flavor from a warm spice mix of paprika, cumin, and black pepper and some earthy depth from dried chilies.
Frijoles Charros (Mexican Pinto Beans With Bacon and Chilies)
Throw out all your other pinto bean recipes; you won't be needing them anymore. While this recipe is what some would call "outrageously" delicious, it also happens to be pretty simple, and the only real key bit to it is the fire-roasted tomatoes. If you can't find them canned, it's simple enough to char some on your own directly over a gas flame, grill, or broiler. If you've ever found yourself racking your brain for what to bring to a potluck, this is your answer.
Quick-Marinated White Bean Salad and Feta Lettuce Cups
The creamy white cannellini beans used in this salad act like a sponge for the vinaigrette, which gets some tartness from both lemon juice and red wine vinegar and a little sweetness from honey. The beans get mixed up with cool cucumber, briny olives, some juicy tomatoes, and salty feta, and everything gets a little fresh lift from chopped basil and parsley. And the lettuce cups just make it fun to eat!
Salmon Bean Salad
While everyone seems to love salmon just fine, it also seems like everyone forgets that poaching the fish is a great way to cook it, and this salad exemplifies how versatile poaches salmon can be. Flaked into large chunks, it gets mixed together with diced celery and fennel and some arugula, and the whole lot gets tossed with a light vinaigrette spiked with dill.
Bean Salad With Radicchio, Radish, Pickled Onions, and Marcona Almonds
Beans can make a wonderfully light and nutrition-packed salad base, but they really work best when you mix them up with lots of contrasting textures and flavors. This salad pairs tender cooked beans (any kind of your choosing) with sharp, spicy radish, crunchy Marcona almonds, bitter arugula, tangy quick-pickled red onion, pungent scallions, and a ton of fresh parsley. With the interplay of all those components, it doesn't need more than a simple vinaigrette for dressing.
Greek Butter Bean Salad With Tomatoes, Dill, and Oregano
Inspired by gigantes plaki, Greek-style baked beans, this room-temperature salad uses a vinegary tomato dressing, flavored with dill, parsley, oregano, and a pinch of cinnamon, to coat soft and creamy butter beans. We generally prefer to use fresh herbs whenever possible, but this recipe actually calls for the specific flavor of dried oregano—you can substitute fresh, but you'll probably need to use about twice as much.
Warm Spanish-Style Giant Bean Salad With Smoked Paprika and Celery
If you start with good-quality, cooked-and-jarred large beans, you can whip up this salad—perfect for a tapas spread—in a matter of minutes. We reheat the beans briefly in a tomato paste–based sauce flavored with garlic, shallot, and smoked paprika. Add celery for crunch and parsley for an invigorating freshness, and serve with slices of good, crusty bread.
Make-Ahead Chickpea Salad With Cumin and Celery
If you work in an office every day and despair at the meager options for lunch nearby, now's the time to start embracing make-ahead chickpea salads: They're inexpensive, healthy, and filling, and they actually improve in flavor as they sit in the fridge. This simple vegan recipe tosses chickpeas with celery, shallots, and parsley and dresses it all in a cumin-scented vinaigrette.
Chickpea Salad With Bacon, Cotija, and Roasted Chilies
Here, our chickpeas are paired with so many flavorful ingredients—crispy bacon bits, blackened chilies, briny cotija cheese, and lime juice—it's okay to stick with canned beans, although dried are usually a better choice. It's a heartier salad that would be great to bring along on a spring camping trip.
Roasted Chickpea and Kale Salad With Sun-Dried Tomato Vinaigrette
If all you've got (or all you've got time for) is canned chickpeas, but you still want a more intense bean flavor, try roasting them, which concentrates their nuttiness and leaves them just a little crisp. Here, we mix roasted chickpeas with raw kale, tenderized with olive oil, and a bright sun-dried tomato vinaigrette. But what truly makes the salad is handfuls—really, handfuls—of fresh herbs. We use a full cup each of roughly chopped cilantro and mint leaves per can of chickpeas.
Spicy Chorizo and Pinto Bean Chili
If you're not constitutionally or morally opposed to the idea, adding beans to chili is a good way to bulk it up and provide an interesting, creamy texture to serve as a counterpoint to the meat. This one uses pinto beans, plus hot Mexican chorizo (that is, not the cured Spanish variety) and canned tomatoes. Because this is meant to be a quick recipe, the base relies on store-bought chili powder instead of a homemade chili paste—we recommend the latter approach for our Best Chili Ever.
Slow-Cooker Pulled-Pork Chili With Cornbread Dumplings
The complex flavor in this chili of pork shoulder and dark red kidney beans comes courtesy of dried ancho and New Mexico chilies reconstituted in chicken stock, plus unsweetened cocoa powder, beer, Worcestershire sauce, cumin, and tomatoes. We cook the chili low and slow for six hours until the pork is fall-apart tender and perfectly shreddable. It's topped with homemade cornbread dumplings that steam until light and fluffy, right in the slow cooker.
The Best White Chili With Chicken
Made with white Great Northern beans or navy beans, green chili peppers, and chicken breast, this chili is unorthodox even by...well, by unorthodox chili standards. But wherever the idea may have originated, it's darn tasty. We use a mix of spicy jalapeños, fruity poblanos, and grassy Anaheims, roasted with onions and garlic to give the chili a nice smoky flavor. Puréeing some of the white beans adds a richness and creaminess to the pot.
Vegan Sweet Potato and 2-Bean Chili With Hominy
Beans are a no-brainer if you're making vegetarian chili. The best versions balance out the beans with contrasting ingredients and incorporate bold flavoring agents to replace the umami of meat. Here, we counter the softness of kidneys, black beans, and sweet potatoes with the chewiness of hominy. Orange juice and raisins lend fruity notes, while Vegemite and soy sauce provide savoriness.
Quick and Easy Vegetarian Tamale Pie With Brown Butter Cornbread Crust
Tamale pie is an old-school Southwestern dish of chili with a cornbread layer baked on top. This vegetarian version uses a chili made of beans, tomatoes, and a little cheese, plus green olives and loads of herbs, spices, and fresh veggies. A sweet, browned-butter cornbread crust incorporates jalapeños and scallions for little pockets of piquant and pungent flavors.
Stews, Soups, and Pastas
Hearty One-Pot Black-Eyed Pea Stew With Kale and Andouille
Kale, black-eyed peas, and sausage are ideal ingredients to combine, complementing each other in both flavor and texture. This easy Cajun-influenced recipe adds those three to sautéed onion, green bell pepper, and celery—the so-called Holy Trinity of Cajun cooking—plus leeks and jalapeño. Like black beans, black-eyed peas come out perfectly tasty, if not actually better, when you don't soak them before cooking.
Traditional French Cassoulet
If you're still wrestling with the last throes of winter, let this hearty French stew be your warmth on a chilly night. Our rich, deeply flavorful cassoulet is based on versions from Languedoc, the region of France where the dish originated, and made with cannellini beans, sausage, salt pork, and chicken—duck is more traditional, but it's needlessly expensive, so we recommend adding duck fat if you miss its presence.
Ribollita (Hearty Tuscan Bean, Bread, and Vegetable Stew)
Need a vegetarian stew to tide you over until spring? Ribollita, a thick Tuscan vegetable soup fortified with bread and beans, is your answer—originally invented as a way to use up leftover minestrone, it's just as good when made fresh from scratch. You can use any vegetables that strike your fancy, but dark, curly lacinato kale is never a bad choice. For a little something different, try ladling some of the stew into a pan and cooking it down into a vegetable pancake.
Pasta e Fagioli (Italian Bean and Pasta Soup)
Pasta e fagioli is a beloved old Italian dish that's little more than the translation of its name—pasta and beans, cooked together in a soup. There's a multitude of versions made across Italy, but this one uses just those two ingredients plus a few basic aromatics, with some of the beans puréed to form a creamy liquid for the pasta and whole beans to rest in. Add the pasta pieces to each bowl of soup individually just before serving so that they don't get waterlogged.
The Best Minestrone Soup
Minestrone isn't so much a recipe as it is a kind of cooking process, since you can make it with whatever you have on hand. The recipe we provide is a very basic version, but it gives you an idea of what to look out for in each individual component. You'll want tender beans that maintain their structural integrity, and you want your vegetables to be giving but not to the point of disintegrating into mush. One of the best tricks used in a good minestrone is throwing in a Parmesan rind; it really adds a whole lot of flavor, trust us.
Pressure Cooker Black Bean Soup With Sausage and Cumin-Lime Sour Cream
There's a couple tricks that make this black bean soup killer, but the number one trick is using the pressure cooker; a soup that seems like it would take all day to make comes together in just an hour. The addition of cremini mushrooms adds some subtle depth, and the sour cream spiked with cumin and lime zest to top it all off transforms a great soup into an extraordinary one.
Pasta With Chickpea Sauce
This recipe flips the ratios of pasta e fagioli—primarily pasta, with a creamy sauce made of beans (we use chickpeas here) cooked with oil, garlic, and red pepper flakes. Because the recipe is so straightforward, with relatively few ingredients, using dried beans is really worth the extra effort. It's vegan, too, although some grated Parmesan would be a welcome addition.
Ful Mudammas (Egyptian Breakfast Fava Beans With Tahini)
Ful mudammas—a dish typically eaten for breakfast, made by stewing fava beans with tahini—is pure Middle Eastern and North African comfort food. This Egyptian version, ubiquitous on the streets of Cairo, is flavored with garlic, cumin, and lemon. It's super fast and easy—and it's one of the few dishes in which canned beans actually work better than their dried counterparts.
Cheesy Mashed White Beans With Kale, Parmesan, and a Fried Egg
I love a good bowl of grits in the morning, but the slow cooking process means they're kind of a pain to make. Kenji feels the same way, and he discovered that mashing white beans with lots of cheese and cream produces a dish with a similarly thick, comforting texture. Turn it into a full breakfast by serving it with wilted kale and a fried egg—everything's better topped with a fried egg.