How to Use Up Leftover Beans

If you’ve read our piece about bean expert and entrepreneur Steve Sando’s latest cookbook, you’re already dreaming about all the ways he makes beans into something “creamy and indulgent.” Not only are beans delicious, they’re versatile and economical. Cooking up a big pot is easy work and can feed a family well for days. A pound of dried beans yields about ten servings — often enough for multiple meals. Which means that it’s easy to cook more than you need. But leftovers shouldn’t just sit around and then get thrown away. There’s no need to get bored of beans: repurposing this shape-shifting food is easy. You can substitute them for the canned beans called for in any recipe or use some of the following ideas to get the most out of leftover beans and keep them from ending up in the trash.

How to Freeze Leftover Beans

Transfer your cooled beans to an airtight, freezer-safe container and they will keep in the deep chill for about six months. Frozen beans can then go directly into a simmering pot of soup, stew or chili. While they won’t have the original texture of fresh-from-the-pot beans, the slight difference won’t be noticeable in such satisfying bowl fillers.

Rancho Gordo
Learn to make Steve Sando’s White Bean Gratin. Photograph by Steve Sando.

Purée Leftover Beans

Likewise, you can purée leftover beans or defrosted beans. Some recipes actually benefit from a softer texture. Try giving white beans a whirl in the blender with some garlic, tahini and olive oil for a hummus-like dip. A pot of soft white beans from earlier in the week can be simmered in stock, perhaps with a few tomatoes, and blended into a lovely soup, particularly with the addition of some garlic and minced fresh rosemary. Long-simmered black beans get partially puréed into a bowl of black bean soup, a popular cold weather comforter.

Using Beans for Breakfast

Beans for breakfast lay a solid foundation for a busy day ahead. And when you are using leftover beans, you have the running start that makes whipping up these dishes a snap! They are literally the base layer of the popular dish, huevos rancheros, in which they are topped with soft cooked eggs and served with tortillas and salsa for scooping and saucing.

You won’t find a “proper fried” English breakfast, as the multi-dish entrée is called, without its side of baked beans. You can easily swap in some reheated beans in your homemade version.

A bean-based breakfast bowl of reheated beans, perhaps some leftover grains or roast vegetables, topped with a lava-like egg and a few dashes of hot sauce will start anyone’s day off right.

Beans as a Tortilla Stuffer

Leftover beans make for a quick meal when wedged in a tortilla or two. Scatter a few in your quesadilla before it hits the pan, roll leftover beans up in a burrito with some cooked rice and vegetables or sluice them down the center of a sauced enchilada, top with cheese and bake until mind-blowing.

Bean Crostini

As a bean carrier, a sandwich can be a bit too bready, but an open-faced crostini is the perfect plate-to-palate vehicle for these fabulous legumes. White beans sautéed with greens and plenty of garlic, black beans sizzled up with some tingly chiles, or any bean tossed with sharp cheese, such as feta, and a splash of olive oil are just a few examples of tasty toast toppers. Serve a selection to kick off a meal or as a versatile nibble when entertaining.

Bean Burgers

There are lots of recipes for turning leftover beans into delicious meat-free burgers. You can mix them with grains, add spices to turn up the heat, or combine them with vegetables such as mushrooms for a satisfying, healthful meal that’s better for the environment than a meaty burger.

Using Beans to Stretch Meat Dishes

A great way to incorporate leftover beans into your meat recipes, without completely eliminating the meat, is to use beans to stretch this valuable, and resource-intensive protein. Add leftover black or pinto beans to a pot of sloppy joes or Bolognese sauce. Try using leftover white beans in your next batch of chicken salad or curry.

Leftover Bean Salads

Beans are not only a tasty addition to salads, they also bring satisfying protein to the plate. You can use any leftover beans you have on hand. Make sure you are using a dressing with plenty of punch — such as a zingy lemon vinaigrette — that will bring some much-needed zest to the mellow starchiness of the beans.

Leftover Bean Sides

Leftover beans are an effective launching off point for side dishes filling enough to double as a light lunch. Toss beans of any type with roasted vegetables right out of the oven and drizzled with some good olive oil plus a healthy sprinkle of course salt. Combine beans with small pasta, such as orzo, or rice and dress with olive oil, lemon zest and juice for a cozy bed for fish.

Recipe: The Bean Thing (aka Feta and Bean Spread)

This is a go-to, pantry driven nibble that I rely on heavily when entertaining. It is quick to make, sits and travels with ease. And most importantly, everyone loves it. Even the bean haters become converts. Feel free to adjust the quantities of the ingredients to your liking. You cannot mess up “The Bean Thing.”

Ingredients

1-2 cloves garlic, peeled
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 tablespoons red wine vinegar
1 cup chopped tomatoes
1 cup crumbled feta
1 cup beans, whatever type you have on hand or in the freezer
¼ cup olive oil
¼ cup minced fresh soft herbs, such as dill or parsley
Baguette

Method

  1. Carefully crush the garlic with the side of a large knife. Sprinkle it with a generous amount of salt and mince to a paste (the abrasive salt will help to break down the garlic).
  2. In a medium bowl, combine the garlic paste with a few grinds of pepper and the vinegar and set aside for a moment to slightly pickle the garlic and mellow its flavor.
  3. Add the tomatoes, feta, beans and olive oil and stir to combine thoroughly. Set aside for at least half an hour at room temperature and up to four hours refrigerated to allow the flavors to blend and the tomatoes to release some juice (bring to room temp before serving).
  4. Add the herbs, stir and serve, scooping up the mixture with hunks of torn baguette.

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