How to cook a simple, flavourful pot of beans and use it throughout the week

Joe Yonan

THE WASHINGTON POST – I’ve said – or written – it so many times, I long ago lost count. But here goes again: The key to quick-but-interesting weeknight cooking is to get in the habit of making building blocks on the weekend when you have time, and then learn to use them in a variety of ways during the week. As a vegetarian, I’m talking about roasting vegetables, steaming grains and, my favourite, simmering a pot of beans.

Now that we’re spending so much time at home, you don’t have to wait until the weekend to do such cooking. But you should still do it, especially since beans have emerged as the shelf-stable, nutritious star players of the pandemic pantry. The Instant Pot may have been one of the best things to happen to dried beans in recent years, but now you don’t have to worry quite so much about how quickly beans can cook under pressure; you can give them the low-and-slow treatment they love.

I’m perhaps better equipped than most of you to know what to do with those beans once they’re cooked, as I spent years researching a cookbook focussed on them. To me, the options seem almost endless, and they go far beyond the chilis, soups and other stews you might already know and love. Once you make the pot of beans as I’m instructing here – and I’m offering three easy methods (stove top, oven and pressure cooker) – you can make at least three of the following dishes later in the week. And if you want to make all of them, just make a pound and a half of beans, or even two pounds. You’ll be happy to have leftovers, which freeze beautifully.

The accompanying recipes assume that you used good old pinto beans for this pot, but the instructions are the same for whatever bean variety you choose, and you can substitute whatever you’d like.

SIMPLY PERFECT POT OF BEANS

Active: 15 minutes | Total: 90 minutes

12 servings (makes six cups beans plus liquid)

The timing will vary widely and depends on the variety of beans and their age. Note that these instructions do not call for soaking the beans, as it is not required, and the flavour is best if you don’t soak. However, if you want to soak because you’re not sure how old your beans are and want to cut down slightly on the cooking time and reduce flatulence, soak them overnight (or four to 12 hours) at room temperature in a salt brine to help soften the beans’ skins: Use one tablespoon kosher salt and enough water to cover by three inches, then drain. If you soak in a brine, reduce the salt in the cooking water to one teaspoon. Note that the optional kombu has been found to be as effective as soaking in terms of helping soften the beans’ skins and can also reduce flatulence.

Storage Notes: The beans can be refrigerated, in their cooking liquid, for up to one week or frozen for up to six months.

Peruvian Beans and Rice (Tacu Tacu). PHOTOS: THE WASHINGTON POST
Harissa-Roasted Carrot and Bean Dip

Ingredients

One pound dried beans, picked over and rinsed

Water

Half yellow or white onion, peeled

Three garlic cloves, peeled

Two bay leaves

One strip kombu (dried seaweed, optional)

One tablespoon kosher salt, or more to taste

Steps

STOVE TOP: In a large Dutch oven or other heavy pot set over medium-high heat, combine the beans with enough water to cover by two inches. Add the onion, garlic, bay leaves, kombu and salt.

Bring the water to a boil. Boil the beans for 10 minutes, then reduce the heat to low so the liquid is barely bubbling, cover, and simmer until the beans are very tender, 60 to 90 minutes or longer. (Periodically check and add more hot water if needed to keep the beans submerged.) Test at least five beans from different parts of the pot to make sure they are tender. Remove and discard the bay leaves, onion (if desired) and, if it hasn’t disintegrated, kombu. Taste and add more salt, if needed.

OVEN: Using the same timing as on the stove top, after boiling the beans for 10 minutes, cover, transfer them to a 300-degree oven and bake until the beans are very tender. (If you have a bean pot, which is taller and narrower than a Dutch oven, use it: The bean liquid will be particularly rich.)

INSTANT POT OR OTHER PRESSURE COOKER: Increase the water to cover the beans by three inches. Cook at high pressure for 25 minutes, then use the natural-pressure-release function. If the beans are undercooked, either bring the machine back to pressure and cook for an additional five minutes, then manually release the pressure to check again, or continue to cook the beans uncovered, on the saute function if using an Instant Pot. When the beans are tender, cook them uncovered for 10 to 20 minutes to reduce and concentrate the broth.

Nutrition | Calories: 134; Total Fat: 1g; Saturated Fat: 0g; Cholesterol: 0mg;

Sodium: 386mg; Carbohydrates: 24g; Dietary Fibre: 6g; Sugars: 1g; Protein: 8g.

BEAN AND POBLANO TACOS WITH QUICK-PICKLED ONIONS

Two to three servings

This recipe was designed for kidney beans, with their beautiful crimson colour and hearty texture, but pinto beans are made for tacos, too. The Washington Post Food and Dining Editor Joe Yonan likes to pair the beans with thick slices of mild poblano pepper, whose hint of heat and bitterness sets off the beans’ creaminess, but you can substitute green or red bell pepper. And nothing beats the addition of pickled onions; you’ll have more than you need for this recipe, but they keep well.

The pickled onions can be refrigerated for up to three weeks.

Ingredients

For the pickled onions

Quarter cup fresh grapefruit juice

Quarter cup fresh orange juice

Quarter cup fresh lime juice

Quarter cup white distilled vinegar

One red onion, thinly sliced

For the filling

Two tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

Two poblano peppers, stemmed, seeded and cut into half-inch slices

One small yellow onion, chopped

Two large garlic cloves, chopped

Half teaspoon ground cumin

Half teaspoon ground cinnamon

Half teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton)

Half teaspoon kosher or sea salt, or more to taste

Half teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, or more to taste

One and three quarters cups cooked pinto beans, drained but not rinsed (may substitute canned beans or cooked or canned red kidney beans, black beans or chickpeas from one 15-ounce can)

Six corn tortillas

Half cup store-bought salsa

Half cup vegan or dairy feta,

crumbled

Toasted pumpkin seeds (pepitas), for serving

Steps

Make the pickled onions: In a small saucepan over medium heat, combine the grapefruit juice, orange juice, lime juice and vinegar. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat and add the red onion. Let cool in the pan. (To store what you don’t use for this recipe, transfer the onions and marinade to a quart-size Mason jar and refrigerate for up to three weeks.)

Make the filling: In a large skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Add the poblanos, onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the vegetables start to soften, about four minutes. Sprinkle in the cumin, cinnamon, paprika, salt and pepper and cook until the spices are very fragrant, one to two minutes. Stir in the beans, reduce the heat to medium-low and cook just until warmed through. Taste, and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Turn off the heat and cover to keep warm.

Warm the tortillas in a dry skillet over medium-high heat for a few seconds on each side, then wrap them in foil. To assemble the tacos, lay out the tortillas and top each with some of the bean-poblano mixture. Top each with a spoonful of the salsa, feta, pumpkin seeds and a few slices of pickled onions. Serve hot.

Nutrition | Per serving: 366 calories, 12g protein, 49g carbohydrates, 14g fat, 2g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 751mg sodium, 12g dietary fibre, 3g sugar

GARLICKY BEANS AND BROCCOLI RABE OVER TOAST

Four servings

My take on Heartland author and chef Lenny Russo’s wonderfully satisfying bowl of beans and bitter greens amps up the garlic and uses the rich bean cooking liquid instead of stock. I love serving these beans over toast to make it a meal.

Ingredients

Three tablespoons extra-virgin

olive oil

Eight ounces broccoli rabe, cut into one-inch pieces (may substitute kale, mustard greens or arugula)

Three garlic cloves, finely chopped

Two cups cooked pinto beans, plus One cup cooking liquid (may substitute great Northern beans, navy, cannellini or other white beans)

Half teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

Quarter teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

Four thick slices rustic sourdough bread, lightly toasted

One and a half teaspoons chile oil (optional)

Quarter cup (about 1 ounce) shaved or grated vegan or traditional Parmesan cheese

Steps

In a deep skillet over medium heat, heat the oil until it shimmers. Stir in the broccoli rabe and cook, stirring, until very tender, about eight minutes.

Stir in the garlic and cook until it starts to soften, about two minutes. Stir in the drained beans, reserved cooking liquid and the salt. Cook just until the beans are hot and the flavours have melded, two to three minutes. Stir in the pepper, taste, and add more salt if needed.

Divide the toast among shallow serving bowls. Drizzle with the chile oil, if desired, and spoon the bean mixture and broth on top. Finish with the Parm and serve hot.

Nutrition | Per serving: 365 calories, 16g protein, 46g carbohydrates, 13g fat, 3g saturated fat, 6mg cholesterol, 781mg sodium, 9g dietary fibre, 0g sugar

PERUVIAN BEANS AND RICE (TACU TACU)

Two to four servings

In Peru, this pancake of leftover rice and beans traditionally uses creamy canary (aka mayacoba or Peruano) beans and aji amarillo paste (made from Peru’s favourite chile). But you can also use pinto or another favourite bean, and Tabasco or another vinegary pepper sauce makes a fine substitute for the amarillo. This often comes topped with steak and/or a fried egg, but it’s delicious and hearty on its own, especially with a crunchy onion salsa.

Ingredients

For the salsa criolla

Half small red onion, thinly sliced

Two tablespoons chopped fresh cilantro leaves

Two tablespoons fresh lime juice

Quarter teaspoon aji amarillo paste (may substitute one teaspoon Tabasco or other pepper sauce)

Quarter teaspoon kosher salt

For the tacu tacu

Three tablespoons grapeseed, safflower or other neutral vegetable oil

Half small red onion, chopped

Two garlic cloves, chopped

Half teaspoon kosher salt, plus more to taste

One teaspoon aji amarillo paste (may substitute two teaspoons Tabasco or other pepper sauce)

Two cups cooked pinto beans, drained and rinsed (may substitute canned pinto or canary beans, from two 15-ounce cans)

One cup cold (preferably day-old) cooked white rice

One tablespoon chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley leaves

One tablespoon chopped fresh oregano or one and a half teaspoons dried

One lime, cut into wedges

Steps

Make the salsa: In a medium bowl, combine the onion with enough cold water to cover, and let sit for at least 10 minutes, then drain. Toss with the cilantro, lime juice, aji amarillo and salt.

Make the tacu tacu: In a 10-inch nonstick skillet over medium-high heat, heat one tablespoon of the oil until shimmering. Stir in the onion and garlic and cook, stirring, until lightly browned,five to six minutes. Stir in the salt and aji amarillo, and scrape the mixture into the bowl of a food processor. Wipe out the skillet.

Add one cup of the beans to the food processor and puree briefly until mostly smooth but still chunky. Scrape the mixture into a large bowl.

Add the remaining one cup beans (left whole), the rice, parsley and oregano to the bowl and stir to thoroughly combine. Taste, and add more salt if needed.

Return the skillet to medium heat and pour in another one tablespoon oil. Add the rice-and-bean mixture and use a spatula to spread it around evenly and lightly pack it down. Cook until deeply browned on the bottom, about seven minutes. Remove from the heat, invert a plate (preferably with no rim) on top of the skillet, and carefully flip both over to land the bean-and-rice cake bottom-side up onto the plate.

Return the skillet to medium heat, pour in the remaining one tablespoon oil, and slide the cake back into the skillet. Cook for another seven minutes, or until deeply browned on the other side, then invert the plate and flip the skillet over again to land the cake onto the plate.

Top with the salsa and serve hot with lime wedges.

Nutrition | Per serving: 262 calories, 7g protein, 33g carbohydrates, 11g fat, 1g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 644mg sodium, 6g dietary fibre, 2g sugar

Harissa-Roasted Carrot and Bean Dip

Eight servings (about two cups)

The combination of harissa and mint – one spicy, one cooling – takes this dip into can’t-stop-eating territory. Instead of pinto, you can use cannellini, navy, great Northern beans or chickpeas.

The dip can be refrigerated in an airtight container for up to one week.

Ingredients

Eight ounces carrots, cut into one-inch pieces

One tablespoon harissa, plus more (optional) for finishing the dish

Three tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for finishing the dish

Half teaspoon kosher salt, or more to taste

Five garlic cloves, unpeeled

One and three quarters cups cooked pinto beans plus half cup cooking liquid (may substitute canned beans from one 15-ounce can, drained but not rinsed, with can liquid reserved)

Quarter cup lightly packed fresh mint leaves, plus more chopped mint for finishing the dish

One tablespoon fresh lemon juice

Steps

Position the rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 450 degrees.

On a small rimmed baking sheet, toss the carrots with the harissa, one tablespoon oil and salt. Place the garlic on one side of the sheet. Roast 20 to 25 minutes, until the carrots are fork-tender. Let cool slightly.

Squeeze the soft garlic cloves out of their skins into the bowl of a food processor or blender. Add the carrots and use a spatula to scrape in as much of the browned roasted harissa bits from the pan as possible. Reserving a few whole beans for garnish, if desired, add the rest to the food processor or blender, plus the remaining two tablespoons olive oil, the mint and lemon juice and puree until smooth, scraping down the sides of the bowl as needed. Add a little water or some of the reserved bean liquid, a few tablespoons at a time, to loosen the mixture if it is too pasty in texture. Taste, and add more salt if needed.

To serve, spoon the dip onto a shallow plate and use the back of a spoon to swirl it. Add the whole beans and a little dollop or two of harissa, if desired, drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with the chopped mint. Serve with pitas or crackers.

Nutrition | Per serving: 113 calories, 3g protein, 13g carbohydrates, 5g fat, 1g saturated fat, 0mg cholesterol, 271mg sodium, 3g dietary fibre, 2g sugar