THE WASHINGTON POST – 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, much like 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 flavour from one of my go-to spices, Spanish 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 flavour.
Make the recipe however suits you best. Use a can of beans if and when you’re in a hurry (which, I realise, 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
This simple, quick dish gets its smoky flavour from a touch of a powerhouse ingredient: Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton). Using home-cooked beans makes it creamier (be sure to save the cooking liquid), but canned work just fine, too. Serve with rice, bread or another grain of your choice.
Two tablespoons olive oil
One pound Brussels sprouts, trimmed and halved
Two garlic cloves, chopped
Three-quarter teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (pimenton)
Half teaspoon fine sea salt, plus more to taste
Quarter to half teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes
Quarter teaspoon ground black pepper, plus more to taste
One-and-a-half cups cooked or canned no-salt-added white beans, drained and rinsed
Three-quarter cup drained bean cooking liquid or water
Two tablespoons lemon juice
Two tablespoons chopped 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, five minutes. Turn them over, add the garlic and cook until the sprouts are just barely tender, two to three 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 five minutes. Stir in the lemon juice and chives, and add more salt and pepper if needed.