For the next few weeks, we’re going to talk about some smart strategies for using leftover staple foods – things like rice, beans, pasta, and so on. Here’s what you do when you cook a bit too much and don’t know what to do with the rest!
Personally, beans are my number one staple food. I love so many different kinds of foods that utilize beans, from 13 bean soup to bean burritos, from lentil casserole to “chili.” Beans go so well in so many different types of dishes and so many different culinary traditions, and I love so many of them!
Whenever I make beans, I almost always cook them from their dry state, allowing them to cook for a long while in boiling water and then soak in that water until they’re ready to eat. This provides me with a great source of beans for whatever recipe I’m making at the time, but I often find myself with tons of leftover beans.
Naturally, I scoop up those leftover beans into a large container and pop them in the fridge – a bean lover like myself isn’t going to let perfectly good beans go to waste. However, the question then becomes what am I going to do with those beans?
Here are ten things I love to do with leftover beans. Note, of course, that not all of these work perfectly well with all types of beans, but most beans will work reasonably well for most of these uses.
Strategy #1: Freeze extra beans in a small container.
This one is so easy! All I do is measure out an amount of beans equal to a typical can of beans, put them in a small freezer-safe resealable container designed to hold about a pint of food, and pop that container right in the freezer with a little masking tape label reminding me of what it is. Look! I say to myself when I open the freezer door. I have a pint of black beans right there, and there are a couple of pints of pinto beans!
Whenever I need those beans, I’ll just pull them out of the freezer a day or two beforehand and let them thaw in the refrigerator. A single pint-sized container replaces a can of beans in any recipe and they’re usually tastier because I boiled them myself from dry beans at home. If you’re suddenly in a pinch, you can always defrost them in the microwave.
Strategy #2: Make soup.
A bunch of leftover beans screams “make a big pot of soup!” to me whenever I see them. That’s because there are so many ways to utilize beans in soups. You can make a traditional vegetable bean soup, where almost any chopped up vegetable works with a few basic seasonings, some broth, and some salt. You can puree some of the beans and make a very thick and hearty blended bean soup. You can add lots of chili powder and tomatoes and broth to make a great “chili” soup. The possibilities really are endless.
My parents have this annual tradition of making a large pot of soup on New Year’s Day for all of their friends to stop by at their convenience to have a bowl and talk about the new year together. Their soup is just a big collection of white beans, vegetables, and a big ham bone dropped into the soup, where the ham bone is left over from Christmas dinner, many of the vegetables are remnants from the fall garden harvest, and the beans are (usually in part) left over from other meals over the last few months. The soup is gently seasoned, warm, and delicious!
Strategy #3: Make refried beans.
You have leftover beans. Make refried beans! Refried beans work as an ingredient in many things such as burritos and tortilla soups and even as a sandwich topping (seriously, I do this quite often). It’s easy, too – just saute a few onions in a skillet, mash up some cooked beans, and put them right in the skillet along with the onions to cook a little bit. The onion residue on the pan soaks right into the beans, making a delicious paste that can be used in almost infinite ways.
Strategy #4: Make burritos.
If you want to put those refried beans right to use, make some burritos. Load them up with the refried beans you just made, add some whole beans as well, and add whatever toppings you like – cheese, lettuce, salsa, tomatoes, picante sauce, chicken, steak, eggs, whatever. It’s all welcome here!
Beans add a lot of bulk and earthy flavor to burritos and can actually vary the flavor and texture of the burritos quite a bit depending on the type of bean used. Black beans add a certain flavor (I love them with eggs and cheese in a breakfast-style burrito), while lentils and pintos are completely different.
Strategy #5: Mix them with eggs for breakfast.
Speaking of mixing eggs and beans, that’s the foundation of many delicious breakfasts around our house. I’ll often scramble eggs and toss in a bunch of cooked beans just as the eggs are starting to curd up – a bit of salsa on top and some shredded cheese makes for a wonderful hearty breakfast for everyone involved.
The best part? You can easily scoop that bean/egg/cheese scramble right into a tortilla shell and wrap it up tight for a great breakfast the following day! There’s no need to let any of that good stuff go to waste!
I often like to cook some onions and green peppers right in with the eggs and beans. I’ll start by sautéing diced onions and green peppers, then when they’re a bit browned, I’ll add a bit more butter or oil and then cook the scrambled eggs right in that same skillet. It does darken the eggs a bit, but that skillet meal is to die for and leftover beans are a key part of it!
Strategy #6: Make a savory bean casserole.
Almost all beans can be tossed together with other savory vegetables, a little bit of broth, and a handful of shredded cheese as a binder, with a bit of shredded cheese on top to make a very easy and delicious casserole that works as a side or even as the main course for many meals.
My mother-in-law makes a fantastic savory casserole using leftover lentils, leftover brown rice, some broth, and some cheese. Here’s that recipe, if you want it; if you ever find yourself with leftover lentils and leftover rice, this is a great way to use that stuff!
Strategy #7: Make hummus (or ‘hummus’).
Hummus is essentially chickpeas blended with olive oil and spices, and chickpeas are merely a type of bean. The truth is that you can make “hummus” by blending almost any bean with some olive oil and spices.
I like to make a black bean “hummus” by adding some olive oil, a bit of garlic, a tiny bit of onion powder, and a dash of chili powder. All you need is a bunch of leftover black beans for this. Some of the less flavorful beans can be made into a “hummus” with literally whatever flavorings you like to make a savory snack.
Strategy #8: Make a bean dip.
You don’t have to blend all of your beans into oblivion with olive oil to make a great dip, either. Simply mixing beans together with something else to bind them together can make for a great dip.
You can simply layer beans with things like fresh salsa, onions, guacamole, and sour cream to make a great seven-layer dip for tortilla chips. You can mix beans with cream cheese and taco seasoning, layer some cheese on top, and bake until nice and warm to make a great hot dip. You can even just season them well with things like Worcestershire sauce, horseradish, garlic powder, and dry mustard and mix them thoroughly with mayonnaise to make a really interesting savory dip. There are many, many possibilities!
Strategy #9: Make veggie burgers.
One of my favorite things to do with well-cooked leftover beans is to simply form them into patties with a bit of beaten egg as a binder and cook them on the grill. They cook quite well and form very solid patties. Pile the condiments high and you have yourself a delicious sandwich!
You can also mix a lot of things into the bean patty depending on the flavor you want to create. Try putting garlic right in there, or some sauteed onion, or some cayenne pepper, or some feta cheese. You can make a lot of varieties on the old black bean burger!
Strategy #10: Add them to a salad.
If you’re preparing a tossed salad, consider adding some rinsed beans directly to the salad to add some body, texture, and protein to the mix. It can make an ordinary salad seem quite a bit more hardy with just that simple addition and significantly change the flavors and textures, too.
I like adding beans to salads where I’m using a southwest-style dressing with a bit of zip to it. I’ve also seen light-colored beans added to tossed salads with Italian-style dressing as well. In both cases, adding a few extra beans just completely changes the salad’s character.
Next time, we’ll look at some awesome strategies for using extra pasta!