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Easy, Elegant, Elevated: Level Up Your Dinner Menu With Beans

By now, you’re fine-tuning your new year, new you menu plans. As you leaf through cookbooks and recipe blogs for inspiration, we recommend for your consideration the humble bean.

Beans are the perfect way to round out a meal, with their warm, earthy flavors, ridiculous ease of preparation, and adaptability to any menu theme or specifications. They also happen to add a world of health benefits in the form of protein, complex carbs, and soluble fiber that provides a much-needed antidote to holiday overindulgence. And because they straddle the gray area between vegetable side dish and hearty protein, beans offer you a wide variety of avenues to explore.

If your familiarity with bean dishes is limited to things like hummus, frijoles, or baked beans, prepare to have your mind blown. We’ve curated a few of our favorite bean recipes that elevate the humble legume to gourmet heights.

Tips on Preparing Beans

While canned beans offer quick convenience and easy cleanup, there is a limit to how many varieties you can find. Heirloom bean varieties like Borlottis, flageolets, Christmas limas, and others are mainly available through your local farmers’ market or through specialty growers such as Rancho Gordo or Zürsun Idaho. These beans, which offer unusually complex flavor as well as striking beauty on the plate, are well worth the extra time and effort.

Always soak dry beans the night before cooking in plenty of fresh water with a dash of apple cider vinegar to help expedite the process.

Drbouz/Getty Images

Uncooked beans contain a naturally occurring enzyme inhibitor called lectin — this is the compound that prevents the bean from growing until it’s planted and watered. However, this compound can cause serious stomach upset if the beans aren’t cooked thoroughly. To avoid unpleasant after-effects from your holiday bean feast, make sure to include this essential pre-step: after soaking the beans overnight, put them in a pot, cover with water, and boil vigorously for 15-20 minutes before proceeding with your recipe.

To make cooking dry beans even easier, follow this secret chef’s shortcut: rather than cooking your beans on the stovetop, put pre-soaked beans into a Dutch oven or a chef’s pan, cover with water and a lid or foil, and bake in the oven at 300 degrees for about 2-3 hours (depending on the volume of beans and how “done” you want them). You can add in a whole onion, garlic, herbs, or even a few strips of bacon to flavor. You’ll be amazed at how evenly cooked and perfectly creamy your beans turn out with so little work involved.


Spanish Gigante Bean Salad

Image used with permission by copyright holder

(Created by Nicole Gaffney,

This deceptively simple dish will blow you away with its intoxicating aroma, earthy refinement, and velvety texture. It’s also incredibly versatile — serve as a side dish, spoon it over crackers or toast points as an appetizer, or enjoy a bowl with a hunk of crusty bread for a delicious peasant lunch.


  • .5 lb dried gigante beans, butter beans, or giant lima beans, soaked overnight in salted water
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig fresh thyme or .5 tsp dried thyme
  • 4 cloves garlic, divided, 2 smashed and 2 sliced
  • 2 medium shallots, divided, one left whole and one minced
  • Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 8 tbsp extra-virgin olive oil, divided
  • 2 heaping tbsp tomato paste
  • 1 tsp mild smoked paprika
  • 4 stalks celery, thinly sliced plus 2 tablespoons celery leaves
  • 2 tbsp plus 2 teaspoons sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
  • .25 c minced fresh parsley leaves


  1. Drain the soaked beans and place in a large saucepan and cover with water. Add the bay leaf, thyme, whole shallot, smashed cloves of garlic, and a generous amount of salt and freshly cracked black pepper. Bring up to a boil, then reduce to a low simmer and cook until the beans are just tender, about 30-45 minutes. Be sure to test more than one bean to be sure they are all cooked through. Drain and set aside.
  2. Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a pan and sauté the minced garlic and shallot until they just start to turn golden, about 2 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste and smoked paprika and cook for another minute or two until fragrant. Add the beans, celery, vinegar and remaining 5 tablespoons of olive oil, then turn off the heat. Stir until everything is coated and season with salt and pepper to taste. Serve warm, or let marinate in the fridge for a few days. This dish is great served as a salad or side dish, but also works fabulously as an appetizer served with crusty slices of bread.

Potato Mash with Red Beans, Egg, and Mustard Greens

Image used with permission by copyright holder

(Created by Makos Koukakis,

The unusual combination of ingredients in this traditional Cretan dish come together for warmth, comfort, and surprising depth of flavor.


  • 1.5 – 2 lb potatoes, peeled and cut in large cubes
  • 1.5 c red beans, cooked and drained
  • 1 lb white mustard greens
  • 4 extra large eggs
  • Salt and pepper to taste
  • 8-12 anchovies, optional
  • 2-3 lemons (the juice)
  • .5 c olive oil
  • 3-4 chili dried peppers, optional


  1. Put the potatoes in a pot with cold, salted water, open the heat and boil until tender (about 20-30 minutes depending on the size of the cubes). Drain and mix with the beans. Mash the potato and bean mixture just a little while mixing, but don’t puree.
  2. Bring to a boil a large pot half-filled with salted water, add the mustard greens and boil until the large stems feel soft when pinched (about 15-20 minutes). Drain.
  3. Boil the eggs according to preference and cut in half.
  4. Heat the oil with the chili peppers in gentle heat for 10 minutes to infuse the oil.
  5. Combine all ingredients in one big bowl, or split amongst 4 individual bowls. Serve with a drizzle of lemon juice and olive oil, dusted with salt and freshly grated pepper.

Lettuce Leek Soup

Image used with permission by copyright holder

(Created by Claudia Sidoti, Principal Chef of HelloFresh)

Lettuce and soup may sound like an unlikely combo, but there’s something about enjoying crisp romaine and creamy butter lettuce with a spoon that just works. The addition of onion-y leeks, velvety beans, fragrant herbs, and creamy yogurt may have something to do with that.


  • 2 heads romaine lettuce
  • 1 head butter lettuce
  • 2 tbsp unsalted butter
  • 2 large leeks (about 3 cups), rinsed well and thinly sliced
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 5 c low-sodium broth (chicken or veggie)
  • 1.5 c canellini or butter beans, cooked and drained
  • .5 c Greek yogurt
  • .5 c parsley
  • 1 lemon, zested and juiced
  • 2 tbsp fresh dill
  • Salt and pepper, to taste


  1. Rinse romaine and butter lettuce, then roughly chop.
  2. Melt butter in a large pot over medium heat. Add leeks and garlic. Cook, stirring occasionally, until translucent and soft, about 5 minutes.
  3. Add chopped lettuce, broth, and beans. Stir well, cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and let cook until lettuce is wilted and soft, 10-12 minutes.
  4. Remove from heat, then stir in Greek yogurt, parsley, lemon juice, and lemon zest.
  5. Using an immersion blender, purée until smooth. Season to taste with salt and pepper, garnish with a dollop of sour cream and dill, and enjoy.

Gnocchi With Sweet Potato, Black Beans, and Walnuts Superfood With Meat Sauce

Lauri Patterson/Getty Images

(Created by Chef Elena Tedechi, The Cooking Place at Fairway Market, New York, NY)

Don’t consider yourself a cook? That’s okay — everyone else will when you bring this savory, texture-rich side dish to the holiday gathering. Nobody has to know that all the ingredients are premade.


  • 1 small package potato gnocchi
  • .5 package Fairway Superfood Sweet Potato, Black Beans and Walnuts
  • 1 c walnuts
  • 1 30 oz. jar Bolognese sauce
  • Olive oil
  • Parmesan cheese, shredded
  • Salt and pepper


  1. Cook pasta according to package directions. Drain and drizzle with olive oil; cover and keep warm.
  2. In a large skillet over medium heat, add Fairway Superfood mixture and Bolognese sauce, stirring constantly to heat it through, about 2-4 minutes. Add the drained ravioli.
  3. Serve immediately. Garnish with cheese and additional walnuts; salt and pepper to taste.

Editors' Recommendations

Chelsea Batten
Former Digital Trends Contributor
Chelsea Batten is a writer, photographer, and Kerouac groupie. One of the original digital nomads, she was seduced from life…
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