Beans are one of those foods that don’t have an enormous amount of flavour on their own. Pasta, rice, lentils… they’re all fantastic foods, but they all need a little help in the flavour department.
So, how do you make beans, lentils and other pulses taste good? What can you do to your beans to really make them irresistible?
To make beans taste good, you can add salt, fat, herbs and spices, or some type of sauce. These tips can apply both to beans cooked from scratch, and to canned beans. They also work to make other pulses more tasty too, like lentils and chickpeas!
How to make beans taste good
Some types of legumes have more flavour than others, but overall, none of them are the tastiest ingredients in existence when they’re cooked on their own. A bowlful of plain boiled beans is unlikely to tempt many people.
For some people, this may put them off eating beans altogether – which would be a huge shame, as beans and other pulses are super nutritious, and can even count as one of your 5 A Day!
Luckily, as long as you’re willing to stick with them, there are plenty of ways to make beans and lentils taste amazing.
In fact, in a lot of ways, beans’ mild flavour is actually a blessing; It means they can take on any flavour profile you choose. Transform your pulses into an Indian curry, a Mediterranean casserole, an American BBQ dish, or an English breakfast… beans are the chameleons of the food world! They can become whatever you want them to be.
Here are several different ways you can make beans taste good, whether you’re cooking dried beans from scratch, or just heating up a can.
1. Add salt
Beans love salt. They soak it right up, and it immediately lifts them to a whole new level of flavour. A good sprinkling of salt in your beans will activate your tastebuds, giving you that little tingle on your tongue that lets you know you’re eating something that’s full of flavour.
Of course, a pinch of plain table salt is the easiest way to add saltiness to your beans. But that’s not the only way to do it!
Here are a few other salty ingredients you could try adding to your beans:
- salted vegetable stock
- soy sauce
- salty pickled vegetables
- feta or halloumi cheese
All of these ingredients will excite your tastebuds in a similar way, helping to give your beans a bit of pep.
Should you add salt while dried beans are cooking?
Some old wives’ tales say that you shouldn’t salt dried beans as they cook, otherwise they won’t soften up fully. In fact, the opposite has been shown to be true. Salting your cooking water can actually help your beans to soften, as well as preventing them from splitting, and making sure they’re really tasty.
In fact, it’s acid that can sometimes make beans take longer to soften, so where possible you should avoid adding acid (e.g. tomato sauce or lemon juice) to your beans until they’ve already softened.
Should you add salt to canned beans?
If you’re using canned beans, check the label to see how much salt they already contain. If they are 100% plain beans, canned only in water, then they will need salting just like dried beans. But some beans are canned in water that has already been salted, in which case it may not be necessary (or healthy!) to add lots of extra salt.
2. Add fat
Continuing the pattern of ‘things that taste really good but aren’t great for you in huge amounts’ – next comes fat.
Adding a little fat is a great way to make your beans taste more luxurious, and add heaps of flavour.
The type of fat you choose will affect the flavour of your beans, as well as the nutritional content of your cooking. If you add a large amount of saturated fat, for example, this won’t be as good for your body as adding a healthier fat, like extra virgin olive oil.
Here are a few different types of fat you can add to your beans to make them more tasty and decadent:
- olive oil (an unflavoured oil, like vegetable oil, won’t help make your beans tasty)
- cream cheese
- grated cheese
- bacon grease or other meat fats (if you’re not vegetarian!)
My favourite option is to melt a little butter into my beans. It adds a beautiful flavour, as well as making the beans silky, glossy, and rich.
Plus, if you use salted butter, you’re adding your salt and fat in one easy step!
3. Add herbs and spices
If you’d like to add maximum flavour, without majorly altering the nutritional content of your food, herbs and spices are the way to go.
Salt and fat can both make your beans or lentils more tasty, but if you add too much, you risk your meal becoming less healthy.
Herbs and spices, on the other hand, can completely transform the flavour profile of your meal, but don’t affect the nutrients in the food.
Should you use fresh herbs and spices, or dried?
The easiest way to use herbs and spices in your cooking is to use the dried versions.
You can store these in your kitchen cupboards almost indefinitely (although they do lose their potency as time goes on, so it’s worth keeping an eye on their Best Before date). They are then ready to be used whenever you need them.
Here are some of my favourite dried herbs and spices to use in my cooking:
- curry powder
- smoked paprika
- ground cumin
- chilli powder
- ground turmeric
- ground black pepper
- garlic granules
- dried mixed herbs
- dried thyme
- dried parsley
If you’re not sure which dried herbs and spices to use in which combinations, begin by using recipes to guide you. Then, once you’re more familiar with each spice and its flavour, you can start to improvise.
Fresh herbs are also really easy to use when you’re cooking beans.
Woody herbs, like fresh thyme, rosemary or oregano, can be added to the pot of beans as they bubble away in a pan. You don’t need to chop these herbs – they’re generally added a whole stalk at a time, and then removed before serving. You’d be surprised how much flavour infuses into the beans as they cook!
Alternatively, you can use soft herbs, like basil, parsley or coriander (cilantro). These are generally added when the beans are ready to serve, either finely chopped, or used whole as a garnish.
4. Add a sauce
Finally, if you’re still looking to get even more flavour into your beans or lentils, you can always add a sauce.
As mentioned previously, acidic ingredients can prevent dried beans from softening properly, so sauces are often best added once the beans are already cooked. A sauce is a foolproof way to bring heaps of flavour to your beans.
Here are some of my favourite sauces to add to cooked beans, lentils and chickpeas:
- tomato sauce
- cream cheese (which melts right into the beans)
- pesto sauce
- curry paste (with added coconut milk, to make a creamy curry sauce)
Sometimes it’s enough to just add a tablespoon or so of your chosen sauce, to lightly coat the beans and give them a bit of flavour. Other times, you might want to add a whole jar of sauce, to give a more soupy end result. It totally depends on what sauce you’re using, and what effect you’re hoping to achieve.
By trying out different combinations of the 4 elements I’ve covered in this article, you’ll be able to cook tasty beans every single time.
What’s your favourite way to add flavour to your beans?