14 Ways To Add More Flavor To Canned Kidney Beans

kidney beans with various dishes
kidney beans with various dishes

Full of fiber and plant-based protein, and packed with antioxidants, kidney beans are a nutritious and versatile ingredient with an array of applications. With their soft and fluffy interior and slight chewiness, they make an excellent alternative for meat in a wide range of recipes, while also proving themselves to be perfectly suitable as a fundamental ingredient at the heart of many dishes.

Kidney beans can be bought dry and soaked or boiled before adding them to stews, sauces, or salads — but canned kidney beans are undoubtedly a much more convenient option, requiring no prep time and being ready to use whenever you need them. However, canned kidney beans can sometimes feel a little lackluster, and the prospect of eating them straight out of the tin can feel repetitive and uninspiring. When you're in a rush, or don't have many ingredients at home, it can be hard to know what to do with these simple-but-adaptable legumes.

Fortunately, it is incredibly easy to unlock the potential of these ostensibly unassuming little red beans, and turn them into powerhouses of not only nutrition but also flavor. Indeed, regardless of what you have in your fridge or pantry, there are numerous ways to add flavor, texture, and excitement to kidney beans. From silky-smooth dips to hearty dinners to a decadent dessert, here are the best ways to elevate your canned kidney beans.

Read more: 20 Popular Canned Soups, Ranked Worst To Best

Squeeze Citrus Juice Over Them

bowl of fresh lemon juice
bowl of fresh lemon juice - Rez-art/Getty Images

One of the simplest ways to perk up canned kidney beans is by giving them a slight acidic edge with a squeeze of lemon or lime juice. This simple addition gives the beans a kick without dominating their slightly sweet, nutty, and woody flavor profile, instead helping to balance and bring out these tasting notes.

Kidney beans that have been dressed with lemon juice — and optionally a little zest for an additional boost of flavor — will work incredibly well stirred into fresh, vibrant salads and paired with garlic. Meanwhile, lime juice is excellent for making Mexican-inspired salsas and sides, with the lime also helping to soften the intensity of any overly spicy flavors.

Alternatively, adding a drizzle of orange juice to kidney beans emphasizes their sweetness. This bodes particularly well for incorporating the legumes in fragrant, warming dishes made with spices such as cloves, cinnamon, or allspice. You can be assured that any citrus fruit you have on hand will perk up canned kidney beans in unique ways.

Mash Kidney Beans Into A Tasty Dip

bowl of kidney bean dip
bowl of kidney bean dip - Foodio/Shutterstock

While creamy hummus is perhaps the most popular legume-based dip, ideal for scooping with toasted pita bread, kidney beans can be made into a delicious dip in the same way. Indeed, thanks to their creamy texture, kidney beans are ideal for mashing up or blending into a spreadable consistency, lending their richness for a plant-based side that tastes indulgent without unwanted fat.

To transform your canned kidney beans into a beautifully smooth and tasty dip, blitz them in a food processor or blender with leftover water from the can, along with olive oil, lemon or lime juice, garlic, and seasonings of your choice, until the texture is velvety and even. For a more coarse, slightly chunky dip with a little extra bite, blend your ingredients for less time or on a lower setting, or otherwise forgo the blender altogether and mash the kidney beans by hand before mixing them together with your other add-ins.

You can customize your dip according to taste preferences, adding chili and paprika for a spicier take, or scooping in some tahini for a more authentic hummus substitute. A sprinkle of sliced chilies or pomegranate seeds helps to provide extra dimensions of flavor and texture to your finished dip, making for a truly appealing side dish.

Sprinkle With Seasonings And Roast Them

bowls of various spices
bowls of various spices - Sgaphoto/Getty Images

When you're after a flavorfully savory snack, kidney beans may not be the first thing that comes to mind. Though they are a great vehicle for flavor, when eaten as is they can be rather underwhelming — and, after being soaked in water, they are not exactly a substitute for crispy potato chips or chunky roasted nuts. However, with a little bit of spice and seasoning, and 30 minutes in the oven, you can easily transform kidney beans from mundane to moreish.

To turn them into a crispy snack, simply drain and spread canned kidney beans on a baking tray lined with parchment paper. Drizzle them with a little oil before tossing them in your desired seasoning, and then bake them at around 400 degrees Fahrenheit for about a half hour, until they are crisp and slightly charred. If you have an air fryer, you can also air-fry your beans for between 15 and 20 minutes, which will ensure maximum crispiness.

As they roast, kidney beans puff up slightly, resulting in a light and airy texture with an appetizingly crispy outer layer flavored by an array of herbs and spices. You can customize your coating based entirely on preference, or what you have on hand. A sprinkling of curry powder and garam masala will create a tempting Bombay-inspired snack, while chili powder, paprika, and oregano are sure to spice things up.

Combine Them With Bacon For Luxurious Baked Beans

portion of baked beans
portion of baked beans - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

A classic barbecue and picnic favorite, baked beans are a tasty and warming dish made from beans cooked in a rich tomato sauce flavored with seasonings such as paprika, sugar, and onion powder. Whether they are piled on top of toast in an English fashion, or eaten as a side with roasted or grilled meats for a truly comforting dinner, baked beans provide culinary satisfaction along with numerous nutritional benefits. While navy or cannellini beans are the go-to legumes for this hearty and saucy dish, kidney beans work perfectly well, producing a very similar texture and taste to their white counterparts.

Preparing homemade baked beans with canned kidney beans also offers a healthier alternative to eating canned baked beans, which are often high in sugar and salt. Cooking them from scratch allows you to control how much sweetener or salt is added, but this doesn't mean you need to sacrifice flavor. Upgrade baked beans with bacon for a salty, smoky kick. Whether added in as crispy strips or tiny lardons, bacon lends a delicious savoriness to baked beans, while increasing the protein content for a more filling and balanced meal that will keep you satisfied long after eating.

Make Kidney Beans Into A Vegetarian Chili

bowl of chili with cheese
bowl of chili with cheese - Bhofack2/Getty Images

Spicy, saucy, and bursting with flavor, chili is a popular dish, with most people having a go-to recipe or fond memories of a shared dining experience centered around a simmering chili pot. More often than not, chili recipes contain beef, but there's no reason why you have to include meat to make a tasty chili, and kidney beans can be swirled through a thick and flavorful tomato sauce to produce an equally appetizing succulent bowl of goodness.

Although kidney beans or black beans are often added to chili, they can actually be the star of the show. Plus, making a kidney-bean chili requires mostly pantry essentials that you likely already have handy, so whipping up this dish is a great way to make a meal without the need for a specialized shopping trip. To create a simple bean-based chili, simply incorporate kidney beans with chopped tomatoes, vegetable stock, and seasonings such as paprika and chili powder, adding in fresh vegetables like onions, red peppers, and celery. Add a scoop of sour cream and some crispy tortilla chips, and you've got a healthy but delicious dish that is sure to please.

Add Them To Cottage Pie For A Nutritious Boost

traditional cottage pie
traditional cottage pie - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

Hailing from the United Kingdom, cottage pie — known as shepherd's pie when made with lamb instead of beef — is a casserole made with ground meat, gravy, and a fluffy mashed potato topping. The dish often includes diced vegetables such as carrots, onion, and celery, but incorporating canned kidney beans into the dish provides an opportunity to make it more nutritious and fiber-rich, as well as imparting an extra dimension of texture.

You can drain and add the kidney beans whole into the ground beef filling before topping everything with mashed potato and baking the pie, which will add more bite to the mix for a greater contrast against the creamy mashed potato. Alternatively, try mashing the beans into a paste and spreading this over the ground beef before topping with the potatoes. Whichever way you choose to add kidney beans, you are guaranteed delicious results, with the legumes increasing the richness of the dish while contributing more protein and fiber.

Blitz Kidney Beans Into A Soup

bowl of soup with beans
bowl of soup with beans - Travellinglight/Getty Images

Soup is ideal as a light lunch, or served with a generous chunk of crusty bread for a warming dinner. Kidney beans can be either blended up into a thick creamy soup, or added whole to vegetable broth for a minestrone-style soup. Due to their soft and creamy texture, canned kidney beans blend beautifully, perfect for creating the base for a silky-smooth soup with roasted vegetables and fresh herbs. Moreover, if you need to thin the soup slightly, you can use the leftover liquid from the can, imbuing even more nutty and sweet flavor.

One of the most convenient things about making soup is that you can use virtually any ingredients you have in your fridge or pantry. When you roast, sauté, or simmer fresh vegetables and blitz them up, you are guaranteed to end up with a great base that can then be customized with numerous soup hacks for a better bowlful. Thanks to their fairly neutral flavor, kidney beans complement almost all ingredients they are combined with, so you can also add in a can to stronger-flavored soups for a more inconspicuous way to add roughage and sustenance.

Use Them In Jamaican-Inspired Rice And Peas

traditional Jamaican rice and peas
traditional Jamaican rice and peas - Paul_brighton/Getty Images

Despite its misleading name, the traditional Jamaican specialty of rice and peas is, in fact, made with kidney beans. Enjoyed throughout the Caribbean, and frequently served alongside juicy jerk chicken, this flavorful side dish is seasoned with spicy Scotch Bonnet peppers and fragrant thyme, and preparing it is a great means of creating something entirely new with a humble can of kidney beans.

To make this aromatic side dish and enjoy its distinct woody and fruity flavor, combine drained kidney beans with thyme, allspice, Scotch Bonnet, and ginger, before cooking everything over medium heat for a few minutes. Add coconut milk and a little butter, and continue to cook everything together, turning the heat down slightly to keep the coconut milk from boiling. Take out the Scotch Bonnet pepper and add in the rice, allowing the grains to soak up all the moisture and flavor from the mix, and serve once the rice is plump and the beans are soft and tender.

Load Kidney Beans Onto Crispy Nachos

tray of loaded nachos
tray of loaded nachos - Gmvozd/Getty Images

The perfect snack for a movie night or to feed a group on game day, loaded nachos are a fuss-free, highly customizable, and incredibly satisfying snack. From more conventional toppings like beef brisket and spicy jalapeños, to bolder additions like Buffalo chicken or kimchi, there are many creative toppings for nachos that will give them extra taste and texture — and kidney beans are an excellent option.

Kidney beans add a rich texture that perfectly complements the crisp tortilla chips and the gooey melted cheese for the ideal combination of crunchiness and creaminess. You can also add kidney beans to your nachos along with ground beef, tomatoes, and pepper for a deconstructed chili variation brought together by a scoop of sour cream. Or for a meat-free and lower-fat alternative, simply forgo the beef altogether and keep the kidney beans at the heart of the dish.

Make Them Into Veggie Burgers

plant-based burger on bun
plant-based burger on bun - Lauripatterson/Getty Images

To give your kidney beans a whole new consistency, processing them into patties and gently frying them until study and crisp is a great way to enjoy these legumes in an entirely different way. There are few things more satisfying than a juicy, stacked burger, but a meat patty is by no means a prerequisite. Arguably more flavorful than their soy-based counterparts, freshly made bean burgers offer a meat-free alternative to conventional beef and chicken burgers, which is equally tasty and comes together as a sandwich in the same way.

You can blend up your kidney beans with any other ingredients you like to create your burgers, and add complementary herbs and spices to taste. However, for a successful kidney-bean burger that won't fall apart or crumble as it cooks, you will need to use a binding ingredient such as eggs (ground flax or chia seeds also work for a vegan substitute), and make sure that your beans are drained and dried properly to ensure that you don't end up with soggy patties.

Use Kidney Beans For A Quick And Hearty Curry

curry made with kidney beans
curry made with kidney beans - Santhosh Varghese/Shutterstock

Flavors of garam masala, cumin, and turmeric — which are commonly found in curry powders — help to transform kidney beans from blandness to boldness for an easy dinner that packs a punch. Curry made with kidney beans, known as rajma masala in North India, is a popular vegetarian dish, and it is easier than you may think to make a rajma kidney-bean curry recipe. 

While such a curry is typically made with dried kidney beans that are soaked overnight, you can use canned kidney beans for a very similar result with a quicker and more convenient preparation process, as this version of the dish can come together in a matter of minutes. The curry's thick, fragrant, tomato-infused sauce imbues tender kidney beans with moisture and tantalizing spice, creating a hearty meal that certainly doesn't taste like it was made with standard pantry products.

Stuff Them Into Bell Peppers

three stuffed bell peppers
three stuffed bell peppers - Esin Deniz/Shutterstock

Packed with vitamins and antioxidants, bell peppers are an excellent source of nutrition and a great food to add to your regular diet. Their vibrant color and inviting crunch make them a wholly enjoyable and versatile vegetable. Thanks to their shape, bell peppers are not only suitable for eating on their own or sliced into crudités, but they also make the perfect vessel for other ingredients — including pulses, grains, and ground meat — that can be conventionally stuffed into these natural parcels, and baked until the peppers are tender and the fillings are cooked.

If you're looking to make a meal out of your kidney beans but are struggling to come up with its composition, or you're looking for a light and healthy dinner option other than salad, loading your kidney beans into juicy peppers and baking them in the oven is a great way to enjoy these nutritional powerhouses. If you have other grains available, such as quinoa or couscous, incorporating them will provide even more sustenance. Likewise, ground meat or crumbly cheese (such as feta) will also work incredibly well alongside tender kidney beans in this satisfying dish.

Make Refried Beans

bowl of refried beans
bowl of refried beans - Picture Partners/Shutterstock

As a versatile Mexican specialty that pairs excellently with almost any main course, refried beans are delicious when spread on tacos and burritos, slathered over nachos, or used as a dip — but they're equally tasty when enjoyed as the center of a meal. Traditionally, refried beans are made with pinto beans, or sometimes black beans, but kidney beans work just as well, possessing a flavor very similar to black beans while also providing an attractive pop of color.

Usually, refried beans taste better at restaurants because professional Mexican chefs add lard, with the rendered pork fat providing both an umami kick and a velvety smooth consistency that makes the beans feel truly luxurious. You can mash the kidney beans together with a scoop of lard as you cook them in broth to achieve restaurant-quality refried beans, though if you're looking to keep things meat-free, you can by all means skip this step and still end up with silky and creamy beans.

Kidney Beans Give Brownies A Healthy Twist

sliced brownies on wooden board
sliced brownies on wooden board - Carlosgaw/Getty Images

Although kidney beans may not be the first thing that comes to mind when you think about ingredients for chocolatey homemade brownies, you'd be surprised at just how well they blend into rich baked goods, lending their creamy consistency and slight sweetness for heightened indulgence. In fact, black beans are used as a substitute for flour in brownies (a hack considered to be the absolute best way to use a can of beans), with the result being extra-gooey and perfectly chewy chocolatey treats. Kidney beans produce a very similar outcome, while also providing slightly more protein and calcium than black beans for an even healthier brownie upgrade.

You can substitute mashed kidney beans into brownies in place of flour, or simply add them to an existing recipe for an extra boost of fiber and nutrition so that the treats keep you energized and satisfied for longer. As they are incorporated into the chocolatey mix, the kidney beans become almost indistinguishable, and add a slightly nutty note that arguably only improves the flavor of brownies.

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