I sleep better when there’s a pint of marinated beans in the fridge. Glossy and deeply seasoned, these zhuzhed-up chickpeas (or limas, or black beans) are my best investment for building quick meals with compelling layers of flavor. Full-on meal prep (like matching Tupperware containers with single servings of the same grain bowl) leaves me somehow both overwhelmed by the large-scale cooking process and underwhelmed by eating the same meal for days in a row. But preparing a highly flavorful component that’s ready to be deployed in an array of dishes is the closest I’ve come to giving future me a head start in the cooking department.
“I think of marinated beans kind of like a potato or egg salad, where you’re adding flavor to a neutral-tasting starchy thing,” says recipe developer Ali Slagle, who includes several marinated bean recipes in her inventive cookbook I Dream of Dinner. “You can mash the beans up, put them in a sandwich or in tacos . . .” She trails off, picturing a dazzling kaleidoscope of possibilities. I’ve found that adding marinated white beans to pantry pastas provides a craveable tang that suggests hours of simmering, not to mention instantly elevating salads beyond the valley of the bland.
Marinating is an excellent way to take canned beans to a higher plane, but it’s equally suited for giving cooked-from-dry beans new life. My devotion to marinated beans’ versatility is so intense, I reserve and dress a few scoopfuls of beans straight from the Dutch oven to ensure I’ll have a secondary component ready to go. (I also suspect that marinating while the beans are still hot helps them soak up even more flavor.)
For Slagle, all marinades start with salt and acid, whether it’s fresh-squeezed citrus or funky vinegar, which she says can help relax tougher beans that might be old or not properly cooked. Fat lends richness and balance, coaxing out some beans’ natural creaminess. Then it’s time to bring in the flavor big hitters.
I sleep better when there’s a pint of marinated beans in the fridge.
“Look around the kitchen and see what you have that is super flavorful, whether that’s scallions, shallots, herbs, or some sort of canned olives or tinned fish. I’d also say that if you have a sauce already made, that could be your marinade as well,” Slagle says. Use lemon juice to thin out thicker sauces like tzatziki, chimichurri, or even marinara sauce before tossing in your preferred legume (consider black lentils, plump limas, and stripey vaqueros)—then give it a taste to see if any of those core flavor categories are missing.
Some of my favorite bean marinades have come from using leftover salad dressings, from nutty nuoc cham to tangy-sweet honey mustard. But when it comes to throwing something together quickly, I draw from the flavors that typically accompany beans in different cuisines. Below are a few favorite combinations—but consider them mere jumping-off points. From glossy, garlic-slicked garbanzos to fiery, jalapeño-studded pintos, the options are as limitless as your pantry.
3 favorite bean marinades:
- Greek-ish: Chickpeas + dill or parsley + a small amount of grated garlic + olive oil + lemon
- Charro-ish: Pinto beans + cumin + cilantro + jalapeño + olive oil + lime
- Italian-ish: Cannellini beans + Calabrian chile + dried fennel + oregano + olive oil + red wine vinegar