12 Ways To Elevate Canned Butter Beans

Beans and legumes, whether dried, canned, or fresh, are a substantial part of cuisines around the globe, feeding and sustaining all kinds of people and communities. The butter bean is one of such legumes. Called various names, including Madagascar beans and lima beans, this particular variety is indigenous to Peru and has been cultivated by Indigenous Peruvians since 2000 B.C. Clearly, these beans have staying power, alongside nutritional benefits and a deliciously creamy texture and subtle taste, making them a fantastic ingredient to add to everyday dishes.

Canned beans, in particular, should be considered the ultimate convenience food. With just a flick of the wrist and a quick rinse, a protein and fiber-rich meal, snack, or smoothie awaits you. For those looking for a bit of butter bean-shaped inspiration, here are 12 easy ways to incorporate a tin into your next meal to yield delicious and taste bud-tingling results in no time.

Make them crispy

Making foods appealing or intriguing isn't always just about taste — texture goes a long way toward putting a fresh spin on a familiar ingredient. Just think about the ways in which vegetables you thought you knew, like broccoli and cauliflower, have been given a new lease on life when roasted until crispy or turned into a buffalo chicken alternative. The same textural magic is also true when it comes to butter beans.

Butter beans are like the tofu of the legume world; they are lovely blank canvasses that take on new flavors exceptionally well, giving cooks a wide range of options for serving. Fry a can of rinsed and dried butter beans in oil or butter of your choice until crispy, adding seasoning like freshly minced garlic or a range of herbs and spices. Then, toss into salads, casseroles, or garnish soups with a crispy, crouton alternative rich in fiber and packed with protein.

Add them into a salad

Butter beans make a fantastic ingredient to salads, as their neutral-tasting, creamy inside quickly absorbs flavors like dressings, marinates, and herbs. Because they're such a sponge-like ingredient, you can marinate them in practically anything from a variety of zingy dressings to something a bit spicier to buttermilk, which has a notably irresistible tang. Soak butter beans overnight in buttermilk, lemon juice, salt, and pepper to bring out the creaminess. Then toss with a good crunchy lettuce like romaine, any of summer's tomatoes that might still be lingering, a few diced cucumbers, and crumbled bits of bacon if you want to push the boat out.

Not super into a buttermilk dressing? These beans go nuts for a sharp vinaigrette. Consider one made with red wine vinegar, diced shallots, and a good pinch of salt to cut through the creaminess of the bean and make your mouth pucker in a good way. 

Whip them into hummus

We believe that hummus need not be reserved for chickpeas alone; plenty of alternatives make fantastic hummus and dips of all kinds. Cannellini, navy, pinto, kidney, black, and white beans are all great choices to top your next crudite, pita bread, or tortilla chip. Because of their size, white beans give us a bit more to work with. They're also extra tender, which means you are just minutes away from a creamy bean dip.

You can go down the traditional tahini, garlic, olive oil, lemon, and salt route with your next can of butter beans to create a lusciously smooth hummus, or you can try out a few other equally delicious varieties. Add a roasted sweet potato or roasted head of garlic for some profound depth of flavor. Or add smoked chipotles and lime for a punch of acidity and smokey heat. Lean into the power of other jarred or canned items like sun-dried tomatoes, roasted red peppers, or other flavor-packed non-perishables and go wild. Remember, these beans take on the flavors of whatever ingredients you use, so don't hold back.

Make flavorful butter beans on toast

Beans on toast is a British classic rooted in inexpensive and accessible comfort food that takes minutes to prepare. This combination often comes from a tin of Heinz baked beans, a slightly more tomato-y and less barbecued version of the American equivalent. However, it's also an excellent opportunity to make your own, adding a can of rinsed butter beans into the ultra-convenient ready-made tin or going off-piste altogether.

During some of the darkest stages of the recent global pandemic, many turned to quick and convenient meals from tins as a healthy solution when faced with time poverty and the energy drain. This includes an array of fish and seafood products and the humble bean. In the face of scarcity came creativity, with chefs and home cooks creating tasty off-the-cuff versions of beans and toast that incorporated flavorful ingredients like garlic, ginger, curry powder, and chili, gently cooked then combined with butter beans and cream, and mature cheddar before being spooned over toast and placed under the grill. 

Simple combinations can also unlock a bit of magic: Try combining red bell petters, smoked paprika, garlic, a splash of red wine vinegar, and a can of chopped tomatoes with a can of rinsed butter beans for a tomato-y smoky taste that will satisfy any barbecue cravings. 

Add them into soup

Whether you serve it warm or cold, soups are a fantastic way to pack in the nutrients and deliver a whole range of vegetables in just one spoonful. Beans are also an asset to many soups and can be added in various ways. If you like the texture of the beans, keep them whole and plonk a tin of rinsed butter beans (or any other variety) into your next ground beef and vegetable soup or minestrone.

Or, for those who might be a bit more finicky about texture, beans when blended until smooth, are a fiber-rich way to thicken up any soup or sauce while adding a bit of protein and bulk. Create a creamy, dairy-free, chilled soup with butter beans and leeks, topped with a chunky peanut and corn relish. Or, throw butter beans into a carrot and parsnip soup recipe, sweet potato, or pumpkin soup to add plant-based protein while thickening the broth.

Add your favorite cuisine-inspired seasonings

Seasoning and spice are often what differentiates one cuisine from another. A potato seasoned with Kashmiri chili, turmeric, and ginger will taste completely different than one cooked the same way but seasoned with garlic and oregano. When looking to elevate or enhance the flavors of any ingredient, the best first step often lies in your spice cupboard.

Adding unique blends of spices will instantly transform your butter beans, whisking you off to areas of the globe you may never be able to visit by plane but can visit by mouthful instead. Take your dinner inspiration from the Bahia region of Brazil with a Tempero Baiano spice blend, including aromatic combinations of white and black peppercorns mixed with red pepper flakes, warming spices like cumin, nutmeg, and turmeric, and tempered with herbs like marjoram, oregano, parsley, basil, and bay leaf.

Add inspiration from Mexico with oregano, chili powder, cumin, and lime, or travel to Greece with thyme, mint, parsley, and lemon. The world is truly your oyster, or in this case, butter bean.

Mix with preserved lemons

Preserved lemons are one of the most versatile and impactful condiments we all should have in our cupboards and fridges. Preserved simply with salt and time, it's a condiment used widely across various Middle Eastern and North African cuisines for good reason. A little goes a long way to adding depth of flavor and a unique tart-meets-umami element that can't be replicated with anything else.

To enhance even the blandest bowl of butter beans with one quick punch, preserved lemons are the go-to ingredient for total transformation. Not to mention, preserved lemons are vegan-friendly, too.

Start by chopping up a few preserved lemons (you can use the flesh or choose not to) and add them to a mix of your favorite herbs like cilantro, thyme, or rosemary alongside a few cloves of minced garlic and a chili or two if you like a bit of heat. Then, marinate the butter beans in the fridge for a cool dish or sauté with olive oil for ten minutes or so until warm. Add a good pinch of sea salt and serve on their own or on top of your favorite dip like labneh or hummus for texture and a punch of flavor. 

Pair butter beans with bold ingredients and marinades

There's something incredibly reassuring about having a few cans of beans tucked away in your cupboard. These simple foundations can be transformed into a tasty meal in a matter of minutes. There's a good reason three-bean or five-bean salad is such a popular side dish at most picnics or barbecues; it's easy and inexpensive, not to mention delicious.

For a quick and easy butter bean marinade, try infusing oil with your favorite toasted whole or ground spices like cumin or coriander, followed by a hit of acidity like garlic, lemon zest, or vinegar. Mix together, then add any other chopped garnish that packs a punch, like pickles, feta, or even jalapeños. Fresh herbs are always welcome, too.

Butter beans also go well when paired with bolder ingredients, sauces, and marinades. A pan full of warmed beans with aniseed-y flavors like roasted fennel or umami bursts like parmesan are a match made in flavor town, and you should head there immediately. 

Just add tomatoes

Thanks to their neutral flavor and creamy texture, butter beans are a fantastic match for tomatoes in many forms. There's just something special about the combination of creamy bean and the naturally occurring MSG and umami-rich acidity contained within a tomato.

For those looking for a flavorful, hydrating, and cooling dish, fresh and ripe tomatoes are the way to go. Consider adding a fresh take on a classic Tuscan-inspired salad of white beans, tomatoes, olive oil, and salt by adding tongue-tingling jalapeños and zingy fresh lime juice. Combine ingredients with a vinegar-laden dressing a creamy avocado, and finish with a pinch of crushed sea salt for the ultimate salad to eat on its own or to balance out any meat-heavy or rich main course.

Alternatively, beans and tomatoes can be the star of the show when combined in a warming, versatile, one-pot vegetarian dinner baked in the oven for extra depth of flavor. This dish can be enhanced by various flavors from Italian to Middle Eastern-inspired ingredients and seasonings. Keep this idea as a back-pocket recipe for a budget-friendly, low-effort, casserole-adjacent dinner to serve up soon as there's a chill in the air.

Throw a few into your smoothie

Mmmm, bean smoothie, anyone? While this may sound like a slightly unpalatable combination, we'd like to reassure you that it's not the case at all. In fact, you probably won't even realize that they're there. Thanks to their creamy composition and neutral flavors, provided you drain and rinse them well, butter beans will perfectly compliment any fruit-based smoothie and help to fiber-load your breakfast or snack to keep you going.

You can even flavor mix and match to make sure your legume of choice compliments the other ingredients in your smoothie. Add a handful of black beans to a chocolate-based smoothie with cocoa powder, dates, or bananas. Consider edamame for a green-food-based smoothie with spinach, bananas, and coconut milk. And for more neutral-tasting butter beans, you can pair them with practically anything from mango to strawberries. We recommend choosing fruits that are either in season or readily available in the freezer section of your favorite grocery store to ensure they're at their optimum flavor.

Fry them up with bacon

Butter beans love many ingredients, including all things pork. Once again, this has a lot to do with balance thanks to pork's often salty, smoky, fatty flavors balanced by the creamy-yet-fibrous texture of white beans. Beans also contain very little fat on their own, so adding some to a plate or pan filled with fatty foods like bacon is a great way to help absorb flavor and evenly distribute fats and oils released in the cooking process.

Next time you have a hankering for a meaty pork chop, try pairing it with a mound of smoky butter beans (also known as lima beans) to compliment the flavors and level of fats. Looking for other porky ideas? Next Sunday, fix your family a bean-and-bacon-inspired breakfast by adding butter beans to your next fry up, complete with eggs and toast. Or tuck the beans, bacon, and eggs into a tortilla to make the ultimate breakfast burrito. For dinner, try a plate filled with beans, bacon, and rice draws inspiration from the South.

Toss them into paella

Paella is perhaps one of the most luxurious-tasting one-pot dishes there is, overflowing with fresh seafood, rich meats, and the most perfect savory-meets-crispy rice. Paella is known for using fresh, simple ingredients, its larger-than-life cooking methods, and its ability to feed a crowd. It's no wonder paella pans are often found lining the beaches or markets across Spain — their aromatic smell and oversized pan can draw a crowd just as quickly as they can feed one.

Cooked in a giant carbon steel pan, often with a generous amount of golden saffron, it can be easy to overlook some of the paella's more humble ingredients in favor of its more dramatic qualities and ingredients. Traditional paella recipes from Valencia also include ingredients like butter beans, a humble but equally delicious ingredient that adds both protein and textural variety. Lower-cost ingredients can also help to balance out the higher-value ones as well.