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There are some special meals for which all else is put on hold: Red wine is glugged into enormous glasses, calls are muted, and three-hour playlists are queued. On those nights, flour is carefully measured, dough is lovingly rolled, and elaborate sauces are made from scratch. And then there’s most of the time—when you have limited ingredients and dinner needs to be on the table in a jiffy. For those meals, we turn to canned beans, the ultimate kitchen staple. 

Food writer, recipe developer, and cookbook author Hetty McKinnon is a particular fan. “We really survive on them in our house,” she says. “Beans are the all-encompassing ingredient that I’ll add to my meals for heartiness, that extra bit of nutrition, and protein.” And while a humble can of beans might not, in itself, be terribly exciting, in these housebound and uncertain times, they’re having a well-deserved moment in the spotlight. 

Here, McKinnon shares a few of her go-to ways to use everything from lentils to chickpeas to the underrated butter bean, in recipes from her cookbooks Family: New Vegetarian Comfort Food to Nourish Every Day and Community: Salad Recipes From Arthur Street Kitchen

Cacio e Pepe Broccolini With Crispy White Beans 

Photography by Louisa Brimble

Serves 4

It’s salty! It’s peppery! It’s basically the beloved Roman pasta dish, but in salad form. And while you arguably might get scurvy if you lived off cheesy spaghetti every night (worth it?), you could eat this salad daily. “The flavor here really comes from the char-grilled broccolini, sharp cheese, and the bed of crispy, pan-fried white beans,” says McKinnon. “It’s got all of those same comforting flavors, without, you know, being hyper-indulgent.”

Ingredients 2 bunches broccolini (about 14 oz), trimmed and each stem halved Extra-virgin olive oil Sea salt 18 oz cooked cannellini or navy beans (about 2 drained cans) 1 garlic clove, finely chopped Handful of chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves ½ to 1 tsp freshly ground black pepper 1½  oz Pecorino cheese, grated, plus extra to serve ½ lemon, cut into wedges

Acceptable substitutions: For broccolini: broccoli, broccoli rabe, cauliflower, kale For Pecorino: Parmesan 

Recipe Heat a large frying pan over medium-high heat (or use a grill). Coat the broccolini in olive oil and fry for 2 to 3 minutes on each side, until there is some charring. Remove from pan and season well with sea salt. 

Place the same pan over high heat and add a big drizzle of oil. Add the beans and fry for 2 to 3 minutes. Stir in the garlic, season well with sea salt, and fry for 8 to 10 minutes, stirring every now and then until the beans are crispy. If the beans become dry during cooking, add more oil. 

Toss the broccolini, beans, and parsley together and drizzle with a little more olive oil. Spoon onto a serving plate. Sprinkle over the black pepper and grate over the Pecorino. Serve with extra Pecorino and lemon wedges on the side.

Extracted from Family: New Vegetarian Comfort Food to Nourish Every Day by Hetty McKinnon (Prestel Publishing 2019).

Black Bean Soup With Chipotle Tortilla Chips

Photography by Louisa Brimble

Serves 4 to 6

Using canned black beans and their brine makes this soup thick and creamy, without the hassle. And the “crunchy bits” on top—pumpkin seeds and tortilla chips—add some fun texture. As a general rule, McKinnon says beans always need to be generously seasoned with salt and spices. “In this case I use cumin, ground coriander, and paprika for that richness and depth of flavor,” she explains. 

Ingredients For the soup: Extra-virgin olive oil 1 onion, finely diced 3 thyme sprigs 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 2 bay leaves 3 tsp ground cumin 2 tsp ground coriander ½ tsp smoked paprika 1 green bell pepper, de-seeded and finely diced 15 oz tomato passata 27 oz cooked black beans (about 3 cans) 3 cups vegetable stock ½ cup pumpkin seeds, toasted Handful of coriander leaves Sea salt and black pepper

For the chipotle tortilla chips: 4 corn tortillas Extra-virgin olive oil Small pinch of chipotle powder Sea salt

Recipe Preheat oven to 400 degrees Fahrenheit. For the chipotle tortilla chips, brush each side of the corn tortillas with oil and stack them on top of each other. Cut them in half, then slice each half into 1/4-inch strips. Spread the tortilla strips out in a single layer on a large baking tray, sprinkle over the salt and the chipotle powder and toss gently. Bake for 10 to 15 minutes, or until crispy. 

In a large pan over a medium-high heat, drizzle some olive oil and add onion and thyme. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring, then toss in the garlic and bay leaves. Add the cumin, coriander, and smoked paprika and cook for 1 minute. Add the bell pepper, tomato passata, black beans with brine, and vegetable stock; reduce the heat to medium; and cook for 15 minutes. 

Remove the bay leaves and thyme sprigs. Taste the soup and season with sea salt and black pepper. Using a potato masher or the back of a large fork, randomly mash up some of the beans. This will thicken up the soup and create a lovely texture. Ladle the soup into bowls and serve topped with the tortilla chips, pumpkin seeds, and coriander leaves.

Extracted from Family: New Vegetarian Comfort Food to Nourish Every Day by Hetty McKinnon (Prestel Publishing 2019).

Jacked Sweet Potatoes With Lentils and Chili-Coriander Sauce

Photography by Louisa Brimble

Serves 4 to 6

A roasted sweet potato on it’s own might be a somewhat sad dinner prospect. “But that’s the magic of beans,” says McKinnon. “They can transform a simple vegetable into a meal.” The salty olives, earthy lentils, and fresh coriander really balance out the sweetness in this dish. And McKinnon encourages adding as much chili as your palate can handle. In case you were concerned: “It’s perfectly acceptable just to use canned lentils here.”

Ingredients For the sweet potatoes: 4 to 6 small sweet potatoes, washed Extra-virgin olive oil ½ cup black lentils, rinsed ½ cup green olives, stones removed, roughly chopped Handful of coriander leaves 3 tbsp pumpkin seeds, toasted Sea salt and black pepper

For the chile-cilantro sauce: ½  habanero chili, de-seeded and roughly chopped ½  cup extra-virgin olive oil 1 bunch of coriander Juice of ½ lemon, plus more if needed 1 garlic clove Sea salt 

Recipe Preheat oven to 350 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the sweet potatoes in a baking tray and drizzle with some olive oil. Season with sea salt and bake for 20 to 30 minutes, until the potatoes are tender—test with a bamboo skewer or fork. Meanwhile, place the lentils into a pot and cover with plenty of water. Bring to a boil and add 2 big pinches of salt, then reduce heat to low and simmer for 15 to 20 minutes, until the lentils are just soft. Drain. (To save time, you can also use canned lentils.) Place the lentils in a bowl, add the olives, a few coriander leaves, and a drizzle of olive oil. Stir to combine. 

To make the chili-coriander sauce, blend the chili, oil, coriander, lemon, and garlic until very smooth. Season with sea salt, and adjust the lemon according to your personal preference.

To serve, slice each sweet potato down the center to create an opening and push the flesh down with a fork to form a well. Fill with the black lentils and olive mixture. Drizzle over the green sauce and scatter over the pumpkin seeds and a few coriander leaves.

Extracted from Family: New Vegetarian Comfort Food to Nourish Every Day by Hetty McKinnon (Prestel Publishing 2019).

The Deconstructed Falafel Salad 

Photography by Louisa Brimble

Serves 4

All the fresh, lemony flavors of a falafel sandwich, with none of the time spent grinding, shaping, and deep frying: It’s perfection, dismantled. But, says McKinnon, the real star of the show is the crunchy roasted chickpeas: “They’re an ideal vessel for all those spices, like garlic, cumin, and paprika, that are in a typical falafel. And if you have any oil left over after roasting them, you can reuse it in the dressing.” 

Ingredients For the salad: Extra-virgin olive oil 2 bunches kale leaves (approximately 6 cups) 1 Persian cucumber, sliced into thin rounds 3 cups store-bought pita chips Handful of flat-leaf parsley leaves, roughly chopped Handful of mint leaves 1 lemon, cut into wedges Sea salt

For the crispy roasted chickpeas: 18 oz cooked chickpeas (about 2 cans), drained and patted dry Extra-virgin olive oil 2 garlic cloves, finely chopped 2 tsp ground cumin 1 tsp paprika Sea salt and black pepper

For the lemon tahini: ⅓ cup tahini paste Juice of 1 lemon, plus more if needed 1 garlic clove, very finely chopped Sea salt and black pepper

Acceptable substitutions: Chickpeas: white beans, butter beans Omit pita chips to make the recipe gluten-free

Recipe Preheat oven to 425 degrees Fahrenheit. Place the drained chickpeas into a small ovenproof dish. Cover with olive oil; season well with 2 big pinches of sea salt and black pepper; and add the garlic, cumin, and paprika. Stir to combine. Roast for 35 to 40 minutes, until the chickpeas are crispy. Set aside. 

Place a large frying pan over medium heat and drizzle with oil. Add the kale, in batches, along with a pinch of salt, and cook for 2 to 3 minutes until wilted. 

To make the lemon tahini, pour the tahini into a small bowl and whisk in the lemon juice and garlic. Gradually add 1 tablespoon of water at a time until the sauce is the consistency of thickened cream. If the tahini “seizes” and becomes very thick, push through by adding more water; it will eventually come back together to form a cohesive creamy sauce. Season with sea salt and black pepper, and add more lemon juice if you like it lemony. 

Combine the crispy chickpeas (and their cooking oil) with the kale, cucumber, half the pita chips, and herbs. To serve, drizzle over the lemon tahini and scatter over the remaining pita chips. Serve with lemon wedges on the side. 

Extracted from Family: New Vegetarian Comfort Food to Nourish Every Day by Hetty McKinnon (Prestel Publishing 2019).

Fresh Mushroom, Butter Bean, and Cilantro Salad

Photography by Maria Midoes

Serves 4

This uncomplicated salad was inspired by a dish McKinnon tried at the iconic Damascus Bakery on Brooklyn’s Atlantic Avenue. “But I wanted to add more texture and heartiness, so I used butter beans, which are also just so creamy,” she says. “It’s a very unusual salad, but it’s very good.”

Ingredients 1 bunch cilantro leaves, trimmed and roughly chopped 1 clove garlic, very finely chopped ½ tsp cinnamon 2 sprigs thyme, leaves picked ¼ cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more to serve ¼ cup lemon juice Sea salt and black pepper 2 cans cooked butter beans, drained 1 lb white button mushrooms, trimmed and thinly sliced

Recipe Make the dressing by combining half the cilantro, garlic, cinnamon, thyme, olive oil, and lemon juice in a bowl. Season well with sea salt and black pepper. Adjust quantities to get the acidity you like. 

Place butter beans and mushrooms in a bowl and add the dressing. Toss to combine. Drizzle with a little more olive oil, season a little more with sea salt, scatter with the remaining cilantro, and allow to sit for 15 to 20 minutes before serving to allow the flavors to penetrate the mushrooms. The salad can also be prepared ahead of time; cover tightly and refrigerate for up to 8 hours.

Extracted from Community: Salad Recipes From Arthur Street Kitchen by Hetty McKinnon (Plum Books/Pan MacMillan Australia 2019).

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