Open a Can of Beans, Make a Meal

Canned beans are a wonderful help in preparing healthy, tasty, no-cook dishes.

I puree them in the food processor to make quick dips, toss them with herbs, lemon juice and olive oil for quick side dishes, and incorporate them into salads with chicken and seafood.

First, drain the beans in a colander and rinse with cold water to wash away any packing liquid and excess salt. I always buy organic brands like Eden or American Prairie. They're not mushy and overly salty, as many other common brands are. Here are some of my favorite no-cook bean combinations:

Lemony Chickpea Dip. Canned chickpeas pureed with garlic, parsley, lemon juice and olive oil make a great dip for chips or raw vegetables. I also like to spread the puree on pita bread and top with sliced cucumber and tomato for a great vegetarian sandwich.

Taco Salad with Black Beans. This is a quick combination of store-bought rotisserie chicken, beans, tomatoes, avocado, lime juice, olive oil and hot sauce, tossed with tortilla chips so that the chips absorb some of the liquid from the salad. A family favorite.

Lima Bean, Ricotta Salata, and Basil Salad. I love the contrast of creamy lima beans, salty ricotta salata and fresh whole basil leaves tossed with some chopped red onion, olive oil and red wine vinegar.

Tuna, White Bean and Escarole Salad. Stop making the same old tuna. Instead, toss Italian tuna packed in olive oil with a can of white beans, some escarole leaves, oil and vinegar. Throw in a handful of croutons for crunch. A light but satisfying main dish salad.

Navy Bean, Goat Cheese and Bread Salad. Bread salads are a great way to use leftover country or sourdough bread. The beans turn the salad into a vegetarian main course. Dice the bread into cubes and toss with beans, crumbled goat cheese, a couple of chopped tomatoes, a bunch of watercress or arugula, and some oil and vinegar. The ingredients combine beautifully here, the bread cubes moistened by the tomato juice and the goat cheese partially dissolving to make a creamy dressing.

White Beans and Shrimp. Canned white beans and store-bought cooked shrimp are a simple, natural pairing. Toss with a dressing of oil, lemon juice, minced garlic, and herbs, and either serve over lettuce or on crusty rolls.

Black-Eyed Peas and Ham with Roasted Red Pepper Dressing. Another combination that's great over greens or wrapped in a flour tortilla or lavash. A dressing made from bottled red peppers that have been pureed in a food processor enlivens a down-home combination of black-eyed peas and deli ham.

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