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Beans! They have fiber, protein, and variety for days. We love them. Today is all about a dead-simple method that, with a little planning to take the slow marinating into account, takes five minutes of active prep and makes beans incredibly flavorful. Really.

A little fresh herb, garlic, and olive oil makes a bowl of beans that can be savored all alone as an easy side dish (or a simple meal paired with crusty bread or cornbread), or considered prep and used as the base of a soup. Naturally, they're always welcome in a green dinner salad. Or piled on top of rice. Depending on your mood, preference, and what else you have lying around the kitchen, they're begging to be highlighted in your mains. We have two dinners for two that might give you an idea of how to begin adding marinated beans to your meals when you're in the mood for something that goes a little beyond rice and beans.

You can put them front and center:

Or include them with lots of other elements:

Exhibit A we whipped up on a day when we had some beautiful heirloom tomatoes. We knew they would make a lovely centerpiece for a meal, but they don't provide a lot of calories. Enter marinated beans. In the morning, we combined two cans of rinsed and drained butter beans with two or three tablespoons of olive oil, a small handful of basil leaves cut into chiffonade, a sprinkle of fine sea salt, and two smashed and peeled cloves of garlic.

Stirred it all together and let that sit in the fridge all day, until about an hour before dinner time, or about the time someone with a day job might get home from work. We then brought the beans out to let them come to room temperature.

When we started to feel hungry, out came a tube of store-bought polenta, half of which we cut into chunks and broiled along with the whole tomatoes, flipping the polenta to crust both sides. (To prep whole tomatoes for broiling: trim the tops, scoop out the seedy center, and rub the interior with a little salt and pepper. Done.) Plate it all up, and there's a completely gorgeous dinner that took all of 20 minutes--mostly inactive--of the evening to prepare, and all of it unbelievably easy.

Exhibit B took a little more chopping, but makes for a wonderfully colorful meal.

For this, we marinated just one can of pinto beans with two tablespoons olive oil, one large sprig of rosemary roughly torn, and a sprinkle of salt and pepper. To go along, we cooked fluffy couscous with the juice and zest of an orange while a grated beet did its own quick marinating in a bit of lemon juice and balsamic vinegar. Meanwhile, we chopped up a poblano and toasted some sunflower seeds.

Note that we went a little heavier on the oil for the pinto beans than we did for the butter beans to keep the latter from being too oily. For the couscous bowl, we relied on the extra oil in the beans along with the acid from the marinated beets to act as an informal dressing for our bowl. Cozy and satisfying.

And of course, this is a method, not a strict recipe. Use the herbs you like in the amount you like. Play with the garlic and oil. But don't hesitate to start experimenting. This easy bit of planning ahead gives all kinds of dishes a whole new life while providing a heap of solid nutrition.

Garlic-Herb Marinated Beans

Print the recipe

cooked beans (rinsed and well drained, if using canned--1 15-oz can or 1 1/2 cups cooked serves two for most applications)

fresh herb of choice, about 1-2 tsp chopped per serving

1/2-2 TBSP olive oil per serving

1 small-medium clove garlic per serving

fine sea or kosher salt

freshly cracked black pepper, optional

Combine all ingredients in a wide, shallow bowl. Cover with a clean kitchen towel and let marinate in the refrigerator for 8-24 hours before using.


Most tender herbs such as basil, thyme, and oregano can be chopped finely and included in the final dish. Rosemary remains rather pungent and is best left in large chunks or even whole sprigs and removed before serving (chop a few small bits in the final dish, if desired).

To use in a soup, salad, or grain bowl, use the higher recommendation of olive oil--it will carry the herb and garlic flavors through to the final dish. For a side or main dish of beans, use the lighter end to avoid an oily texture.

Likewise, for use in soup or grain bowl (or for serious garlic lovers), mince the garlic before adding it to the beans to marinate. For a main dish presentation (or for the garlic avoidant), simply smash the garlic cloves to allow their flavor to permeate the dish, but discard the cloves before serving.