Easy, Inexpensive Ways to Elevate Basic Beans and Toast
Beans and toast are a classic British comfort food that has never really taken hold here in the states. Traditionally, canned baked beans served over toasted bread, it is a hearty lunch or part of breakfast, or even dinner, often served with thick "chips." And if you didn't grow up with beans and toast, there is likely nothing about that description that is making you jump up to go grab a can of Bush's.
But let me take the time to say that you should not ignore the potential magic of beans on toast. I don't mean, necessarily, canned baked beans on basic sandwich bread toast, but I do mean beans on toast as a concept.
You need look no further than the pleasures of black bean tacos or hummus in pita to start to understand that carbs and beans are a good combination. So, taking that next step towards making beans on toast that is elevated to a craveworthy place is as easy as looking to your favorite braises and slow simmered dishes!
The genius of beans on toast is that beans are a readily available, affordable, healthy protein. So, treating them like the meat-alternative they are is a great place to start. Think about your favorite recipes like coq au vin, boeuf bourguignon, and even slow simmered pasta sauces like Bolognese, and imagine swapping in beans for the meat, and then ladling over thick pieces of toasted bread instead of mashed potatoes or rice or pasta.
Many of those dishes rely on stock as the basis of the cooking, along with aromatics like carrots, onion, celery, fennel, parsnip, tomato or others, herbs and spices, and sometimes wine. Cooking your beans in those same sorts of flavorful liquids, which thicken naturally with both evaporation and the natural thickening in the starch that come off the beans, can create rich thick stews that are absolutely taken next level when served over toast! Pair the appropriate toasted bread with the recipe of your choice, from toasted garlic focaccia under a bean-based Bolognese to toasted pain au levain under beans au vin, to toasted halved baguettes for your bean bourguignon! Even other more traditional bean-based dishes like chili, served over toasted cornbread, or Polish bean stew served over toasted rye bread are a meal worth indulging in.
If you choose to adapt a meat-based recipe to a bean version, think about ways to amp up the umami that will be missing from your dishes. This might mean adding some extra ingredients like mushrooms, sundried tomatoes, or ingredients like soy sauce or Maggi seasoning to help replace that grounding meaty flavor. Taking the time to really deeply caramelize your aromatic vegetables will give you all the fond you need to make your stock richly flavored, and if your gravy isn't as thick as you want it, you can give it a boost with a corn starch slurry or even by removing and pureeing some of the cooked beans and stirring them back into the stew. You can use either canned or dried beans in these recipes, just remember that dried beans will often require either an overnight soak or much longer cooking time, so adjust your timing plans accordingly.
Lastly, if you were intrigued by the OG beans on toast mentioned at the top, think about upping the ante by making your own homemade baked beans and use a great bread for the toast, like a New England brown bread or a hearty pumpernickel.
Check out our collection of Beans and Legumes Recipes.