“Of course, with the cold weather and lack of spirits, I was ready to get cracking right away. Problem is, dried beans are not exactly fast food, taking at best several hours, and at worst, a full day of soaking, followed by simmering. So I did what any sensible, sober man would do: I bought them canned.” –Kenji Lopez-Alt, from The Food Lab
As my basement rehab drags on – oh yes, we are past deadline now! – I’d like to take a moment and a little space on the internet for a robust defense of canned beans. I love ‘em. I think they are a godsend. They have saved my evening and my growling stomach on more than one occasion. I consider them my friends and saviors, and I don’t tolerate anyone besmirching them in my house.
I have cooked bean dishes from the dried beans before. I also fell prey to the Make Everything (And I Mean Everything) From Scratch dictate during America’s Foodier Than Thou phase during the late-aughts/early twenty-tens. I’ve been there. There was the time I followed precise directions from a reputable recipe developer and by dinnertime they were still hard as rocks and almost chipped my tooth. There was the time they did cook through, but they were SO bland it felt like extracting all the salt from the Pacific Ocean wouldn’t have seasoned them properly. There was the time they cooked unevenly, and by the time the last horses crossed the cooked texture finish line, the first horses had split and turned to mush. And the few times I got them exactly right, I wasn’t blown away as promised. Dried beans simply aren’t better. I’m sorry, but they’re not.
I decided that, like a teenager smoking pot, I’d gotten my Cook Beans From Scratch rebellious phase out of my system. I returned to my cans without apology or a twinge of guilt. Canned beans are consistent and uniform in texture; the factory machines always get it right. They are easily rinsed if you dislike the cooking liquid, and you can add flavor in myriad ways the same way you can with dried. Look, life is arduous enough on its own. I don’t need to pile on with overnight soaks and hours of boiling for inconsistent results when I can just pop a can. As far as I’m concerned, the only downside to canned beans is that it’s not entirely consequence-free for us cat parents. But all things considered, I’ll take it.
This recipe originally called for dried beans. So I’m reading it and thinking, let me get this straight, I’m supposed to soak dried beans overnight, then boil them with aromatics for several hours just to throw them into… a salad?! Fuck and no. I threw some canned chickpeas in my grocery cart, rinsed and drained those suckers in a colander, and got on with my life. Zero regrets.
Was this incredibly tasty salad any worse for wear thanks to my inauthentic shortcut? Reader, it was not. This made for a filling, healthy, delicious, easy dinner; the flavors are reminiscent of hummus, but with heft and chew, a satisfyingly proper balance of flavor and texture contrasts. It’s everything you want a hearty dinner salad to be. And with canned chickpeas, you can make it tonight.
Chickpea and Charred Onion Salad
- 2 tbs olive oil
- 1 medium red onion, thinly sliced, then cut the slices neatly into about 1" pieces
- Kosher salt
- ½ cup tahini
- Juice of 1 lemon
- 1 tbs red wine vinegar
- ½ tsp ground coriander
- 2 15 oz. cans chickpeas, drained and rinsed
- 6 scallions, sliced
- Heat a medium skillet over medium-high heat and add the olive oil. When it begins to smoke lightly, add the onion and 1 tsp salt. Turn the heat up to high and cook, stirring from time to time, until the onions darken and char but do not burn, 5 to 8 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat.
- In a large salad bowl, whisk together the tahini, lemon juice, vinegar, and coriander. Add water as needed to make it a creamy dressing consistency (I needed almost ½ cup).
- Stir in the chickpeas, onion, scallions, and more salt to taste. Serve immediately.