Louisa Shafia

Brown Your Beans!

The other day, I made a happy discovery. I found the secret for transforming humdrum white beans into a rich, deeply flavored ingredient.

What happened was, one night when I needed a quick dinner, I spied a can of white beans in the cupboard. I’ve always found white beans kind of flavorless, but the pickings were slim, so I opened the can and gave the beans a good rinse. I heated a skillet over medium-high heat, added a glug of olive oil, and in went the beans. I walked away and got distracted, and when I came back five minutes later, the beans had developed a golden crust on the bottom.

I thought that browning the beans meant they would be burnt and tough, but they had a crispy texture and a good, almost meaty taste. I stirred the beans and did my best to turn them so the other side would face down, and then I purposely repeated my mistake. And voila, I had the tastiest white beans I’ve ever eaten!

It seems that the browning process helps to caramelize the beans, the same way that caramelization brings out the sugars and flavor in onions. The browning also gives white beans what is in my opinion some much-needed texture, so they’re dotted with crisp, gold patches that make for a pleasant crunch.

Here’s a simple recipe for browned white beans. Make these as a side dish, or serve them over grains with a dollop of yogurt for a light, healthy main course. I like making these with a large variety of white bean, such as the gigante or large butter bean, because they’re easy to flip so you can brown both sides. The beans should be mostly dry when you’re ready to start cooking.

Crispy Browned White Beans


2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil

1/2 clove garlic, minced

2 anchovies, chopped

2 T lemon juice

2 tablespoons grapeseed or canola oil

1 can white beans, drained and rinsed

3 T minced parsley

Salt and pepper


In a small bowl, combine the olive oil with the garlic, anchovies, and lemon juice. Add half a teaspoon of salt, and whisk to combine.

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat, and add the grapeseed oil. Add the white beans, and spread them in a single layer. Let the beans cook undisturbed for five minutes, then check to see if the bottoms are brown. When the beans look brown and crisp, carefully flip them and repeat on the second side. Watch the pan, as you may need to adjust the heat, or add a little more oil.

When the beans are browned on both sides, season them lightly with salt, and transfer to a medium bowl. Pour the olive oil mixture over the top, add the parsley, and toss well. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Louisa Shafia is the author, most recently, of The New Persian Kitchen, a book of healthy Mediterranean and Silk Road-inspired recipes. See Louisa’s cooking videos and her schedule of upcoming events at lucidfood.com.

6 Responses to “Brown Your Beans!”

  1. Katarina Johansson says:

    Sometimes when I feel lazy to cook, I take out a package of frozen big white beans from the frezer (yes, I soak them and cook them myself), then I fry them along with sliced sausages and cherry tomatoes. Easy peasy, and almost an ok meal! ;)

  2. J says:

    my main question – if you dont like white beans all that much, why are they in the cupboard?

  3. thissalantine says:

    Frying makes just about anything taste better. Too bad it also is really unhealthy. Would love to see a recipe where the health benefits of legumes are kept intact.

  4. Katarina – that’s a great pick-up meal!

    J – beans were likely left over from a recipe development job.

    thissalantine – You define cooking something in two tablespoons of oil as frying? How so? I think of cooking in such a small amount of oil as sauteeing or searing.

  5. claraestrella says:

    Each time I try this my beans stick to the bottom of the pan. Suggestions? I love, love, love white beans and this sounds so delicious but I can’t seem to make it work!

  6. Hey claraestrella!

    What kind of pan are you using? I used a heavy, well seasoned, cast iron pan that has a natural nonstick surface. Try using a well seasoned cast iron pan, or if you must, a nonstick pan.

    I used two tablespoons of oil. You could try using a tablespoon more oil. You also want to make sure that the oil is hot when you add the beans. I hope that helps, good luck!

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