Tomato Paste Is An Easy Way To Elevate Your Dried Bean Dishes. Here's How

There is no doubt that beans are a nutritional force in the world of cooking. Every variety packs a punch of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals – making bean varieties a mighty weapon for maintaining a healthy diet. With their robust resume of benefits, it's no wonder that beans are a go-to protein source for vegans and vegetarians as well as a staple in cuisines globally.

However, the problem with beans, as some counter, is that strong flavors are not their strongest attribute. They have a distinctly grainy texture and nutty, but generally bland, flavor which may be off-putting if they are not properly utilized in dishes. But this "problem" is really an opportunity. Beans can be whatever you want them to be with a little culinary creativity. One tip for cooking beans is to utilize another shelf-stable pantry staple to give dried beans the ultimate umami flavor boost during the preparation process.

A force of flavor

That flavor-boosting ingredient is tomato paste! Tomato paste is made by cooking down tomatoes for hours, straining out the water and seeds, and then cooking again until a thick pulp-like substance forms. This process leads to a dense, deep red paste bursting with concentrated tomato flavors. Although tomato paste is more conventionally added to sauces and soups, it also elevates the taste of dried beans when added during the cooking process.

Once your dried beans have finished cooking, all you need to do is take a tiny dollop and mix it into the batch. Sauté the mixture in a fat source — like butter or olive oil – for a few minutes to draw out the flavor. After mixing some of it into the batch, you can store the tomato paste leftovers in the fridge or freezer for later use like cooking a homemade pizza sauce.

Unleash your creativity

Tomato paste is not the only ingredient that adds robust flavors to beans while they cook. Harissa paste works well too, as it adds a similar level of acidity with a spicy kick from the chilis.  Alternatively, if you do not have a paste in the pantry, herbs and seasonings will also do the job. 

As recipe blogger Love and Lemons exclaims, "Dried beans cooked with sea salt and water are delicious, but adding onion, garlic, or other aromatics to the pot will make them even more flavorful! These simple additions turn the starchy bean cooking liquid into a fragrant broth that's just as tasty as the beans themselves." 

When cooked, the tender texture and mild flavor of beans make them the perfect vessel to store preferred flavors. Whether you sprinkle on spices or drown them in sauces, beans are only as good as you make them. When it comes to elevating their taste, don't be afraid to add in whatever feels and tastes best to your palette!