Food & Nutrition

How to Make Canned Food Actually Taste Good

Livingston does something similar with canned black beans, mixing them with oats, eggs, and seasoning, forming into patties, and oven-baking.

6) Turn to bold spice blends.

If you’re not cooking with much fresh produce and aromatics, take advantage of shelf-stable ingredients that pack a lot of flavor into a little bottle. “[You want] something that adds a load of depth and complex tastiness without having to use [a bunch] of different things,” Milne says. Her favorites are curry powder and harissa. Za’atar is another great option.

7) Puree veggies into a chowder

Not a huge fan of canned veggies? For a silky-smooth bowl of canned goodness, try pureeing veggies with dairy or nondairy milk and aromatics or spices. You get all the flavor and nutrition, without the mushy texture that some people find unappealing.

Milne likes making a simple corn chowder from canned corn using canned corn, stock, milk, a potato, and bay leaves. (You could do something similar with jarred red peppers or canned pumpkin puree.) The Hungry Housewife has a clever recipe for carrot coconut soup made with canned carrots and coconut milk.

8) Make a kitchen-sink soup.

Soups and stews are one of the lowest-effort ways to transform whatever canned (and fresh or frozen) stuff you have on hand into a legit filling and familiar comfort meal. (I also find them ideal for when you might not have every single ingredient listed in the recipe—leaving out or subbing in an ingredient or two is unlikely to mess up the whole thing.) Combine veggie or chicken stock (cans, cartons, or bullion) with any variety of canned beans, legumes, veggies, grains, herbs (dried or fresh), and spices.

Get creative with your ingredient combos here. For instance, use canned tomatoes, black beans, corn, chilies, and chili powder to make a chili, served with tortilla chips or rice. For a rustic minestrone-style soup, try using chickpeas or cannellini beans, green beans, carrots, lentils, spinach (canned or frozen), and barley or pasta.

9) Whip up an all-purpose zingy dressing.

The fail-safe way to banish blahness and blandness from pretty much any canned good? “Basically slather it in a really good dressing,” Milne says. It’s worth taking a little time to make a fantastically flavorful and versatile dressing/sauce/marinade that you can put on salad, pasta, grains, beans, lentils, veggies, etc.

Include ingredients like spicy brown or dijon mustard; apple cider, red wine, or white wine vinegar; garlic or shallots; canned anchovies (Milne’s favorite); lemon juice and zest; and any fresh or dried herbs. If you have something creamy like tahini or yogurt handy, go for it. Check out some ideas here and here.

10) Make fish cakes.

Fish cakes are the easiest way to turn cold, hum-drum canned fish into a warm, restaurant-quality dish. Livingston suggests mixing canned tuna or salmon with a grain (like quinoa or farro), breadcrumbs, seasoning, and an egg. Then, form into patties and oven bake until golden brown and crispy. Try a basic recipe for tuna cakes from The Real Food RDs or a salmon patty recipe from Well Plated by Erin.

11) Liven up canned fruit.

Canned fruit can be super-sweet and a little one-note, flavor-wise. Milne recommends tossing whatever canned fruit you’ve got—peaches, pairs, pineapple, mango, mandarin oranges—with a little bit of lime juice (or lemon) and chili powder or ginger. “It really livens them up,” she says.

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