Back to Basics: Pantry Staples – Tinned Vegetables

Now we’ve been dealing with the Virus That Shall Not Be Named for over a year now, I feel like I may be somewhat late to the table with this advice. However, I feel that in this new year there may be a few people still out there who have decided the drive-through and Uber Eats Lyfe is no longer for them, and want to do more home-based cooking…but maybe don’t know where to start.

I’ve compiled a list and will be discussing, one by one, many of the widely available, basic pantry staples in the standard North American and European diet that will help you create a meal out of almost anything (within reason), some instructions on how to cook certain items, and links to my favourite recipes to get you started. Please see my other posts in the Back to Basics category for more recipes and meal ideas.

Canned/tinned vegetables often get a bad rap; while it’s true that early in canning’s history, veggies were often grey and mushy at the end of the process, I think I could make a case that manufacturing processes have improved immensely since then. Now vegetables are picked and packed at the peak of freshness, and oftentimes can be more nutritious than their fresh counterparts. This means not only are they less expensive than fresh, but they’re shelf stable for months, thus saving both time and money.

According to The Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics:

Canned foods can be just as nutritious as fresh and frozen foods because canning preserves many nutrients. The amount of minerals, fat-soluble vitamins, protein, fat and carbohydrate remain relatively unchanged by the process of canning. But, because the canning process requires high heat, canned goods may have less water-soluble vitamins such as vitamin C and B vitamins. However, the heating process that may harm some vitamins can actually increase the antioxidant content. For instance, canning increases the amount of lycopene in tomatoes.

EatRight

That being said, there are numerous recipes in cookbooks and on the web that have made use of various types of canned vegetables over millions of meal options. While most modern recipes call for fresh veggies, there are times when it just isn’t feasible to use fresh (time/money/access/availability/seasonality). Below I have listed four of the most popular canned vegetables, and some recipes that make use of them. I’ve endeavoured to avoid the “cheat” recipes like generic soups and stews, casseroles and pies, since any and all of these canned veggies could quite easily be used in virtually every one of those types of “throw together” meals, so it’s not exactly promoting the individual vegetable’s unique characteristics (I’ve made exceptions to this rule where the soup or casserole, for example, are celebrating the specific vegetable).

Please see below for unique and delicious recipes that use canned carrots, corn, green beans and peas, plus a bonus recipe below I made recently in my own kitchen!

Carrots:

Photo by Suzy Hazelwood on Pexels.com

Carrots are as ubiquitous and everyday as the image of Bugs Bunny chomping on one and saying, “What’s up, doc?” (am I aging myself horribly here?). This root vegetable is also fantastically versatile (one of my favourite words, if you haven’t already noticed), in that they are equally at home in sweet and savoury dishes, and fit extremely well in so many dishes that they are considered a staple flavour base that starts off so many recipes (think mirepoix).

Canned carrots, however, have yet to be embraced as well as their fresh or frozen varieties; I’ve personally always found canned carrots to be somewhat mushy and lacking in the vibrant flavour of a cooked, fresh carrot. But there is hope! I’ve found three recipes below that celebrate and elevate the canned carrot from the mundane to the sublime.

Corn:

Photo by mali maeder on Pexels.com

Corn is a global diet staple. Where corn is grown on a massive scale, such as in North America, it actually has many uses beyond human consumption; it’s grown for animal feed, converted into ethanol fuel, and even more recently transformed into somewhat controversial bioplastics – disposable and biodegradable products made from PLA (polylactic acid).

While I appreciate its many uses outside of human consumption, nothing says summertime quite like juicy, buttery corn on the cob. And I don’t have to feel bad doing it either, as corn is happily a very nutritious crop. Corn can provide the best of both worlds: delicious food that’s also good for your health; it’s low in fat, high in protein (for a vegetable, that is), and contains several useful vitamins and minerals, antioxidants and several beneficial plant compounds that protect against disease.1

Green Beans:

(c) Great British Chef

It may be surprising to know, but the humble green bean has been around for literal ages; The green bean (Phaseolus vulgaris) originated in Central and South America and there’s evidence that it has been cultivated in Mexico and Peru for thousands of years. The crop was introduced to the Mediterranean region in 1492 by Christopher Columbus.2

I’ve added a recipe for the standard American-style Green Bean Casserole below, as I felt it would be remiss to not mention it considering this is the most popular use for the canned green bean (and as a Canadian who has never sampled this “delicacy” in any form, I’m more than a little curious). However, I urge everyone to stretch out those recipe ruts and try something different! From basic recipes on how to make a can of green beans taste better, to chucking in a can into whatever soup or stew you may be making, to trying different flavour combinations from different cultures, the green bean can be used in so many ways.

Peas:

Twinned with green beans above for antiquity of origin, domesticated peas are one of the oldest cultivated crops. The wild plant is native to the Mediterranean region, and ancient remains dating to the late Neolithic Period have been found in the Middle East. European colonization introduced the crop to the New World and other regions throughout the globe. 3

Green Peas are incredibly versatile (there’s that word again) in that they fit into so many recipes as an additional vegetable, though they are incredibly tasty on their own as well, which was why I chose those recipes that have peas as the star of the show. My husband is a huge fan of creamed peas, so I made sure to include a recipe link for those as well.

Bonus Recipe!

Tater Tot Casserole

There are a ton of recipes for this casserole, and this is mine. As with most recipes I post, please feel free to make it your own with the veggies (canned or otherwise) that you prefer and/or have on hand. This recipe was able to clear out several cans from my pantry, and made for some delicious leftovers! If you plan to add more vegetables than you think your largest cast iron skillet can hold, then transfer the mixture to a greased 9×13″ baking dish for placing in the oven.

As you can see from the collage below, I actually made two separate skillets (one ground beef and pepperoni, and one using Yves Veggie Chik’n tenders, which I used like uncased sausage meat).

YIELD: 6-8 servings | PREP: 10 mins | COOK/BAKE: 35-45 mins

  • 1 lb ground beef (or protein of your choice)
  • 1 small handful of pepperoni (optional)
  • 1 onion diced
  • 1 carrot, peeled trimmed and diced into thin coins (alternatively use 1 can of carrots)
  • ½ tsp/3g salt
  • ¼ tsp ground black pepper
  • 1 tbsp Worcestershire sauce (omit if making vegetarian version)
  • ½ tsp paprika (sweet, hot or smoked)
  • ½ bell pepper, diced
  • 1 can sweet peas, drained
  • 1 can green or wax beans, drained
  • 1 small can corn drained (optional)
  • 1 can condensed cream soup (I used cheddar, but use whatever you have and would taste good with your protein and vegetable choices) – can also use dairy-free option
  • 1 cup milk or non-dairy of your choice
  • 1 cup shredded medium or old cheddar cheese (or dairy-free option)
  • 1 pkg frozen tater tots
  1. Preheat oven to 375°F. In a large cast iron skillet, cook ground beef, carrots, and onion over medium heat until meat is no longer pink and onion is becoming translucent. Drain excess fat if necessary, and season with all seasonings. Reduce heat to medium low.
  2. Add bell pepper and drained canned vegetables, and mix to combine. Add pepperoni slices overtop.
  3. Mix cream soup and milk together, and pour evenly overtop of flattened out mixture.
  4. Sprinkle shredded cheese overtop, and place tater tots in a single layer overtop.
  5. Bake in oven for 30-40 minutes (using a tray underneath pan if in danger of bubbling over) until hot and bubbling, and tots are browned to your satisfaction.
  6. Serve hot. Makes great leftovers!

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