Never has the discovery of a can at the back of the cupboard seemed so welcome. And a book published early this year, Tin Can Magic, comes just in time to inspire new ways to turn it into something simple but delicious.

Jessica Elliott Dennison, who runs a neighbourhood cafe in the good times, says a favourite with her regulars is a dish she called ‘the beans’.

“The dish simply begins by frying onions, garlic and sage. Then as you pour in white wine and tinned butter beans – tin juice and all – something pretty magical happens. The whole lot reduces down together, transforming into an indulgent yet humble plate of food to mop up with toasted sourdough.”

A can is just waiting to be transformed. Take that lonely can of pulses. “Can you cook it to make it the centrepiece of a simple feast? Can it be rinsed in fresh water to become the basis of a salad? Or could it be charred in a hot pan to become a smoky taco filling? Perhaps it suits being slowly braised with lots of woody herbs and wine to become a warm supper?” All it needs is a touch of creativity.

The recipes come with ideas for substitutes in case you don’t have all ingredients to hand.

Indian-style creamed corn (serves 2) with naan, coriander and toasted spices

This is half way between a dahl and a curry, where a few tins of regular sweetcorn are transformed into something fragrant and special by the help of the spices from the back of your cupboard. I’ve suggested using a stick blender to give your corn a nice creamy texture, but if you don’t have one, just mash some of the corn by hand using a potato masher.


6 tablespoons rapeseed, light olive or coconut oil

1 onion, peeled and finely sliced

3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced

2 x 340g (11½ oz) tins of sweetcorn, drained

2 teaspoons ground coriander

1½ teaspoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon curry leaves (optional)

½–1 teaspoon of dried chilli flakes (depending on how spicy you want it)

1 lemon

sea salt flakes

1 large naan or 2 chapatis

handful of coriander leaves


leek, ground coriander, garam masala, lemon, lime

First, heat 4 tablespoons of oil over a medium heat in a wide pan.

Add the onion and garlic, reduce to low, then fry for 15 minutes until soft and translucent. Stir occasionally and add a splash of water if beginning to catch.

Add half the corn to a jug with a splash of water. Then, using a stick blender or food processor, blitz into a rough pulp.

Add 2 tablespoons of oil to the onion, then add the spices and curry leaves. Stir for 1–2 minutes until fragrant, then add the creamed corn and reserved kernels. Add the zest of one lemon and the juice of half, plenty of seasoning to taste, and a splash of water to loosen if it’s too thick. Cut the remaining lemon half into wedges.

Meanwhile, use tongs to heat the naan bread directly over a gas flame for a few seconds until lightly charred. You can also do this in a hot pan or oven. To assemble: Divide the corn and naan between two plates. Roughly tear over the coriander and serve with a lemon wedge each.

Garlic mushroom lentils and fried eggs (serves 2) with parmesan and rosemary

The key to frying mushrooms is allowing your pan to get smoking hot so that they catch at the edges and take on an almost meaty, charred flavour. Keep an eye out for more unusual wild varieties to mix in with more common button and chestnut mushrooms – they offer a deeper flavour and more interesting textures.


4 tablespoons rapeseed, vegetable or light olive oil

3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely sliced

200g (7 oz) mushrooms

2 sprigs of rosemary, leaves only, roughly chopped

1 x 390g (13¾ oz) tin of green lentils in water, drained and rinsed

½ lemon, zest and juice

1 teaspoon salt

100g (3½ oz) spinach, washed and drained

2 eggs

4 tablespoons finely grated parmesan


For rosemary: sage, tarragon, thyme. For green lentils: cooked puy lentils, cooked pearl barley, cooked spelt, cooked brown rice

First, heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large non-stick frying pan over a medium heat. Add the garlic and, stirring regularly, fry for 1–2 minutes until golden and fragrant. Take care not to burn the garlic or it will become overly bitter. Transfer the garlic to a small bowl and set aside.

Increase the heat to high and add 1 tablespoon more oil. Add the mushrooms and cook for 4 minutes, or until browning and catching at the edges. Stir in the rosemary, fry for 1–2 minutes until crisp and fragrant.

Stir in lentils, lemon juice, salt and spinach until wilted. Add a few splashes of water if the pan contents look a bit dry.

Heat 1 tablespoon of oil in another non-stick frying pan over a high heat. Crack in the eggs and fry for 1–2 minutes until crisp on the base but still with a runny yolk, or to your liking. To assemble: Divide the mushroomy-lentils between two plates. Top with fried egg and the reserved crispy garlic. Sprinkle parmesan and zest of the remaining lemon.

Tin Can Magic by Jessica Elliott Dennison (Hardie Grant, £15). Photo - Matt Russell.