Along with the shortages of toilet paper and paper towels, add beans to the list, both canned and dried.

Hungry for a bowl of comforting chili, I went to buy the necessary ingredients, but there were no canned beans — none of any variety, not even one hiding at the back of the shelf, and no dried ones, either. What's chili without kidney beans? Mother Hubbard's cupboard was definitely bare.

It's not surprising when you think about it: Canned beans are affordable, convenient, quick to prepare, easy to use, and a healthy addition to any diet. They're a great base for simple cooking, which is welcome while we're staying home.

Chefs and cooks are discovering the versatility of these legumes. They add heft to soups, are a tasty addition to certain salads, either combined with other ingredients (corn, for example), or on their own. Mashed and mixed with spices, they make excellent dips (hello, hummus!), and red beans and rice is an iconic Southern dish. They make a fine side with chicken, pork and especially lamb. Black beans can even be used in brownies!

Beans have been a form of human sustenance for hundreds of years. They're a staple in many cuisines — Mexican, Italian, French and Middle Eastern, to name a few. In addition to their versatility, they are also high on the list of nutritious foods, a good source of fiber, vitamins and minerals. Some have even called them a "superfood."

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While beans have always had a place in our diets, they generally have been an "also ran." However (not surprisingly), even before the COVID-19 pandemic hit, they've gradually been gaining in popularity as an alternative to meat, for example, with black-bean burgers. Now there is such a demand, growers and suppliers are having difficulty keeping up. One California grower sent out 24 million cans.

There are hundreds of varieties of beans, but the ones most familiar to us include black beans, chickpeas, pinto, kidney, cannellini, lima, garbanzo, Navy, Great Northern, and lentils. They all tend to absorb and complement the flavors of ingredients they are paired with.

Though we usually reach for canned beans first, some cooks prefer using dried. Dried beans are more time-consuming to prepare, but hey, we have nothing but time right now, don't we?

First, they need to be soaked, which is easy. Simply cover the dried beans with at least 2 inches of water. Add 2 tablespoons Kosher salt per pound of beans. Soak for 4 hours or overnight, then drain and rinse well before cooking. A shortcut is to cover the beans with water, add salt and bring to a boil. Then turn off the heat and let the beans soak for one hour, then drain and rinse. You can add onions, garlic and herbs to the soaking water to add flavor. FYI: a cup of dried beans equals 3 cups of cooked beans. They also freeze well.

Black Bean Brownies

(The beans replace the flour in this recipe.)

1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

1/2 cup semisweet chocolate chips, divided

3 tablespoons canola oil

3 eggs, room temperature

2/3 cup packed brown sugar

1/2 cup baking cocoa

1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1/2 teaspoon baking powder

1/8 teaspoon salt

Grease an 8-inch-square baking pan and preheat oven to 350 degrees.

Place the beans, 1/4 cup chocolate chips and oil in a food processor. Whirl until well blended. Add eggs, brown sugar, cocoa, vanilla , baking powder and salt. Process until smooth. Pour batter into the prepared pan and sprinkle remaining chocolate chips over the top. Bake for 25-30 minutes or until toothpick inserted in center comes out clean. Cool on a wire rack, then cut into bars.

Post Bulletin food writer Holly Ebel knows what’s cookin’. Send comments or story tips to life@postbulletin.com.