What would you say if I told you there was a frugal and fabulous food that was filled with protein, fiber, packed with B-vitamins, iron, calcium and potassium, with a low glycemic index, low calorie and naturally free of cholesterol and saturated fats, and at an average 15 cents per serving is economical enough to feed the masses?
If you said I was full o’ beans… you’d be right!
Beans are the rock stars of the frugal foodie world because they’re incredibly versatile. You can use them in casseroles, to stretch meat in recipes, as a side dish, in salads, soups and stews or puree them to make dips.
Ah, the humble bean.
Have you BEAN doing it wrong?
Should I serve a pile of lonely beans to my family? Did you ever notice that most bean recipes bring together beans with a bit of protein, like meat, eggs or cheese or with grains? There’s a reason for that. When you combine beans with protein or grains; you produce a complete protein equal to that of meat. That’s why there’s a bit of bacon in baked beans and red beans and rice is such a classic.
But why use dried beans instead of canned? Because they’re about one-third the cost of canned beans and the only difference is water, salt and a little time. Dried beans, properly prepared taste much better, have lots more nutrition and less sodium. Canned beans should be in everyone’s pantry for those times when you need convenience above all else. But for beans that taste so good you don’t want to share them with the kids; read on.
How shall I buy the beans, oh Diva? Buy them by the bag at the grocery store but compare prices with the ethnic foods aisle before you buy. Check out “healthy food” stores and don’t forget the large sized bags at Costco. If a large bag seems excessive go in halfers with a frugal friend. Ethnic markets often have great deals on beans so check Hispanic, Asian and Indian markets. If you have access to bulk foods check the price per ounce/pound. While you’re shopping, pick up some rice.
But aren’t dried beans a pain in the can to prepare? Not really. You just need to plan ahead a little. You’ll need to spend a little time to clean, soak and then cook the beans but it’s easy work. I call it monkey work, no offense to any monkeys reading this. It’s mindless stuff you can do while you’re on the phone with your Mom.
Three Easy Steps to Prepare Beans
Step One: Cleanliness is next to Beanliness. Pour the beans out on a baking sheet discard any discolored, split or cracked beans and pick through removing any rocks, dirt or other debris. They are an agricultural product and dirt happens.
Step Two: Soak – decisions, decisions! There are two ways to soak your beans. Overnight soak or quick soak. Soaking beans allows them to rehydrate before cooking. There are lots of different beans and I can’t address them all. In general the larger the bean the longer they need to soak and the longer they soak the faster they cook. Another reason to soak, as the beans absorb water they begin to dissolve the starches that cause musical distress. I know, rocket science, right?
Overnight Soak – This is my preferred method. Place one pound of beans in a large bowl and add 8 cups of water. Stick it in the fridge at least 8 hours or better – overnight.
Quick Soak – If you forget to put the beans in last night don’t despair! Place one pound of beans in a large heavy pot. Add 12 cups of water and 2 teaspoons salt. Bring to a boil on the stovetop for 2 minutes then remove the pot from the heat and cover. Let the beans hang out in the hot water for an hour. Drain and discard water and proceed to cooking.
Step Three: And now, we cook. Bring the beans to a boil, and then lower the heat and simmer for 60 to 90 minutes, or until the beans are tender.
Diva Tips – Add one teaspoon salt per pound of beans about halfway through cooking for tender well-seasoned beans. Don’t add any acid such as tomatoes or vinegar because acid hinders the cooking process. Dried beans triple in size when cooked so one pound of dried beans makes six cups cooked beans.
More Diva Tips – You don’t need to soak split peas or lentils! So don’t. They only take about 30 minutes to cook. They’re speedy beans.
Extra Diva Tip – the liquid left over from soaking beans is an excellent, flavorful addition to soups. The starch left behind after soaking gives the liquid a lovely texture and “body” perfect for adding to any thin soup. Not to mention adding vitamins and minerals removed from beans during soaking. Why waste that?
Won’t beans give me the vapors? Yes.
Bean there, Done that.
Once you have your cooked beans there are tons of easy quick recipes to enjoy. Here’s one to keep handy!
Simple Bean Soup – 10-minute recipe
What You’ll Need:
- ½ cup extra virgin olive oil
- 2 teaspoons chopped garlic
- 5 to 6 cups cooked cannellini or other white bean or 3 cans of beans
- Salt & fresh ground pepper – liberally to taste
- 1 cup broth or water
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- Thick slices of crusty bread – grilled or toasted (optional, kinda)
Heat olive oil in a soup pot. Add garlic and stir until fragrant. Add the beans and broth and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove about half of the beans and puree. Return the puree to the soup and stir to combine. Serve over a big piece of toasted bread.
HOW TO COOK DRIED BEANS
- Dutch oven or other heavy pot with lid
- 1 pound beans any variety
- 2 to 3 teaspoons salt plus more if needed
- Aromatics - Bay leaves, 1 to 2 whole garlic cloves, ½ onion, chopped carrots optional
- Clean - Pour the beans out on a baking sheet and discard any discolored, split or cracked beans and pick through removing any rocks, dirt or other debris. They are an agricultural product and dirt happens.
Soak – There are two ways to soak your beans. Overnight soak, or quick soak.
- Overnight Soak –This is my preferred method. Place one pound of beans in a large bowl and add 8 cups of water. Stick it in the fridge at least 8 hours or better - overnight.
- Quick Soak – If you forgot to put the beans in last night don’t despair! Place one pound of beans in a large heavy pot. Add 12 cups of water. Bring to a boil on the stovetop for 1 minute then remove the pot from the heat and cover. Let the beans soak in the hot water for 1 hour.
Now, to cook the beans.
- Drain beans and discard the soaking water before cooking.
- Transfer the drained beans to a Dutch oven or other heavy cooking pot.
- Cover beans by 2 inches with fresh, cold water, add onion, carrot, and bay leaves, if using.
- Bring the beans to a boil. Once boiling, reduce the heat to low and keep at a very gentle simmer.
- Simmer for 1 to 2 hours, or until the beans are completely tender. Larger beans require more cooking time.
- When the beans have softened to the point of "al dente", add the salt and finish cooking. See note below!
- Don't pour that cooking liquid down the drain! See note below!
SIMPLE WHITE BEAN SOUP
- ½ cup olive oil extra virgin
- 2 teaspoons garlic chopped
- 3 14.5 ounce cans cannellini or other white bean or 5 cups
- kosher salt & fresh ground pepper to taste
- 1 ½ cups vegetable or chicken broth or 1 can
- 4 thick slices of crusty bread grilled or toasted
- 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
- In a soup pot on medium heat, warm the olive oil
- Add garlic and stir until fragrant.
- Add the beans and broth and simmer for 5 minutes.
- Remove about half of the beans and puree in a food processor or blender. Or use an immersion blender, or smoosh beans on the side of the pot with a fork. It all works!
- Return the puree to the soup and stir to combine. Reheat if necessary.
- Serve the soup over a big piece of toasted bread, topped with parsley.
Two More Recipes using your delicious beans: