This is my first post in quite some time due to some medical issues, but I’m back and full of beans, so to speak.
One of the most nutritious and least expensive ingredients, and something I always keep in my pantry, is dried beans. Canned beans are convenient, but ounce for ounce, dried beans are less expensive and you don’t have to worry about what the can is lined with, or how much salt is in the beans. So I make beans the old fashioned way, sort, soak and simmer. It’s not as complicated as you probably think. About once a month, usually on a weekend, I have Bean Day. The night before I sort through the beans I have on hand: red kidney, white beans, black beans, pintos or even black eye peas. I measure out a couple of cups of each, sort and rinse and put into bowls. Cover the beans with water (about 2 inches over the beans) and soak overnight.
The following morning I set up the slow cookers (I have two) and if needed, the cast iron Dutch oven and/or the stock pot. I rinse and drain the beans and put them into the pots, separated by type, and throw in a bay leaf. NO SALT TIL THE END.
The hard part is over. Now you just turn on the cookers and the burners, let them come to a boil, reduce the heat, cover and go do something else like work on that novel you’re writing (you could do laundry, but what fun would that be).
Check on the beans periodically to make sure they haven’t boiled dry. Burnt beans cannot be saved, so pay attention. It takes about 1 ½ to 2 hours to cook the beans to “just tender” depending on the pot (slow cookers take a lot longer than cast iron). When the beans have reached the tender stage, add some salt, turn off the pot and let the beans rest for about 15 minutes. I like to drain off the cooking liquid which I save for soup stock, that way the beans can be used for salads or other side dishes as well as soup. Portion the cooled beans into labeled quart size freezer bags (for larger families you can use a larger bag). Lay the bags flat on a baking sheet and put in the freezer for a couple of hours. At that point you can more easily stack the frozen bags and save freezer space. For a minimal amount of work you have beans ready to add to any dish, you’ve saved some money and you don’t have to worry about extra unwanted ingredients.
By now you’re starving so here is one of my favorite bean dishes:
Two Bean and Kale Soup
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 cup chopped onion
- 1/2 cup chopped carrot
- 1/2 cup chopped celery
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, divided
- 2 garlic cloves, minced
- 4 cups vegetable broth (which you can also make and freeze in flat bags)
- 7 cups stemmed, chopped kale (about 1 bunch from the super market or a frozen bag from last summer’s garden)
- 2 cups white beans (great northern or cannellini)
- 2 cups red kidney or black beans
- 1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
- 1 teaspoon chopped fresh rosemary or savory
1. Heat a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Add olive oil to pan; swirl to coat. Add onion, carrot, and celery, and sauté until tender. Stir in 1/4 teaspoon salt and garlic and cook for about a minute. Stir in 3 cups of the vegetable broth and kale. Bring to a boil; cover, reduce heat, and simmer until kale is crisp-tender.
2. Place half of the white beans and remaining 1 cup vegetable broth in a blender or food processor; process until smooth. Add pureed beans, the remaining white beans, kidney or black beans, and pepper to soup. Bring to a boil; reduce heat, and simmer 5-10 minutes. Add the remaining teaspoon salt, or to taste, vinegar, and herbs.