Oh how I love beans! Kidneys, pinto’s black, white, cranberry, garbanzo and so many more I don’t have time to mention. They’re cheap, versatile, (did I mention musical?) and nutritious. Mixed with a grain you have a complete protein. What could be better?
Beans are a staple food in our home. They are actually one of those foods we can buy organic almost as inexpensively as non-organic. We belong to a very local buying club that orders from Country Life Natural Foods. Their prices are great. We can buy a variety of dried beans for $1.10-$1.35/lb. You can also find them fairly inexpensively in the bulk section of many health food stores. So, if you’re trying to buy organic and want to save money in the process choose dried beans over canned.
“Wait!” you say, “They take too long to cook and I don’t think that far ahead!”. Either do I. I’m great at whipping something up out of whatever I can find, (even weeds or berries from the backyard). Forethought and food, however, do not often go hand in hand for me. So here is what I do to have ready-made beans on hand for any occasion, (and what an occasion it will be!)
Now, before I start you should know that there is all sorts of controversy over how to correctly cook beans. Soak or not soak? Use the soaking water or throw it out? Salt the water or leave the salt until later? I say, they’re BEANS for pete’s sake. If you want to get some expert advice on bean prep go to the Central Bean Co. I guess that’s all I have to say about that. Anyway, onward.
Have a bean cooking day. Soak whatever variety of beans you’d like to have on hand the night before in room temperature water. They should be softer and ready to cook by morning. Then, drain the soaking water off of the beans, put them in a pot that will hold them and cover them with new water by about and inch or so. Do not salt the water. I have found that it interferes somehow with the cooking process and causes the beans to be crunchy. Get the beans to a simmer and cook for 1-1.5 hours. Drain the beans well. Start the second batch/variety of beans on the stove. Meanwhile, take the cooked and drained beans and prepare them for the freezer. There are a few ways to do this, here are the two I’ve had success with:
You want the beans to be frozen somewhat individually so you can scoop out as many as you need for a recipe. So take a towel and carefully dry off each bean, place it gently in the freezer…just kidding. Really, it depends on how you want to store them in the freezer. If you want to store them in plastic freezer bags then put them in the bags and stack them flat on the freezer shelf so they are not in a clump but a thin(ish) layer. When they have completely frozen you can give the bag a good whack on the counter and they will break apart into separate beans and manageable clumps. If you are averse to plastic you can also store them in tempered glass jars in the freezer, (like canning jars). To do this you will want to freeze the beans on a cookie sheet first, scoop them off when frozen, put them in the jars and back to the freezer.
Now you have beans all ready for a recipe. I usually scoop out what I need, (sometimes let them thaw a bit depending on the recipe) and I’m ready to go. I’ve found that since I’ve started doing this we eat beans on a more regular basis.
I will close with this very interesting use for beans. I got this idea from a friend. Try substituting the butter for beans in a cookie recipe. Mash the beans really, really well, (white beans work best but any will do) and mix them in the dough instead of butter. It sounds crazy, but it really does work. You get higher protein, lower fat cookies with a few extra anti-oxidants. Try it!