Save pennies and eat healthy by learning how to cook nutritious beans for dinner.
There's an icy snap and tingle in the air right now . . . especially up in the wintry state of Vermont. "We don't mind, though," says Anne C. Pratt of Plainfield. "Not as long as we have a steamy plate of savory, filling, nutritious beans on the table. And the price is right too!"
It seems that every family — whether already "scratching it out" down on the farm, living in the city and saving pennies to move to the country too, or just trying to make ends meet in today's high-priced world — is interested in cutting its cost of living.
My husband and I are no exception. And, as millions of other families have done for centuries, we frequently cut our living expenses (while still enjoying hearty, nourishing, stick-to-the-ribs meals) by cooking with beans. And, nope, we never eat the chemical-packed "beans and franks" and other "heat and serve" frozen and canned abominations that line the supermarket shelves. (For one thing, the fat-laden, preservative — and dyelaced, artificially flavored "things" currently sold by the "food" industry as "frankfurters" aren't even allowed in our house.)
Instead, we feast on a variety of zesty, cook-em-from-the-ground-up main dishes that make beans the stars of a good many cold weather Pratt lunches, dinners . . . even snacks. We just never seem to get tired of beans around our place, and I always get a big kick out of whipping a few pennies' worth of the legumes (instead of a couple of dollars' worth of meat) into a satisfying meal.
(And if you didn't know it before, I'll tell you now that legumes — when cooked up in combination with grains — can provide all the usable protein your body needs. If you'd like to learn more about that, take a look at Frances Moore Lappe's eye-opening book, Diet for a Small Planet, available at any good bookstore or from MOTHER's Bookshelf.)
Legumes of any kind will cook much faster if you soak them overnight first. And if you forget to set them out the night before you want to whip up one of these dishes . . . boil your beans for five minutes, cover them tightly, and let them steep for an hour in the cooling water. That'll tenderize the little critters almost as well as a full night's presoak.
A pressure cooker is the best weapon you'll ever have it you want to wage war on food preparation fuel consumption. Get one if you don't already have one . . . and study the instruction booklet that comes with it. The cooker can save you a lot of time and money.
Beans have a great deal more flavor when simmered in stock, rather than plain water. Stock is simply the liquid that's left over after bones, meat scraps, and/or vegetables have been boiled or simmered. It has many variations, all of which are filled with vitamins and minerals that might otherwise have been thrown out or dumped into the compost heap. Any basic cookbook will give you detailed instructions for the preparation of stock, if you don't know how.
For every cup of beans that you intend to cook, add 2 to 4 cups of water (or stock). You may have to add more later if the original liquid disappears before the legumes are done. Presoaked pinto beans usually must simmer for 1 to 2 hours in a partially covered pan before they're done. Kidney, marrow, black beans, black-eyed peas, and split peas are generally finished in an hour and a half. Lentils only take 45 minutes to an hour and soybeans and chickpeas (also known as garbanzo beans) cook the slowest of all . . . figure on giving them plenty of time.
If you're planning a dish that calls for pureed or mashed beans, cook 'em longer and add more water as it's needed. And never add salt to any pot of beans until they're tender . . . or they'll likely never get that way.
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