Try Nutritious Beans for a Low-Cost Dinner

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PHOTO: J. WEILAND
Learn how to cook beans from scratch with these handy tips.

Save pennies and eat healthy by learning how to cook nutritious beans for dinner.

Nutritious Bean Recipes

Black-Eyed Peas Recipe
Bean and Barley Soup Recipe
Curried Rice and Black Beans Recipe
Stuffed Acorn Squash Recipe
Kidney Bean Dip Recipe

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.)

Cook Beans The Energy-Saving Tasty Way

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.