Food for the Greatest Depression: life goes on while you’re soaking beans

The new frugality! It’s everywhere! Bossy’s kickin’ her debt, festive-like, with her daily poverty party. Gawker’s recommending dumpster-diving and collecting favorite depression playlists. Messy Mom is showing off some super stylish thrift store finds. Why, even the Bulgari CEO is paring down; he’s selling his yacht, poor fella’.

Let’s face it: frugal is the new black. Let’s embrace it, shall we, and see what kinds of tasty health-boosting dinners we can make for $2.50.

Two words: dried beans.

So many reasons to love dried beans! They are super-cheap, they create almost no waste, they’re not packed in BPA-lined cans, and they may even cut down on flatulence. Not to mention, I have a fantasy wherein my cooking with dried beans helps my girls remember me affectionately as a model of prudence and thrift, so that they write about me glowingly, as Laura Ingalls Wilder wrote about Ma, and someday there is a television show in which my character is played by a beautiful-yet-sensible Karen Grassle type, and I will come off as being wiser, more patient, and less of a screamer than I ever was in real life.

Hey, you never know.

Yes, for all of those reasons,  I’ve long believed in dried beans. But I belived as in, “I believe I should be doing this.” Not as in, “I actually do this,” at least not nearly often enough. Preparing dried beans is like refraining from gossip, or turning the other cheek, or keeping up with the laundry. I believe, even if I don’t always do it.

Unfortunately, dried beans are not like Tinkerbell. Merely believing in them is not enough to make them come alive in my kitchen. Making them come alive requires foresight, doing.

Dried beans need to be soaked in advance.

(Well, for most of us they do. Perhaps you have a pressure cooker. I’m told that if I had a pressure cooker, I could decide to make black bean soup at 4pm, and serve up that soup by 5pm. I do not have a pressure cooker, however, and chances are, you don’t, either. We could purchase one, of course. And we might. In the meantime, however, let’s just decide that purchasing a pressure cooker is not a part of the New Frugality. Today, we are soaking beans).

There are many ways to soak dried beans, but it probably won’t surprise you that my favorite way is the laziest way: just dump them in a pot, cover them with water and leave them overnight.

The following recipe, made with soaked black beans, is not a traditional black bean soup (if you’re looking for that, try this one), as it has a higher veggie-to-bean ratio, and I wasn’t in a cumin mood. Add a dash of cumin, drop the kale and a couple of carrots, ratio, and you’ll get something more traditional. In other words, this is a recipe that you can follow, or not. Either option is fine, because the importance of this one is not in the precise ingredients, or even the end result.

This one is notable not merely because it is tasty (it is), or because the whole family ate it (they did, even Charlotte), or because it allowed me to clean out my fridge (it did). This soup is notable because it’s the soup that reminded me that foresight is not the same thing as forefront-of-my-life. That I can prepare a tasty, extremely inexpensive meal from dried beans and on-hand veggies, without devoting my whole life, or even very much thought at all, to the meal. That I can be a part of the New Frugal and still get out of the house.

Ali’s New-Frugal, Use-What’s-On-Hand Veggie Soup with Black Beans

Note: I used veggies that were already sitting in my fridge, and I recommend you do the same. That would be the New Frugal thing to do. Of course, I was lucky enough to have both fresh tomatillos and fresh cilantro on hand — leftover from my last visit to the farm — which gave the soup tang and punch. The one ingredient that I specifically sought out for this recipe was fresh lime, which was a great finishing touch.

Ingredients

2.5 cups dried black beans

3 smallish onions

3 cloves garlic

1 hot pepper

3 honkin’ carrots, chopped

5 big ol’ leaves of kale, chopped small

8 or so fresh tomatillos, chopped

2 green peppers, chopped

4 cups chicken broth

2 cups water

2 Tablespoons apple cider vinegar

1.5 teaspoons salt (smoked if you’ve got it)

2 bay leaves

Lime juice

Fresh cilantro

Directions:

Soak beans overnight. When you start them, they will look like this:

By the next morning, they will look like this:

see my reflection in there?

Hey, is that Narcissus reflected in there?

While they continue to soak, enjoy a stunning autumn morning at the farm with your 2-year old. It is a beautiful day, even if she won’t look at the camera:

Sometime in the afternoon, return to the kitchen. Drain beans, then rinse them. Set aside.

In a pot, saute onions and garlic in olive oil (fat pairs well with beans, so be generous). Saute until onions are translucent. Add the remaining vegetables and cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally:

Add beans, broth, water, bay leaves, salt, and apple cider vinegar. Bring to a boil. Boil for five minutes, then turn the heat down to low, and let simmer.

If you are confident that your stovetop’s low is safely low, then head out for a hike with your family, and try to take some photos that can be used for this year’s holiday card. Wind up instead with photos that look like this:

Or even this:

How much more beautiful could this creature be? None. None more beautiful.

How much more beautiful could this delicate creature be? None. None more beautiful.

Return home a few hours later. By this point, your kitchen will probably smell yummy, and your beans will be nice and tender (if not, set your pot to high, and boil the heck out of ‘em while you surf the web for a good deal on a pressure cooker).  Serve over rice. Add fresh lime juice and fresh cilantro to immediately before serving. If you just sold your yacht, consider adding cheddar cheese or sour cream to the top. If not, meh, don’t worry about it.

It really is remarkable how about $5 worth of ingredients plus tiny bit of foresight can reward you with a giant pot of tasty soup. It was enough for two nights — literally, $2.50/night — and I swear to you: everyone ate plenty. It was good. It was packed with veggies. It helped empty the crisper.

Best of all, it really was easy. As the beans soaked and cooked in the background, life went on in the foreground…exactly where it should.

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14 Responses to “Food for the Greatest Depression: life goes on while you’re soaking beans”


  1. 1 even more beautiful October 15, 2008 at 8:40 am

    Hey thanks for your content. Best of all, it really was easy. As the beans soaked and cooked in the background, life went on in the foreground…exactly where it should.

  2. 2 Amy October 15, 2008 at 11:01 am

    Thank you for reminding me I like black bean soup – must add this to my weekend plans.

  3. 3 Kristen October 15, 2008 at 12:57 pm

    I am shocked! Shocked! I hate to lord my I-know-more-about-your-boy-friend-you-do info around, but in Mark Bittman’s ‘How to Cook Everything Vegetarian,’ he does *not* recommend an overnight soak — he does a 2 minute boil, a 1 hour soak, then cooks them until done.

  4. 4 cleanerplateclub October 15, 2008 at 1:20 pm

    Kristin, I must confess: your intimacy with my beau wounds me. It wounds me deeply.

    What can I say? My boyfriend, he is all rugged and ambitious like that – the jaunty two minute boil, the confident way his fingers adjust the flame of the stovetop, the swagger of his one hour soak.

    Still, I’m pretty sure he appreciates the way I throw beans in a pot, walk away, then mouth-breathe on the sofa while the kids wreck the house. It’s the little differences like these that keep our relationship spicy.

  5. 5 Robin October 15, 2008 at 1:29 pm

    I love that dog! Of course, the kids are adorable too. Yes, beans..and lentils and split peas are all ways to make great frugal soups and side dishes. To save even MORE money, you can buy them in bulk from the co-op (in real bulk, not the bins in the isle) and make these types for things for pennies! Just ask Greg.

    Real life example…not beans but buying in bulk, a box of 2000 unbleached compostable parchment papers ended up costing me 1 cent per cookie sheet as opposed to 40 cents from the grocery store and I don’t have to shop for parchment paper for at least 10 years!

  6. 6 nyjlm October 16, 2008 at 3:50 am

    I have had awful results w/dried beans in the past. No matter how I soaked and boiled they were mealy and icky. Then a friend wrote about her bean method, and I’ve been using it successfully.
    http://nyjlm.blogspot.com/2008/09/cool-beans.html

  7. 7 Vikki October 17, 2008 at 1:56 pm

    We make black beans all the time and we never soak them. We just cook them slowly for a couple hours and it works just fine. We use the recipe for black beans that is in the Joy of Cooking.

    We have a pressure cooker and it scares me. I’m always afraid it will explode. It does happen…it happened to a friend and she spent an entire weekend cleaning beans off her kitchen ceiling.

  8. 8 Mrs. Gregorton October 17, 2008 at 10:34 pm

    I’ve been flirting with this dried bean idea and the whole “poisoning my family with BPA” argument just put me solidly in your camp. But, most of my favorite recipes don’t have a real measurement for beans, the just tell you how many cans to put in. Is 14 oz of dried beans roughly equivalent to the canned type? Thank you!

  9. 9 Hiker October 17, 2008 at 10:50 pm

    Do you know anything about making hummus from dried beans? I’d like to buy my chick peas in bulk, but I don’t know what to do with them to get them ready for hummus making.

    P.S. If you’re out hiking in the woods this time of year you might want to dress you family in some blaze orange because its hunting season.

  10. 10 A October 19, 2008 at 2:02 pm

    I am a huge fan of French Indigo Lentils and Red lentils, as they do not need to be soaked, just boiled for 10-15 minutes and they always come out perfectly. They’re smaller than other beans which is why they need less time, but they are just about instant, and even if they are a few pennies more per pound I feel like I am saving both time and stove fuel. My gas bills are too high to cook anything for a few hours.

  11. 11 lisa October 19, 2008 at 4:43 pm

    I recently discovered your site and I love your writing style and what you have to say. Thanks for putting yourself out there!

    I’m coming out of lurkdom to sing the praises of pressure cookers! The new ones are totally safe and easy to use. They even have electric ones that will take all the guess work out of timing and temperature and such and will allow you set it and walk away. Though really, you won’t need to walk away for very long. And the shorter cooking time is quite frugal!

    Here’s a great website with lots of basic info about pressure cookers
    http://missvickie.com

    And I recommend any cookbook by Lorna Sass. “Great Vegetarian Cooking Under Pressure” is particularly great for beans and such.

    lisa

  12. 12 Kirsten October 20, 2008 at 1:12 am

    Hi Ali,

    Yum, black bean soup! I just came across an article I thought you would really like to read, so enjoy:

    http://www.motherearthnews.com/Sustainable-Farming/Joel-Salatin-Interview.aspx

  13. 13 nono October 21, 2008 at 3:59 pm

    You know I have no choice but to comment when you post a picture of Buddy. He’s lookin’ good Ali, I think he’s settled right in and is happy to be right where he is.

    Give him a scratch behind the ears for me….
    :)

  14. 14 Rhia December 30, 2008 at 4:19 pm

    I just wanted to let you know that this soup is amazing – made it for the second time last week and didn’t have any tomatillos, so I threw in about a cup of chopped rhubarb from the freezer – it changed the character, you get a sourer soup – and it was amazing too! Yum! A new staple at our house.


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