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.
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
Soak beans overnight. When you start them, they will look like this:
By the next morning, they will look like this:
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:
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.