The Hedonist Hill O’Beans: Why and How to Cook Yourself a Big Ol’ Pot of Beans

| October 4, 2013 | 0 Comments

During the Whole Foods Food Stamp Challenge month, Mr. GH and I were able to eat very, very well on the maximum monthly SNAP allocation of $367/month, even while shopping exclusively at Whole Foods Market.  There is almost no chance we could’ve pulled this off without beans.

Many people see beans as really pedestrian fare, nothing luxurious about them.  Nothing could be farther from the truth.  First off, buying them in bulk and cooking up big batches in the crockpot was a super-inexpensive and super-delicious way to get protein into our diet without the expense of buying meat every day, which freed up budget dollars for other delicious things, like fresh fruit and cheese.  There is a huge range of flavors and textures in beans, from the workhorse garbanzo to the creamy cannellini.  And combined with fresh veggies, herbs, greens, pastas, grains, great spices and cheese, you can do some amazing things.  Most of our bean adventures were real culinary treats, like the one below, and these from the past month:

Tunisian Couscous
Gallo Pinto
Smoky Tomato Lentil Soup

Choosing the Beans You Like

We have a few staples in the house, including:

Black beans (for burritos, cold salads, gallo pinto, quesadillas….)
Garbanzo beans (for hummus and middle eastern style foods like the Tunisian Couscous)
Pinto/Pink/Cranberry Beans (for making into refried beans)
White Beans (for classy dishes like a tuscan white bean soup, or the soup below)
Lentils  (for dynamite soups like the Smoky Tomato Lentil Soup, Beet Burgers, and lots of other uses)

Lentils cook up in just 15 minutes, so we rarely spend time cooking up a big batch in advance, but for the rest, we turn to one of our favorite kitchen appliances, our trusty slow cooker. It lets us make up a huge batch, throw them into 2-cup containers, and stack them in the freezer for any culinary masterpiece we’re trying to whip up.

Cooking Up a Big Pot of Beans

I really feel a little silly posting a recipe for cooking beans, because it’s going to sound like I’m teaching you how to boil water — it’s that simple, almost.  Here’s the deal:

Making sure you’re not cooking rocks:  Beans sometimes come with little rocks or bits of debris in them.  Spend a little time sifting through them to make sure you’re not going to bite into a pebble in your burrito some night. Rinse them off.

Throw a pound or two into the crockpot:  You can make as much as you like, but a pound at a time seems to work for us, and it’s a LOT of meals and snacks.

Cover with water by an inch or two, and soak them overnight right in the crockpot, turned off.  There’s some debate over whether this is necessary or even if it helps, but we do it. There’s a great reason to do so if you suffer from flatulence when you eat beans: if you discard the soaking water and add fresh water for cooking in the morning, it’s said to help with that.

Back in the Pot
Back into the crockpot go the drained beans, and water to cover them by at least 2 inches.

Spice Them
We add a teaspoon of salt for each pound.  Depending on what you think you might make with your beans, consider tossing in some nice aromatics like:

  • a quartered onion
  • a couple of cloves of garlic
  • a bay leaf or two
  • a couple of stalks of celery
  • a carrot or two
  • a hot dried chili
  • spices like oregano, thyme, rosemary, parsley

Do NOT add anything acidic, like lemon juice or tomato, until your beans are fully cooked. It will make them tough, and they will not soften up well. Ick.

Turn it On
Flip the slow cooker to the 8-hour Low setting. Go have a life somewhere.

Check In
Stop in periodically after the fourth hour or so to check on them (optional): Some slow cookers are fast workers, and can turn your beans into mush in the same time MINE is barely making a dent in them.  So if you’re around, see if you can give them a stir on the hour, and bite into a bean to see how it’s doing.  If you’re making a batch of refried beans, this is entirely unnecessary, as mushy is good.

If you want to add more spices and more salt, add them in the last hour or so of cooking. We use about a teaspoon of salt per pound of beans.

Ummm, that’s it.   Dole out your beans into containers, stick a label or a piece of masking tape on them with what it is and when you made it, and pop what you’re not going to use tonight into the freezer.

But How LONG Do I Cook Them?

Why don’t I tell you how long to cook things?   It’s pointless.  Lots of factors control how fast your beans will cook, including

  • what KIND of bean (garbanzos take forever; small black beans just a few hours on low),
  • how hot your crockpot gets,
  • how long the beans were sitting on the shelf before you bought them,
  • your elevation, etc.

Your best option is to get a feel for how long things take. The first time you cook a kind of bean, check it after 4 hours on low.  Try one, cook a little longer if it’s too hard still.  When you get to where their texture is exactly the way you like it, make a mental note of whether it took 6 hours or 8 or 4, and that will help you somewhat with future batches.

Here’s a good recipe to get you started:

White Bean, Tomato, and Kale Soup

When we’ve removed the white beans from the crockpot after cooking, and tucked most into the freezer, we can put four cups back in and make this recipe, OR if we’re in a hurry, do it on the stovetop.

This makes a BIG batch, enough for dinner for two and plenty of leftovers for lunches.

4 cups cooked white beans (following the instructions above)
1/4 cup olive oil
1 onion, chopped
2 tbsp garlic, chopped
CARNIVORE OPTION: 1 cup cubed ham, cooked chorizo or cooked italian sausage
1/4 tsp chili flakes, or to taste
1 tsp smoked paprika, or to taste
3 cups vegetable stock, bean cooking broth, or water
1/4 cup white wine or sherry
a 28-oz can of roasted chopped tomatoes with its juices
1 lb kale, leaves only, chopped (buy the bags at the grocery store, it’s okay)
salt & pepper to taste

1.  Cook up your beans. Set aside 4 cups, and freeze the extra.

2a.  Quickie-doodle method:

In a largish stock-pot on the stove, saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil until the onions are translucent, about 4 minutes. Add all of the other ingredients except the kale, bring to a boil, then simmer for about 20 minutes. Add the kale, simmer another 10 minutes, salt and pepper to taste.

2b. Crockpot method: 

This won’t be quite as rich, but it lets you set it on autopilot:  Omit the olive oil (or just add a tablespoon or two for flavor). Add the onions, garlic, meat (if using), chili, paprika, stock, wine, and tomatoes to the beans in the crockpot. Cook on the highest setting until it comes to a simmer, then reduce it to low for an hour or so. Check to make sure you have enough liquid, and make sure the onions get nice and soft if you didn’t saute them.

Stir in the chopped kale and let it cook another 10 minutes. Add salt & pepper to taste…you may not need much salt if your broth & tomatoes were salted.

3. Either way, serve it up with some grated parmesan cheese on top if you like, a hunk of crusty garlic bread and a good glass of wine.

And enjoy life!




Category: Cooking, Food, Food Stamp Challenge Recipes, Money Saving, Recipes, Whole Foods Challenge

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