Friday, November 12, 2010

Simple, Cheap Bean Dinner

Howdy friends,

Here is a recipe for a cheap and easy dinner.  It's an all-day crockpot cooker, and the beans need to be soaked overnight (unless you opt to use canned beans, but then the overall cost goes up by quite a bit!).

Since the grocery store workers in the Pacific Northwest are planning to go on strike, us city folk may need some dinners that take dry-good staples that we can have on hand for a long time!

Common bean question answered: Doesn't salting the cooking water make the beans tougher?  No; Cook's Illustrated ran a test and found that salting the cooking water not only didn't make the beans tough, but made them tastier and less prone to burst during cooking.

Hearty Bean Soup Primer

1.  The night before: measure the beans out and soak overnight in the crockpot (don't plug it in).  Use plenty of water.
Or, the morning of: (this method makes a better cooked bean) mix the beans, seasonings (see below) and salt with water to cover by an inch or two in a stockpot.  Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, reduce heat to medium, and simmer until beans are soft, about 2 hours.
How much?  As a rule of thumb, I estimate about 1/4 to 1/3 c beans per person (depending on how much your people eat).  Mix the bean types - navy, black, pinto, etc.

2. If you soaked the beans overnight, then in the morning: rinse the beans in the crockpot.  Cover with clean water.

3. (If you boiled the beans in the morning, move them and their seasoned cooking water to the crockpot now.)  For both methods, now add to the crockpot vegetables: chopped onion, chopped pepper, chopped celery, chopped carrot. Other vegetables: If you want to add potatoes, green beans, peas, or softer vegetables like those, add them nearer to the end so they don't dissolve!
How much? Use as much or as little as you want to beef up the soup.  Frozen is fine.  I had some frozen, chopped vegetables in boil-proof foodsaver bags, so I boiled these to soften and then added to the mix.  If you are going to be home during the day and able to give the pot an occasional stir, you don't need to soften the frozen vegetables at all.

4. Unless you opted to boil the beans with the spices in the morning, then now add spices: salt, bay leaves, crushed garlic cloves, black pepper (lots and lots of pepper for a spicy, savory dish!), Italian seasoning, sage leaves, and anything else you want to put it. How much?  In all honesty, just few different herbs and a lot of black pepper make a very savory stew.  If you aren't sure how much to add, aim to under-season and then add more to taste towards the end of cooking.  

5. Add meat: since it's just the two of us, I added a small Cornish game hen.  You could add a medium-size chicken, chunks of stew meat, ham hocks, chunks of ham, etc.  If you want a vegan dish, leave the meat out and towards the end of cooking, you could add tofu, fried tofu, or just have the beans.   How much?  How ever much you want; a little fat will add some body and flavor to the soup.

6.  Let it simmer at low temp all day, 6 to 12 hours.  If you are adding softer vegetables or tofu, remember to do so soon enough that they heat through and cook before serving.

I hope you enjoy this tasty dinner as much as we did!

Mrs H
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