For the longest time (like, a year maybe?) there was a bag of red kidney beans sitting in our pantry. It was on one of the higher shelves that my 5 foot frame doesn’t reach easily. It sat alone, untouched, and acquired more than its fair share of pantry dust.
These kidney beans were originally bought with a purpose – to be eaten. Because we all know beans are good for you, right?
Except that I had NO CLUE how to prepare them nor how to serve them. None! I also had no idea how to convince my family that the “no bean” rule had been overturned.
The beans made their way out of the pantry last August during an impromptu pantry challenge (where you diligently and purposefully eat from the pantry instead of shopping at the store). We were running low on peanut butter and jelly – both staples in our house (keeping in mind these were the days before I knew the dangers of high-fructose corn syrup and started making strawberry apple butter in the crock pot).
While searching for dinner ideas based on what we had in the kitchen, “bean burritos” showed up a few times, seemingly popular among other mommy bloggers. Following their lead, I pulled out the stepstool, climbed up and pulled the beans down from the shelf. They were thrown into the crock pot, covered with chicken stock and the heat was set to medium. (Medium seemed “safe” for the first attempt at beans.)
They bubbled happily in the slow cooker for several hours and shortly before lunch, the immersion blender turned the pot into the smoothest bean puree my eyes had ever seen.
Lunch was assembled and served in less than a minute. I was beaming with pride for trying something new, the elusive and tricky BEAN no less! The kids however, gave both the beans AND me the stink eye.
Problem: A heaping smear of brown mash in a tortilla is not necessarily the best way to introduce beans to your children.
Beans come with a stigma. They have a distinct texture and taste, and many people are turned off by beans simply because they didn’t like them in one particular dish they ate when they were a kid. Even the word “beans” is kinda weird. Go ahead and say it a few times quietly to yourself and you’ll see how some can use it as a dirty word.
Negative connotation and all smack talk aside, beans are a nutritional powerhouse. In order to turn a bean-hater into a bean-lover, they must first understand the incredible benefits beans have to offer.
Katie’s list on her beans food-for-thought post is definitely worth reviewing and discussing with anyone not fully on board the bean train. Protein, fiber and iron are only the tip of the iceberg. Improved digestion, lower cholesterol and reduced risk of cancer are just the highlights of the health benefits. The fact that they cost mere pennies per pound makes them incredibly frugal as well. What’s not to love?!
Your mission, should you choose to accept, is to eat beans. Make them for the first time, eat them once a week, learn to soak and cook dry beans or find a new recipe. You decide where you fall, but make it your goal this week to have beans on the brain.
Making Beans for the First Time
Persuading the anti-bean crowd to try them for the first time is not an easy feat. In fact, it’s worthy of a gold medal in the war of “getting your family to eat healthy.”
The key to getting everyone at the table to pick up their spoon and take a bite of beans – willingly – is to prepare them so that they taste good. For someone new to the world of beans, it sounds easier than it really is. There are TONS of recipes out there and we have to filter through them to find one that suits our family’s own unique taste preferences. However, there’s one common factor that seems to fit all brand-spankin’-new bean eaters: do not serve them by themselves.
Those who don’t favor ground beef can add white beans when shredding chicken for tacos or rice dishes, or create chicken chili by subbing chicken for beef, white beans for colored and chili verde (green salsa) for tomato sauce if the recipe calls for it. Or even pureed white beans as a cheesy white sauce for pasta, adds Katie.
The method my family chose for the “first time,” and the method I’d recommend for any first-timer, is minestrone soup. It has tons of vegetables that everyone likes, so adding one type of bean has little chance of ruining the entire dish. Plus if there are turned up noses, the beans can easily be picked out and set aside.
Eating Beans Every Week
Making a few changes to the staple meals we prepare (you know, the ones that are requested over and over) makes it relatively easy to include beans every week. Beef tacos last week, chicken enchiladas this week, minestrone next week, chicken rice bowls the week after that… rinse and repeat (or throw some new recipes in there too ).
The Crumbs house eats beans every week by declaring every Thursday “soup” night. One batch is enough to feed the four of us dinner, plus another two big bowls for leftovers. So far we’ve been alternating between hearty minestrone and tortilla soup, but Katie’s Tuscan bean soup has caught my eye. A recent batch of tomato basil won us over, so I’d love to hear if anyone has suggestions of incorporating beans in that recipe too!
Soaking and Cooking Dry Beans
It should go without saying that if you’ve never cooked dinner with beans before, you get a free pass to use the canned variety. Sure there are pros and cons as to which is better, and you can work your way up to the whole shebang when you’re comfortable, but take the easy route for now. Gathering courage to serve beans at dinner is a step on its own.
For the rest who have been eating beans regularly but haven’t stepped outside the comfort of the can, it’s time pull up our britches and play with the big pots.
There are a few different methods of soaking beans. Katie covers the normal, Nourishing Traditions and quick soak methods here, as well as the normal and Nourishing cooking methods. I’ve devised my own soaking and cooking method, a combination of those three that works best for my family.
- The day prior to the meal, soak the beans in fresh water for 4-8 hours (depending on when you remember to start!).
- After dinner, check the water level of the beans and add more if needed. Bring the beans to a boil for one minute. Cover with a lid and turn off the burner. Let the beans sit overnight.
- The morning of the meal, taste one bean for doneness. Based on this, determine where the beans fall in a 4-8 hour cooking range. Simmer for as long as previously determined (approximately) until the beans are the desired doneness.
I’ve found that this method allows for maximum soaking with minimal time hovering over a hot stove. Time in the kitchen can be reduced even more by soaking and cooking in a slow-cooker. Just be sure to check for doneness every hour or so once you reach the four hour mark. Beans can always cook more, but they’re nothing but mashed if they’re overdone.
Trying a New Bean Recipe
I’ve already mentioned that tried-and-true bean recipes are hard to come by. Trying a random bean recipe is not something I’m willing to do just yet. The recipe needs to be GOOD, and preferably from a source that I trust.
Lo and behold, Katie has a gold mine hidden in her archives. Did you know she has a page of over 70 bean recipes, all contributed by real food bloggers and real food eaters? Eat your heart out bean lovers!
On our menu later this month is the chicken pot pie from Better Than a Box. In order to up our bean intake for the week (and try a new recipe), we’re subbing a white bean sauce for the “cream of” soup.
Don’t be afraid to step outside the box of normal recipes. There’s always a way to get beans into a meal!
Potential Cost Savings
Let’s indulge the inner math nerd in me for just a moment. 😉
When we compare the cost of beans per pound to the cost of meat per pound, the savings are enormous. Canned beans run a bit high out here on the West coast, around $1 or so each. If we use one can in place of half a pound of meat (organic ground beef runs $5.99/lb) you could save up to $2 on one meal alone.
It doesn’t sound like much, but over the course of one year we’d save $104!
Let’s take it just one step further and use the dry bean method. One dry pound costs an average of $1.25 out here and typically yields the equivalent of 3-5 cans. Our savings could increase up to $2.75 each week, or potentially $143 for one year! And that’s only incorporating beans at one meal each week!
Random Tips for Beans
We’re not bean aficionados just yet, but I’ve learned a few tricks that have helped us along the way.
- When soaking and cooking dry beans, always cook to al dente. Set aside what you plan to use that night, and then freeze the rest. This way you have the leeway of adding beans to a dish early next time without them turning to mush.
- Silicone baking cups (like those used for cupcakes) are fantastic for freezing beans. Place the cups in a muffin tin, fill each cup with approximately ¼ cup of whole (or mashed) beans and freeze the entire pan. Pull the pan out a few hours later and the frozen beans will pop right out of the cups. Store the bean pods in a freezer bag and put away the muffin tin that didn’t get dirty!
- Combine random portions of leftover beans, mash them up and season with taco seasonings. Once mashed and seasoned, no one will noticed the different varieties. Remember those kidney beans I attempted to serve the kids? I ended up pureeing them with an immersion blender, seasoned liberally and served them as a Mexican side dish for company. Our guests finished the whole batch without noticing they weren’t pinto!
How will you use beans this week?
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