In many frugal circles when questioned how to reduce food costs, the top recommendation is to eat more beans. Beans are nutritious, inexpensive, tasty, filling and quite versatile. Beans really are one of the easier foods to cook as well and the store well for extended periods of time. You can cook them on the stovetop then finish off in the oven or slow cooker for many bean dishes or fully cook them by either desired method. There is a large number of bean varieties, each with their own texture and flavour so there is no need to get bored eating the same variety of beans. Today's Frugal Kitchens 101 focuses on beans and why they should be a staple in your frugal pantry.
- nutrition - Beans are very nutritious so on a cost per ounce you are getting a lot of nutrition for a very small amount of money. They are high in fiber and protein, low in fat and sodium, and contain no cholesterol. In short, beans are good for you!
- inexpensive - Commercially canned beans cost about 89¢ for a 14 oz (398 ml can). This measures out to just under 2 cups at a cost of 6¢ per ounce. Dry navy bean cost about $1.79 for a 900 g (1.98 lb) bag or about 90¢ per lb. One pound of dried beans (2 cups) gives a yield of 4 to 5 cups of cooked beans depending on the bean. At a 4 - 5 cup yield you get 32 - 40 oz of beans at 2¢ to 3¢ per ounce or roughly half the cost of commercially canned beans.
- convenience - Commercially canned beans are already cooked so need only to be heated for serving. While commercially canned beans are quite inexpensive they should be avoided for several reasons. The cans are lined with plastisol containing BPA, a problematic hormone mimicing chemical with negative implications for brain development. Cans have a high energy cost as far as manufacturing and are not recyclable in all communities so they end up in the landfill making them a pour choice of packaging for trying to be eco-friendly. Commercially canned beans are often high in sodium, may contain high fructose corn syrup (implicated in ADD/ADHD) and lacking in flavour. Dried beans can be home canned for the convenience without the problems of commercially canned beans. Cooked beans also freeze nicely so you can cook up a large batch then freeze in portions sizes for later use.
- versatility - Beans can be used as: a side dish, casserole featuring mainly beans, a meat substitute, dips, spreads, in soups and the list goes on. They can even be mashed and added to breads and muffins to increase the nutritional value. Whole beans can be added to meat based dishes (eg. chili) to maximize the protein content while reducing the amount of most costly meat. Cooked beans can be mashed then mixed in with meat as an extender for burgers and meatloafs or seasoned as used as a complete meat substitute (eg. veggie burgers). Cooked beans pair nicely with rice, another very frugal food choice. Here the beans are usually seasoned then served as a topping on the rice. Dried beans can also be sprouted for a rich source of Vitamin C. Bean sprouts are used in many Asian dishes but can also be added to breads and muffins to increase the nutritional value. Dried beans can also be planted in the garden where they will yield fresh eating as well as beans for drying.
- variety - There are many variety of beans ranging in size from quite small (eg. turtle, azuki, mung) to rather large (eg. lima beans). They come in a wide range of colours as well - reds, greens, blacks, whites, browns, yellows, mottled, speckled and two-tone colours. Some varieties may only be available in certain regions. For example, while I can get several bean varieties here I had not seen the small red bean used for red beans and rice until I went to an area where this dish is quite popular. There I found an abundance of the small red beans and yet no mung beans were to be found. Different beans have different flavours. Depending on the bean the flavour is mild, sweet, earthy, nutty, buttery, or slightly bitter.
- cooking - Ideally beans should be soaked overnight but if you forget there is a quick soak method by simply covering with water then bringing to a boil, remove from heat and let sit 1 hour. Drain then cover with fresh water and simmer until tender, 30 to 80 minutes depending on the bean. They can be can then be finished off in the oven or slow cooker if making a longer cooked. However, beans can also be cooked directly in the slow cooker after the soaking period making them even easier to cook but the cook time is about 12 hours on low. You could set them up to cook overnight in the slow cooker if desired or if you are an early riser put them on at 5 AM to be cooked in time for dinner. Beans that will be home canned do not need to be cooked first. Some are even omitting the soak period but I find I get better results using a quick soak for home canned beans. They actually cook in the jar during the canning process.
- storing beans - Surprisingly dried beans will keep well for 5 years or more. Some have reported 10 year old dried beans being a little tougher but still quite edible. Proper storage will not affect sprouting potential. That makes dried beans a frugal must have in your pantry. Once cooked beans can be kept in airtight contains for up to 3 days in the refrigerator so you could easily make beans for dinner Sunday night then use the leftovers in other dishes