Anytime I decide to make something myself I’m faced with issues of cost of materials, energy, and time. How much am I really saving when I make something myself? Well, if done right, a whole lot actually!
I love beans. There are to me a magical food filled with protein and fiber. Low in fat and sugar they make a great protein source in many types of meals. You can mix them into salads, stir fries, casseroles, stews, and of course chili!
Canned beans are pretty easy and fairly cheap, but at around $.89 – $1.79 per a can (and only about 2 servings per can) it adds up quickly. Dried beans are significantly cheaper: Just $1.29 – $1.99 per pound (about 8-10 servings/pound). But are they really after time and energy and water? And isn’t it a pain to make? And can you ever get them to work out okay anyway? Well that was my thought process anyway. I have tried to cook dried beans twice now and the first time I under soaked and cooked them and it made me sick – more on that later – and the second time they came out just fine, until I tasted them. The water I had used wasn’t filtered so all the chlorine had concentrated in the beans – yuck!
Some Things to Know about Beans
I have decided to give beans another try, but this time I did my research first. And it turns out there is a lot to learn about these great little protein packets.
From past experiences I had learned that if you under cook them it will make you sick. But why? According to the University of Nebraska, it’s the uncooked starches that cause all that gas and stomach upset. So how do you prevent it and know that your beans are done? Well two things: Soaking starts the process of breaking down all that starch – so a long soaking time will help – and then cooking until fully cooked. You can tell when your beans are done if you can easily squish a bean between your finger and thumb.
Kidney beans have an especially high levels of a toxin called Phytohaemagglutnin, a mouth full I know. So pretty much eating raw Kidney beans will really mess you up, so just make sure to cook them.
There are some other reason why beans won’t cook all the way, and the most common reason for uncooked beans is pretty strange, tomatoes! Today I was going to tell you to cook your beans with a can of diced tomatoes in the pot to help flavor them until I read this. It turns out you really shouldn’t cook beans with any acidic or salty ingredients such as tomatoes, vinegar, lime juice, salt, etc. Strange. And good to know!
Buy good beans. When you buy dried beans and cook them yourself you are saving a lot of money. When you buy them from the local heath food store/co op out of the bulk food bins, you save even more. And more people who go to the co op buy dry beans, so there is a higher turn over, insuring fresh tasty beans. In my 2 cups of dried beans I had no stones and only 2 floaters. That is really good compared to the bag of black beans I had bought at the store. Walmart is not always cheaper than the organic foods store just so you know.
And one more thing. If you live in an area where your water is less than delicious, make sure to use purified water to soak and cook your beans in. Just think, while soaking, beans are taking in all that water and if it tastes like chlorine, your beans will taste like chlorine.
Slow Cookers vs Stove Top
There are a lot of articles on Slow Cookers vs Stove, and they all have really good points, but for us, for saving money, the slow cooker is the way to go and here is why:
No matter which way you cook your beans, they will be on the stove for 1-2 hours, sometimes longer depending on the type. According to First Energy Corps stats (pdf), each time you fire up your stove top, you are shelling out around $.31, each time you fire up the slow cooker, it’s only $.02/hour. Even if you have to cook your beans for 8 hours – that’s still less than half the cost of using the stove.
Now there are some issues on how to cook them in the slow cooker so they turn out as well as on the stove. After reading all I could though, it seems like the best way to go is to soak them over night, toss them into the pot, make sure there is at least 3 inches of water covering them, and then turn it on and cover it up. Some people suggest putting it on high for the first 30min to 1 hr and then putting it on low for the remaining 5-7 hours. My slow cooker’s “high” isn’t really all that high, so I’m just keeping it on high for the full 6 hours and seeing what happens.
How to Slow Cook Your Beans:
2 cups mixed dried beans – about 1 lb – I used chickpeas, black beans, red chili beans, and navy beans
1 T. oil
A lot of water
Put your beans in a large bowl and fill with fresh filtered water that covers the beans by 3 to 4 inches. Soak for 8-10 hours (over night)
After soaking, remove any beans that float. Pour the beans into a colander and rinse – remove any stones or other non bean things.
Add beans to the crock pot, add the oil (canola works well), toss, and then fill the crock with fresh filtered water that covers the beans by 3 to 4 inches, cover and turn on slow cooker.
Cook on high for 1 hour, turn to low and cook for 5-6 hours more until the beans are tender and fully cooked.
Then you can mix in any other ingredients to make a nice stew. Or cook them until slightly under cooked and freeze. I found this great article on Freezing foods like beans and pasta for later use here.
A Tasty Recipe for Beans
4 Bean Chili
4 Beans of your Choice – 1/2cup each type of dried beans ($1.99)
1 Can Diced Tomatoes ($.69)
4 cloves garlic – minced ($.20)
1/4 red onion chopped ($.30)
1 t. Better than Bullion Veg Stock in 1 cup hot water ($.05)
4 minced pickled jalapeño rings and 2 T pickling juice for extra spice($.16)
Bay Leaf ($.15)
2T. Chili Pepper ($.10)
Once your beans are fully cooked in the slow cooker, drain cooking water and rinse beans. Add all ingredients, stir, turn on high, cover, and cook for 45minutes.
This makes about 6-8 servings of chili and at just $3.76 for the whole pot, that is quite a good meal both for you and your budget! And the extra .12 in there is figuring in the 6 hours of slow cooking energy usage just so you know.
If you want a thicker chili, add a little tomato paste into the mix.
This goes really great with jasmine rice on the side. 1 cup jasmine rice ($.15) – two servings.
Eating up the Leftovers: Eat the rest of the chili throughout the week on potatoes, as a base for other stews, or with a little cheese sprinkled on top to change it up. Freezing for later works well too.
The cheapest way to cook your beans is to cook dry beans in the slow cooker.
Make sure you cook them all the way.
Don’t cook with acidic, salty, or sugary ingredients as they will prevent the bean skins from softening up.
Soak for at least 4 hours, 8 is best.
Soak in the frig – especially in the summer – so bacteria doesn’t grow.
Buy high quality bulk beans over old crappy bagged ones. They have a higher turn over at the local co op than the super market and tend to be of higher quality, possibly organic, and less expensive than their bagged counter parts.
Right now a lot of my costs of food in the recipe our estimates (except for the beans) because I’m working through what I have on hand. As I go grocery shopping and restock certain pantry items I will compile all my costs into a database to have on hand while I’m cooking and thus be able to give you more precise cost estimates per recipe. In the meantime I look up what I can online, rack my memory for what I paid for say the whole jar of jalapeños and then divide it by how many are approx in the jar. You get the idea.
I have a fun post planned for sometime between now and Sunday, so I will see you all soon!
Have a great week and happy cooking!