As anyone who has read this blog for very long can tell you, Jack and I are stuck in the "pay off debt" leg of our journey towards having our own piece of land, and are putting all of our resources and time into that rather than develop the property where we currently are. The moment we think we'll be HERE for the longer haul, we'll begin customizing it with garden, raised beds, greenhouse, etc. But at present it's a question of prioritizing our resources and time. And the wait, which we thought would be maybe a year or two, has been a process now of four years and counting.
We did dabble in growing some easy things the past few years. Last year we tested cowpeas (pink eye purple hulls, to be exact) and found they grew really well on nearly-hot stable manure spread over hardpan, despite even the resulting bermuda invasion. So did okra. And some other plants and shrubs that overwinter here by returning by resprouting from the roots in early spring.
Like most homesteading-minded folks, we are hooked on all the offerings we see offered in seed catalogs, and we're also interested in plants less-used here stateside but widely used elsewhere in cultures that still maintain strong traditional food uses...many of those plants grow well here and it's our fun in trying to discover the plants, how they can be used, their benefits.
When it boils right down to it, we start our "future plants" plan, the plan for our long-term life on our as yet nonexistent rural property, with foods that will feed us and release us from dependence on the grocery store. And in kitchen-testing over the past few years (and trying to boil things down to what we need most nutritionally) it comes right down to....Greens and Beans.
We never were getting enough dark greens in our daily meals. NOW we are because of the daily green smoothies made with spinach or kale and berries and fruit. Sound awful? Maybe, but fresh spinach in a blender adding enough 100% fruit juice (we use cranberry/grape, the sort with no sugar or HFCS)to blend, a banana or two and the rest of the blender full of frozen blueberries...is simply a fruit smoothie with "hidden greens"...you truly never know they're there. Anyway, we're grown ups and do eat the greens in their natural form, too...stir fried, in soups, etc etc.
But beans were a switch for me. Last year I started trying to use them more, and I can say I've gotten pretty comfortable using them regularly now. I truly LOVE black (turtle) beans and also red beans. The sauce that comes of slow cooking these is delicious, and they feel like a "meat" anytime added to a meal...really stick to your ribs and give steady energy rather than a quick surge.
Recently, we purchased a 50 lb. bag of pinto beans at Sam's club. I just haven't found a bulk supplier of beans locally for the black beans or the red beans. We don't have a pressure cooker, or I might be spending a lot of my at-home time canning up batches of the pintos. They are easy to fit into nearly any meal, to round it out, and when using beans in a family that is meat-eating, using the beans decreases how much meat I feel we need per portion on the plate when serving...so I can really stretch it further.
I cook the meat for our week's meals generally on Sunday of each week, and after it cools I portion it off for use in the different dishes I make throughout the week. I also save the pan juices, chicken and beef, for use in those dishes. It's my nod to fast food. That way the meals are different most days, but the meat is pre-cooked and the broth is homemade without any trouble at all...just pour some into the different dishes, when making, for flavor and with no preservatives.
Last year I had no clue how to flavor beans without relying on spice mixes or experimentation. Today, here's our favorite (easy!) black bean standby...all spices listed are adjusted to preference and taste:
Cooked black beans (can be from cans if necessary)
Sauteed finely-chopped onion
Cooking broth (from chicken or beef roasted)
Cilantro (fresh or dried)
Sea salt to taste (don't oversalt to start with)
Dashes of Frank's Red Hot sauce
Whole mustard seeds, to taste (I used black and yellow)
Dash black pepper
(Optional to add: minced fresh jalapeno or a whole serrano pepper to be removed after cooking)
For it to be soup, add fresh tomatoes (I use the cherry tomatoes if storebought) liquidified in the blender and then poured in. Add additional chicken or beef cooking broth till your preferred consistency. Adjust spices to taste (especially cilantro and garlic)...yum :)
We eat this a LOT...it's excellent with some cubes of roast beef added in or roasted chicken cubed and added right before serving (I don't like stringy over-cooked chicken)
I've also been experimenting with Indian (as in the country India) spice mixes and they pair excellently with beans, especially black beans or lentils when using dal mixes.
Well, I'm off to finish up my day. Tonight's another "fast food"...beans I made yesterday will tonight be turned into chili for my man :)
Have a great day :)