Thursday, August 19, 2010

Beans, Beans

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 simply a fruit smoothie with "hidden greens" 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 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'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 :)


Wendy said...

If you were to add some chirizo sausage to your beans and serve it over rice, you'd have cajun-style beans and rice ;). It's one of my favorite dishes - absolutely delish!

I'm experimenting with growing scarlet runner beans, which can be dried and then cooked like other dried beans. They're bigger than pintos and red beans (which I also love! And black beans, too), and reportedly have a "buttery" texture. I don't have enough experience to really talk about how good (or bad) they are, but they grow amazingly well in my climate, they're a climbing bean, and they have a beautiful scarlet-colored flower. So, even if the beans are awful, I'd grow them for the edible flowers ... and the aesthetics of the climbing plant.

fullfreezer said...

Mmm, I love beans. Even my boys like beans and rice- now if only I could get them to eat them not as 'disguised'.
We're fortunate to have an Amish bulk food store nearby where we can get all kinds of beans in quantity. My current favorites are Cranberry beans although I really love Anasazi beans as well.
We've also been experimenting with different grains as well. Quinoa has become a recent favorite. Every time we go to the bulk food store I try to get one new thing to try.

karl said...

our approach to growing has been try to grow what we like to eat. of that set a subset reveals of what can grow reasonably well here. then there is the stuff like tomatoes that are more difficult to grow but we love them with a passion that energizes our effort and pocketbook.

it pays off because we have over 180 quarts of tomatoes in the pantry plus a few more canner loads of sauce to come--God willing.

tabitha also cans soaked dried beans and chick peas. these canned beans are a staple around here, quick easy and healthy. we probably go through fifty pounds of chick peas and fifty of black and brown beans each year. beans and rice are a healthy and inexpensive way to feed our big eaters around here.

i think of you and jack each time i drive the van:)

Robbyn said...

Wendy, we'll try the scarlet runner beans someday, but keep hearing how they do better farther north than we are...but I so love the beautiful flowers and have seen people who've trellised them over interesting shapes to make living playhouses/tents/arbors, etc. So cool :)

Judy, the red ones and black ones...mmm. They make their own savory gravy. I'd love to try the cranberry ones and the anasazis...never have tried them yet. We've had quinoa twice as a rice you have a favorite way of cooking/serving it? We just boiled it like rice and steamed it toward the end till fluffy.

Karl, you guys totally rock feeding your family quality food from your own homestead. We're with you on the tomatoes...we love them so much they will figure in to our garden plans first when we have a garden, even if they need some extra attention. We hope to regularly can beans when we get a pressure canner...never have thought about the chickpeas. I need to find a good bulk source around here. We think of you guys so often in so many ways, most especially when we think of happy kids and home designed around living well with family at the heart of it all.