Beans are an easy addition to soups, chili, salads, and all kinds of things. They’re super nutritious and a great meat substitute in some recipes. Paired with a grain (think rice and beans), they are a complete protein, a vegetarian staple. Beans are also very inexpensive, making them one of the most frugal foods you can find. So why cook dry beans when you can buy them in a can ready to go? Well, when you buy the beans in the dry form, they are really, really inexpensive. A one pound package of most dry beans will yield 6 cups of cooked beans. One 15 oz. can of beans includes the liquid so roughly contains 1 ½ cups of beans. So, by my estimation 1 package of dry beans equals 4 cans of beans. In my area, 1 pound of dry beans is about the same price as 1 15 oz. can of beans. So, when I make the beans from scratch, I save about $3.00 per pound. Aside from the monetary savings, I now control the ingredients. Some canned beans contain added salt or preservatives. Some of the can liners can contain chemicals like bpa. Making beans is also super easy when you use your crock pot!
You do need to plan ahead just a little bit in order for this to work well, but like most frugal cooking, it’s all about making it a habit. So, to get started, you need a bag of dry beans (I dream of the day when I harvest my own beans for drying and cooking!). I do this with kidney, black, cannellini, or pinto. I’ve also used this method to make garbanzo (chick peas) used in great hummus recipes. My tummy for some reason does not agree with garbanzos, despite the fact that I love hummus, so I make these the least often. Just about any bean will work in this method. You can use a 1 pound bag to start with, to get the hang of it or if you want to maximize your time, make at least 2 pounds. Once the beans are done, you can freeze them in portion size containers (the size of a can of beans that many recipes call for). I have made up to 4 lbs in the crock pot at one time in the largest size crock pot.
I start this process at night so the beans can soak overnight. Then they cook the whole next day. You don’t have to do it this way if your schedule works better another way, but you get the idea – long soaking period, long cooking period and neither needs to be exact. So, you’ve got your beans, whatever size you decided on. Put the dry beans in your crock pot and pour some water over them. Swirl around, then pour the water out. You can do this with a colander, but I usually just put the lid on and tip it so that there’s enough space for the water to come out, while still holding all the beans inside the pot. Ok, so the beans are now rinsed. Next, fill the pot with water. You don’t need to measure here because in the morning you’re going to dump the water out. The important thing is to cover all the beans completely with about 3 inches on top of that. The beans will expand and you want them completely covered the whole time. Put the cover on the crock pot and leave them overnight. In the morning, pour all the water off. Do not be tempted to re-use this water for cooking – I’m not sure why, but the beans just won’t cook well.
At this point, you’ve got your drained, soaked beans in the crock pot. Add some fresh water, just enough to cover the beans (about ½ inch above the beans). You can add more water, but then you’ll just have extra bean liquid. Turn the crock pot on low and let the beans cook for the whole day. The beans are now ready to use in a recipe or you can package them up and put them in the freezer (let them cool first).
Don’t be tempted to try to cook the soaked beans in a soup or chili. I’ve tried this and they come out hard and uncooked (big disappointment when you think you’ve got dinner covered only to find out you need to scramble to come up with something new). Cook them in the water in the method above, then add to your chili or soup that you want to cook in the crock pot for the day. In a pinch, you can add frozen beans to a soup or chili, straight out of the freezer. Once they defrost, just stir them in with the other ingredients. I usually prefer to defrost frozen beans before adding to anything else. To do this, just put them in the fridge the night before you want to use them and they should be ready to cook with the following evening. They’ll keep in the fridge for a few days if your plans change and you can’t use them right away. I’d have to say that my favorite way to use beans is in Chili. Piled with cheddar cheese, freshly chopped onion, and some tortilla chips – YUM! Getting hungry just thinking about it!!
PS. That cute little Stainless steel measuring cup in the picture was a gift from my hubby last Christmas. I was searching for new measuring cups after fighting with a plastic, slide type for the last 15 years. It kept breaking a little bit more each year, until I finally had enough. I asked Santa for a nice set of stainless measuring cups and while I was looking at the different ones available, I saw this adorable little 2 cup measure. My mom had a 2 cup measure when I was a kid and I remember just loving to use that thing. Sounds silly, but it’s super useful. We use it all the time now for portioning all kinds of things for the freezer along with melting butter for popcorn. We don’t own/use a microwave so using this little cup for warming butter on the stove works great. It’s one of those things that I would not have splurged on for myself, but I’m so glad my hubby knew better because I absolutely love it!