If you do one thing this weekend, soak and cook a big pot of beans. Beans are a great and cheap source of protein, and can usually be found pretty easily in bulk. Even if you have to buy them in plastic, they still provide a lot of meals and energy for that one plastic bag. You can use them in so many ways and they can become the basis for all kinds of meals: add to curries, soups, blend them into a creamy soup with sautéed celery/carrot/onion/garlic + herbs/spices and stock, eat them in a lunchtime bowl, puree them into a dip for veggies or a spread for wraps/sammies, eat them over toast, saute them with greens, turn them into veggie burgers…the options are endless!
We love all kinds of beans and legumes here, but our favorites are chickpeas for their versatility, giant corona beans for their large size and substantial texture, cannellini beans for their creaminess, and pintos + black beans for their flavor. Any kind of beans you have available are great! I try to find local varieties if they’re available for a lower footprint. Experiment with new to you types. Make cooking fun! Also amazing are red lentils, which don’t need any soaking and cook in about 15-20 minutes. They have been my savior for many a quick weeknight meal.
I have a giant container of local pintos I’m trying to work my way through, so this week that’s what I’m cooking. Cooking beans from scratch is so much more flavorful and delicious than canned beans if you have the time. I quite enjoy the ritual of soaking the beans, straining them, choosing the flavorings to add, and cooking them. It’s rewarding in some way. Canned beans are wonderful assets too for when you forget to soak or you just need something easy and quick.
To cook beans, I soak 2 cups of them in plenty of water in a big bowl for 24 hours. When they’re done soaking, I strain and rinse, then place them in a pot or a slow cooker with a chopped onion, smashed whole garlic cloves, and whole sprigs of fresh herbs. You can also add things like whole peppercorns, dried chiles or broiled fresh chiles, smoked paprika, olive oil, or whatever you want! I also add salt, about a 1/2 teaspoon for our tastes but you can omit or go more heavy handed. I don’t believe the whole thing about adding salt making the beans tough. I find that adding salt at the beginning seasons the beans all the way through. One thing to note though is NOT to add tomatoes or other acidic ingredients until after the beans are soft. The acid makes the beans not be able to cook properly and they will stay crunchy forever. Cook 45 minutes- 2 hours, it really depends on how old the beans are and what variety. Keep tasting for doneness and add more water as needed. I store cooked beans either straight in the pot or in mason jars (in both cases, still in their cooking liquid). If you eat the beans in an application like a grain salad etc where you will drain them first, try saving the cooking liquid- it makes a great flavorful base for soups. Chickpea cooking liquid is a perfect base for vegan mayo, meringue, and I use it instead of oil in hummus to thin it out. Cooked beans stored in their cooking liquid last 5-7 days in the fridge in my experience.
Here’s some flavoring ideas, although in my opinion the best way is to experiment and go by your intuition- you can’t go wrong.
white beans (cannelini, great northern type varieties): garlic- I slice a whole head crosswise to expose all the cloves and throw it in like that + a generous sprig of fresh sage or rosemary, drizzle of EVOO and a teaspoon of whole black peppercorns + 1 dried whole chile, like chile de arbol or a teaspoon of chile flakes. Here’s a whole meal plan I did devoted to turning a pot of white beans into a week of meals.
black beans: 3 smashed whole garlic cloves, 1 chopped onion, 1 dried chile of choice or canned chipotle pepper en adobo, and 1 big fresh sprig of oregano or epazote or 1 teaspoon dried mexican oregano. This black bean soup is amazing, too. We love black beans in tacos or bowls with sliced and baked or sautéed plantains + avo + a quick cabbage slaw, too.
chickpeas: I usually just cook chickpeas plain, as I like them to be a blank slate for hummus, curries etc. I especially love this soup with chickpeas, and my lemon garlic hummus pasta with broiled peppers is a great way to use them too. One of our favorite quick meals is this chickpea salad eaten either as a sammy or in tortillas or lettuce/collard wraps. Sometimes I like to do a curried version with chopped apple, golden raisins, curry powder, and carrot. This chickpea soup (caldo tlalpeño) is so tasty, too.
pinto beans: broil a whole jalapeño and a whole onion, halved, until charred in spots. add it to the beans along with a few whole cloves of smashed garlic and a big fresh sprig of oregano or epazote, and a teaspoon of cumin. Pintos are so good in burritos, tacos, enchiladas, blended into a soup.
With my pintos this weekend, I’ll first eat them probably my favorite way: just eaten in a bowl, straight from the pot, soupy and steamy with sliced fresh chile, chopped white onion, avocado, cilantro and radish.
Then with the leftovers, I’ll blend them into this creamy soup, spiked with smoky chiles and brightened with lime, a kind of sopa tarasca. Here’s the recipe:
4 Roma tomatoes
1 medium yellow onion, coarsely chopped
3 cloves garlic
1 large chipotle chile en adobo (more or less depending on your spice level) you can used dried, toasted + soaked anchos here too
1 tablespoon olive oil (optional)
2 cups cooked pinto beans
2 cups stock (make sure this is a strong and tasty stock as this can make or break the soup as it’s so few ingredients)
3/4 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
3/4 teaspoon of salt (but amount will depend on how salt your stock is)
1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper
toppings (pick as few or as many as you desire): avocado, quick pickled onions or radishes, cilantro, toasted pumpkin seeds, raw onion, hot sauce, lime wedges, crema (coco yogurt thinned with a little water + lime juice, zest, and salt) or cashew crema, baked or fried tortilla strips, chopped tomatoes, chopped jalapeños…..sky’s the limit. With blended soups like this toppings are everything!
broil the whole tomatoes under the over broiler or over an open flame or grill until charred on all sides- mine took about 8 minutes. Make sure you rotate to get it evenly broiled.
Place tomatoes in blender with the chopped onion, garlic, and chipotle chile. Blend till smooth.
Heat a pot with a tablespoon of olive oil in it (alternatively, heat without oil for an oil free soup) on high. Pour in the blender mix (careful because it splatters, give it a good stir, reduce heat to med high and cook for about 3-4 minutes. You can keep the lid partially covering it to minimize splatter.
Meanwhile, add the beans and stock to the blender (no need to wash in between). Blend till smooth and add to the pot along with oregano, salt, pepper. Bring to a boil and then reduce to medium low and let simmer 15 minutes.
Taste and add salt as needed.
Ladle into bowls and top with all your toppings and a heavy squeeze of lime. Extend gratitude, smell, taste and enjoy!