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It is still hot and dry here in Wyoming. Even so, I find myself thinking to the cooler days of autumn. One reason I love autumn is the change of foods. Soups, stews, and big pots of beans are oh, so welcome during the cooler months.
But what about those days when it’s still blistering hot and those economical beans are calling? A kettle simmering on the stove all afternoon just adds to the heat.
The idea of a big pot of beans loses some of its appeal, for sure!
But my budget loves beans. Beans and legumes purchased dry and in bulk are seriously inexpensive. Soaking the dry beans, to improve digestibility, really ups the nutrition value making them a nutrient dense food.
What’s a girl to do? Find alternatives to heating up the house!
The easiest, and my favorite, alternative to stove-top cooking is an electric option. For years and years, this was my crockpot. While I still use my crockpot on occasion, I love the speed of an electric pressure cooker (I heart my Instant Pot).
My friend Wardee at Traditional Cooking School has a great post on cooking dry beans and two cooking classes, as part of a TCS membership, on using pressure cookers (here’s a link for a free cornbread recipe you can make in your pressure cooker too).
When conditions are right, I may also use my Sun Oven. The Sun Oven is amazing! And as much as I love it, I admit I don’t use it often enough. While we have plenty of sun, and it heats up wonderfully, the wind can sometimes be an issue. And let me tell you, we have some wind in Wyoming. Boy, howdy!
But seriously, using the Sun Oven works great and makes those inexpensive beans even more economical by not adding the additional cost of electricity. A one-time investment of the Sun Oven and you are good to go.
Another cheap cooking method is a haybox cooker, or some variation thereof. This is something like a non-electric crockpot. The idea here is to heat a dish to boiling and then nestle in an insulated box. You could buy a Wonderbag, make your own haybox cooker, or do what I do… use a old cooler and some towels. Works great! You do still need to use your stovetop to start the process but the cooking time is limited.
Here’s how: Heat your dish (beans, water, pot that will fit in your non-electric cooking contraption) to boiling. Let it boil for 10 minutes to give it a good start. Then move to your haybox cooker. Depending on the variety of bean, it can take anywhere from 8 to 12 hours for the beans to soften.
If you choose the old cooler and towel method, you may wish to add a couple of jars of hot, almost boiling, water. My cooler isn’t as efficient as it once was so the jars of hot water help with holding in the heat.
Skip the Cooking
Oh yes, you can!
Instead of cooking the beans, skip it all together. Now I’m not suggesting gnawing on those dry beans and breaking a tooth, a visit to the dentist would definitely negate the cost savings of having beans and legumes in your diet!
While this does work for almost any variety of beans, I especially love sprouting lentils and garbanzo beans. Learn how to sprout beans here. Sprouting does take a few days so plan ahead.
What do you do with these lovely sprouted beans?
So, so much!
Lentils that have sprouted at least two days (just a small tail) are perfect for tacos. Once they’ve sprouted a few days and have a longer tail, they are excellent as the main component of a salad or made into sprouted lentil burgers. So good! My mouth is almost watering thinking of those delicious burgers.
Sprouted and lightly steamed garbanzo beans also make a wonderful patty (I like this recipe subbing sprouted and steamed beans for the cooked) and lightly mashed garbanzos are super as filling in tacos. And, of course, I’d be remiss to not mention hummus. Again, sub the sprouted, steamed beans for cooked. I may be guilty of skipping the chips and eating this with a spoon!
Sprouted pinto or black beans also make a wonderful, hummus-like dip. Blend the sprouted, and lightly steamed beans, along with a little garlic, salt, olive oil, and paprika (I love the smoky kind) in your food processor or blender until smooth. Adjust the flavors to taste.
Any sprouted bean makes a nice addition to a salad. We do a lot of main dish salads in the summer. Adding sprouted beans to the salad gives it an amazing punch and extra nutrition.
For green salads, we set out all topping options and let each person create their own salad. Our table will have a big bowl of mixed greens, bowl of cooked or sprouted beans, a bowl of precooked meat (often leftover from another meal), shredded cheese (sometimes more than one variety), and a large cutting board decorated with assorted sliced veggies (whatever needs to be used up, I cut it right on the board and then move it aside and cut a new veggie) along with nuts or seeds to add a little crunch. We’ll top it with a favorite homemade dressing.
Sometimes we’ll make a grain-based salad. These are mixed up in advance so the flavors have a chance to meld. These are especially spectacular to make ahead on a quiet afternoon and enjoy during the busyness of the week. A base like spelt, quinoa, barley, rice, or pasta (yeah, not a grain but still can be useful) with the addition of beans and/or meat, your favorite toppings, and a dressing makes for a hearty, satisfying meal. Even my meat-loving son enjoys these salads.
Need a few more ideas on how to use sprouted beans? Visit this link.
Method vs Recipe
Not sure how to put a grain based salad together? Check out this article from TCS. Like Wardee’s example in the article, I’m a huge fan of methods as opposed to always using a recipe.
Learning the basics of putting a dish together can really stretch your food dollars. I’m such a fan of methods I’ve written a book featuring some of my favorite tried-and-true methods for creating wholesome, real food meals.
Learn more about Design A Dish here.
The above cooking and sprouting methods work well for just about every bean or legume. Except kidney beans.
I don’t sprout kidney beans. I don’t cook them in my slow cooker either. Kidney beans have a naturally occurring toxin which needs to be cooked out of them. I do cook them in my Instant Pot or in my haycooker (after boiling for at least ten minutes). You may choose to do something different based on your research, this is my preference for kidney beans.