Beans: Nutritious, Filling, and Budget-Friendly

Last time we talked about feeding your family on a tight budget. We are living in such uncertain times for a while (and I stress the temporary nature of these hard times). I gave you several general ideas last time, but let’s get specific today, and talk in some detail about dried beans.

Doesn’t sound very exciting, does it? In some food cultures, like the Caribbean (I lived there for a few years in the 1990s), rice and beans are a daily staple, and by altering the ingredients a bit every day, no one seems to mind (its where I learned to use pumpkin in beans and stews). I don’t think I would enjoy eating beans every day, but they are extremely nutritious (high in potassium, magnesium, folate, iron, and zinc, and are important sources of protein) and inexpensive.

Dried beans can be soaked in water overnight, that’s the most common way, but you can also find recipes for cooking them in a crock pot or Instapot. To use the old fashion way, just cover them in cool water, no salt, that will make them tough, and let them soak overnight. You can use canned beans if you like, they will cost you quite a bit more, but are easier, and only slightly overcooked, at least to my taste. Just wash off the goop first, there is a lot of sodium you want to get rid of.

What kind of beans should you use? My favorite are black beans, and cannellini. I love black beans and rice, a Cuban specialty. A very good friend of mine, Lyle Bonge, taught me the recipe by saying “use more ham and garlic than you think possible.” The recipe is pretty simple: cook black beans in chicken stock, add lots of diced ham, that has been browned in oil, and a fair amount of diced garlic that has been simmered in butter. Season with red pepper flakes, a little cumin, if you like and even a little Tony’s would be good. Cook until tender.

This is a recipe that goes very well with the garlic rice I have told you about before: melt 4-6 tablespoons of butter, add as much diced garlic as you like, when the butter is aromatic, remove the garlic (you do not want it to burn), then toast the rice in the butter. Steam the rice in the normal manner. You can also add shrimp.

Red beans and rice is a Creole Monday specialty. Why Monday, you might ask? Monday was wash day, and the beans could be put on the wood fired stove, and left to cook as the stove slowly cooled down. By noon they were done, and you could take a break from heating water in the big cast iron pot in the yard to wash the week’s dirty cloths and provide lunch to your family.

Red kidney beans were soaked over night, then cooked with diced onion, bell pepper, celery, garlic and andouille sausage (I prefer Conecuh). Start by sautéing the sausage, remove when brown, then add the vegetables, cook until tender. Add chicken stock, the beans and sausage and simmer until done. Top with steamed rice.

My favorite is white beans and sausage. You can use cannellini (my choice) or Great Northern or even Navy Peas.

  • 1 package beans, soaked over night and rinsed
  • 1 or 1 ½ cups sliced Conecuh sausage
  • 1 diced onion
  • 1 large diced bell pepper
  • 3-4 cloves of diced garlic
  • Enough chicken stock to cover (use homemade)
  • Red pepper flakes and Tony’s
  • Optional fresh rosemary and a cup of red wine
  • Olive oil

Saute the sausage until well browned, take your time and get it right. Remove and set aside. Add the onion and bell pepper, season well, add more oil if needed, and cook until starting to brown. Add the garlic and cook for 3 minutes more. Add the rosemary now if you are using it, and the wine. Add the chicken stock and beans, cook until almost done, then add the sausage. Remember to taste and re-season as necessary. Serve with thick slice of French bread, best if grilled over an open fire.

These recipes work well with almost any pea or bean, fresh, frozen, canned or dried.


Written by Julian Brunt

Julian Brunt is a food and travel writer that has been writing about the food culture of the Deep South for over a decade. He is the eleventh generation of his family to live in the South, grew up in Europe, traveled extensively for the first fifteen years after graduating from the University of Maryland, University College, Heidelberg, Germany. Today, he's a contributor for multiple publications, including Our Mississippi Home. He's also appeared on Gordon Ramsay's television show, "To Hell and Back in 24 Hours."


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