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Learn to Cook, Learn to Save: Simple Beans

Here’s something you can really dig your spoon into: Learning to cook can really cut your costs, but not your nutrients. This “chili” time of year is actually just right for any warm, comforting bowl of soup or stew and many start with a healthy base of beans — good for you and your budget. So, let’s get to it and learn how to cook:

White Beans

Why Should I? Why not? Cooking beans at home is renowned as a simple way to save money and provide the base for many a healthy meal. It requires little effort and they’re easy to keep on hand in the fridge or freezer. And then you can quickly put together everything from basic beans and rice (seasoned differently in different cultures) to soups, salads, dips and spreads.What Do I Need?

1 lb dried white beans (cannellini, navy or great northern)

1 yellow onion, quartered

2 dried bay leaves

Salt & ground black pepper to taste

Okay, Let's Do This Thing

  1. Spread beans in a single layer on a large sheet tray; pick through to remove and discard any small stones or debris and then rinse well.
  2. Soak the beans using one of these two methods. Traditional soaking method: In a large bowl, cover beans by 3˝ with cold water, cover and set aside at room temperature for 8 hours or overnight. Quick soaking method: In a large pot, cover beans by 3˝ with cold water, cover and bring to a boil. Boil for 1 minute, remove pot from heat and set aside, covered, for 1 hour.
  3. Drain soaked beans and transfer to a large pot. Cover by 2˝ with cold water, add onion and bay leaves and bring to a boil; skim off and discard any foam on the surface. Reduce heat, cover and simmer, gently stirring occasionally, until beans are tender, 1 to 1½ hours. Drain beans (if desired), discard onions and bay leaves and season with salt and pepper.

That makes 7 cups of beans which serves about 10 at approximately 26¢ per serving. The full nutrition info is here. Tips & Tricks

  • You can use this same method for cooking any variety of dried beans, adjusting the seasoning as you wish and the cooking time as needed to allow for age and type of beans.
  • Soaking beans helps ensure even cooking. If you didn’t plan for soaking ahead, simply cook the beans an additional hour or so until fully tender.
  • For increased digestibility (ahem) cook beans with 6 fresh leaves (or 2 tsp dried) epazote herb or a piece or two of kombu seaweed (remove before serving).
  • Serve beans over salads, toss with pasta or vegetables or purée in a food processor with a bit of extra-virgin olive oil and lemon juice to make a spread for sandwiches or dip for crackers.
  • Store cooked, cooled beans (with or without their liquid) in an airtight container in the fridge for 3–4 days.
  • Freeze cooked, cooled beans in an airtight container, covered with cooking liquid (to avoid drying out), up to 2 months.
  • To quickly cool cooked beans, drain them well, spread out on a large sheet tray and toss gently every few minutes until room temperature.

Apply Your Skills Now that you know how to cook white beans, try this: White Bean and Kale Soup with Chicken Sausage. At your game party, instead of chili, serve this hearty soup and learn the budget power of using a little bit of flavorful sausage to create a lot of satisfying food. Let guests garnish their own bowls with sliced red onions, red pepper flakes or hot sauce, crumbled Feta cheese, fresh chopped parsley or basil and whole-grain croutons. Provide chunks of crusty whole wheat bread on the side. Has learning to cook helped bring your budget in check? Let us know how! And don't forget to turn to The Whole Deal value guide for more money-saving tips, simple recipes, weekly menu ideas, Sure Deals and coupons.