Wednesday, January 2, 2013
Cheap Eats in the New Year - the Legume Edition
Spend less, eat lighter.
Okay, maybe the salt pork isn't so light, but...
Is there anyone who isn't starting the New Year either wanting to save more money, or live a healthier lifestyle, or both? Tough resolutions to keep sometimes, but one thing can help: spending less money and making better choices at the grocery store. One way to do this, and (generally) eat healthier, is to substitute beans for some of the more expensive and fatty meats in your weekly meal rotation.
Many people claim to dislike beans. But have they ever had a plate of wonderful drunken pinto beans cooked with beer and poblanos, topped with crumbled Mexican cotija cheese? How about Greek Fasolia Gigantes Plaki, those huge beans baked with carrots in a fresh herby tomato sauce? I didn't think so.
Canned beans have made cooking preparations so easy, there is almost no excuse for adding more beans (and fiber and protein) to your diet. However, canned beans can be a bit expensive to use on a regular basis, so you'll want to experiment with some of the cheaper dried beans. Most dried beans require soaking to re-constitute before cooking (lentils and split peas do not) and there are a couple of ways of accomplishing this.
The quick soak method will have you ready to cook beans in about an hour and a half. Simply put beans in a pan and cover with water. Bring to a rolling boil and boil for ten minutes, then remove from the heat and allow to soak for one hour. However... I seem to have the best results from the traditional overnight soaking. And really, it's so easy, all you have to do is plan ahead a little. Get the beans ready the night before, soak overnight on the counter with water to cover, then drain and rinse the next day and you're ready. The "drain and rinse" part is important. Don't cook the beans in their soaking water, otherwise you will toot. Part of the purpose of soaking beans is to release indigestible sugars and to simply clean them; they can't be washed before packaging because they can mold. So, you don't really want to eat beans cooked in dirty water that will make you fart, do you?
After your beans have been properly soaked, they will cook, covered, for an hour or two, cooked in fresh water to cover. Beans take well to all sorts of seasonings, especially herbs, but don't add salt to the cooking water because it will make the beans tough. Always season with salt after the beans are completely cooked.
However, if you're using delicious salt pork, you have little choice, and it doesn't really affect the texture of beans, while adding lots and lots of flavor. In the photo above, I cooked black-eyed peas, a traditional southern New Year's good luck meal, with salt pork, and the results were absolutely delicious - and easy.
In a large Dutch oven, saute together 6 ounces chopped salt pork until browned and some of the fat is rendered. Add 1 large chopped onion, and saute until transparent. Stir in 1 teaspoon ground cumin and 1 teaspoons chili powder, then add 8 ounces of soaked black-eyed peas (or any other similar bean). Cover with water, bring to boiling then turn heat to low. Cover and cook over low heat for at least 1-1/2 hours, for tender beans that are not mushy. Season with salt freshly ground black pepper, although you'll probably find that you do not need to add extra salt due to the salt pork.
Serve traditionally with cornbread and cooked greens. Makes 6 to 8 servings.