A Catholic perspective on the world and all the good things therein, especially books and food. Literature cum chocolate is the order of the day at The Crockery.

Location: A Collegetown, Undisclosed Location, United States

No longer a graduate student, Teresa is now a professional know-it-all.

Sunday, January 28, 2007

Beans, Beans, Beans

I've been making a lot of bean dishes in my slow cooker lately. And when I say "a lot," I mean a LOT. As in, "lotsa beans, lotsa beans, lotsa beans." As in, the freezer is full of frozen bean soup of various kinds, and has been for weeks. As in, my husband is going to freak when he wakes up from his peaceful Sunday nap and discovers that there's ANOTHER huge pot of beans bubbling away- a pot so large we can never hope to finish it in one meal, which will mean storing more food in the already-full freezer. (I'm sorry, dear!)

Today's dish is chili, and I have an excuse for making it. I was initially going to make a chili cheese burrito for myself during lunch, using some slices of velveeta and a can of "Mexican style" chili beans. (Yes, you and I know that chili is really an American food. Apparently the people who label the beans don't know.) Then at some point it occurred to me that rather than hoard all the chili-cheesy goodness to myself, I could make chili cheese burritos for supper. It was a happy thought, given that I previously had had no clue what to make. So I thawed some hamburger and started gathering ingredients, and at some point I started noticing that we had all the ingredients necessary for a full pot of chili. Heck, we even had a packet of chili seasonings, which I don't even normally use. (I can make my own mix of cumin, cayenne, and/or chili powder, thank you very much.)

I suppose I could have resisted, but why? There's practically a blizzard outside. We'll be snowed in for the whole evening. (It's not as if we had anywhere to go, but that's beside the point.) What better way to mock the bitter cold outside than by eating a nice hot bowl of burn-your-tongue chili? What better way to use up that can of tomato paste that's probably been there for months? How better to start making inroads in the collection of various brands of canned corn? What was I saving that chili packet for, anyway? The very fact that I can't remember surely indicates that it's long past time to use it for something else. So, I comfort myself with the fact that I've done my part in emptying the pantry, if not the freezer.

While the chili cooks, I thought I'd mention some of the reasons for my new-found love of beans. You see, I didn't always like beans. A year or two ago, if you had asked me what I thought about beans, I would have said that I didn't like them. I objected to their mushy texture. I objected to their flavorless taste. And I certainly didn't know any good ways of preparing them. All that has changed, in part because I've learned to appreciate the following things about beans.

1) They're cheap. Really cheap. You can get bags of dry beans for, what, 50 cents? And a single bag of beans makes about a million servings.

2) They can help you use up leftovers. Take some beans, add left-over ham, chop up an onion, add seasonings, and voila- soup!

3) Many bean dishes freeze well. (How fortunate it is that chili is among that number!) In our case this means that, since most bean-soup recipes make far too much food for two people, a single pot can provide two or three meals for the future. Let tell you, it's nice having frozen homemade meals to fall back on. All you have to do is thaw the beans, heat 'em in a pot, and heat up some bread or cornbread. Hey presto- a nearly instant meal that will probably taste better than something from a can. (I say probably because these bean soups don't always turn out QUITE as I plan.)

4) Beans are pretty healthy for you. A person of my age and exercise level is supposed to try to eat 3 cups of beans a week, according to the USDA food pyramid. And the nice thing about beans is that they can count as either a "meat" substitute or a vegetable. Either way, they're good for you. This was actually the single biggest factor in my starting to eat beans, believe it or not. I don't normally go to great lengths --or indeed, any lengths--to eat a balanced diet, but when confronted by the food pyramid, I couldn't help but notice that we were eating far less than three cups of beans a week. So I opened the door to a previous legume-non-grata, and look how far I've come!

5) Did I mention how cheap they are? It's not that we're poor; it's just that saving money in one section of the grocery store means more money for the not-so-cheap things like lamb and gourmet pesto. (Not that I would necessarily combine the two. Though I might.)

6) Dry beans store well. Buy 'em in a bag, sling 'em in the back of the cupboard, and forget about them until they're needed. No need to worry about using them up quickly after purchase. Cookbooks recommend tossing them after two years- which is a pretty impressive lifespan, in my opinion.

7) I'm sure there's another reason, but I can't think of it. Anyway, who needs a reason? If for no other reason, I eat beans because they're there. Somehow, we always seem to have beans on hand for a nice chili of one kind or another. And in my newly bean-enlightened state, that's the way I like it.


Blogger La Mama Loca said...

I've been learning to cook with dried beans, too. I really need to use more recipe. We need to do cheap, that's not an option here, plus they are easy and yummy. All your reasons are great reasons!

11:21 PM  

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