One of my all-time-favorite money-saving appliances is the handy dandy slow cooker. It is amazing at taking tough (cheap) cuts of meats and slow cooking them to tasty perfection. It is great for making wicked frugal soups and stews. It makes dinner a breeze on crazy weeknights, keeping me from just ordering a pizza or take out. And it allows me to make staple items, like beans, for literally pennies per serving.
Beans aren’t usually listed on “top 10s” of superfoods, but I think they should be. There are so many kinds, black, pinto, navy, chickpea, green… And they are a fantastic source of protein for a very pocketbook-friendly price, I can usually find them about $1 per pound. And since beans plump when you cook them, you get much more than one pound out of that bag. If you find a good sale or buy in bulk, that price drops even lower. You can’t beat that in a can!
However, you also can’t beat the convenience of canned beans. Just sitting on a shelf, ready and waiting for a taco Tuesday or a last-minute decision to make minestrone. All you need is a can opener and you’re in business.
But you’re paying a premium for that convenience.
Someone else took the time to soak and cook dried beans ahead of time, and stick them in that can. They also may have chemicals or preservatives or flavorings or way too much sodium in the can. When you cook your own, you are in control of all these things.
So here’s the big secret: You can cook your own dried beans at home, with just a few minutes of effort, and have delicious beans ready to toss into whatever any time! For, like, a dollar!
Enter the slow cooker.
Almost every Saturday, I toss a half pound or a pound of either black, navy, chickpeas, or pintos into a slow cooker with water to cover them, and let them soak overnight. Then on Sunday, I change the water and add some spices and let it simmer all day. The finished product gets canned, separated by cup into individual bags and frozen, or put in the refrigerator for use that week.
That way I have a stock of frozen beans ready at a moment’s notice, and fresh beans for recipes whenever I want! Hello, black bean and egg burritos, white chicken chili, tortilla soup, or red beans and rice anytime.
- 1 pound beans
- Water to cover
- ~2tbsp vinegar (any kind)
- Spices recommended: 2 bay leaves, 1 tsp fennel seed, onion, chili powder, or oregano. Choose 1-2 you like and see what happens
- Optional: 1 strip of seaweed
Step 1: Cover your beans with water, and let soak 6 hours or overnight. Drain, and cover again. Cook on high for about 4-6 hours, or low for 8-10.
Step 2: You can keep the cooking liquid, or discard, up to you. I usually keep it, especially when canning or freezing the beans, and then drain just before using in recipes.
The beautiful thing is that now you have this super-cheap base to use to make your own refried beans, hummus, (did you know you can make hummus with black beans too!), vegetarian burger patties, or you can can them for later. (By the way, do use a pressure canner, or keep them in the refrigerator. We don’t want botulism now do we?)