Bring on the beans

The bulk food section of the grocery store is a new realm for me.  I have always been a person who shops in the produce, but tends to linger a bit too long in the middle of the store and wanders amidst the delightful selection of goodies.  But, the bulk food is where the party is at.  The incredible variety of dried goods including every nut, trail-mix, bean, grain and dried-fruit imaginable is astounding.  And, the cost savings on spices alone is enough to make your skirt fly up.

The beans are the key.  I have always been someone who purchased beans in a can.  I didn’t ever think of doing it another way.  Then I had a kid, our food budget shrunk and we started this project.  So, I began to consider those ridiculously cheap beans that are housed in the bulk food section.

How do I get a serving of pinto beans for tacos?
How do I get beans ready for dumping into a pot of chili?
Are refried beans really “refried”?  Can I make them?
How about garbanzo beans?  Is my one true weakness, red-pepper hummus, somewhere in my near horizon?

Oh, how the beans have changed us.  And, not like a magical fruit.

The simple ease of buying bulk beans and prepping, storing and using them is so busy-toddler-working-parent-family friendly!

Step 1: Buy your beans.

For chili – I buy a mix of black beans, pinto beans, kidney beans and white navy beans.  I always have black beans and pinto beans on hand for last minute Mexican food night.

Step 2: Soak your beans overnight in a pan of water.  Make sure there is enough water in the pot that the beans can expand and still remain covered.

Getting ready to soak 'em overnight

Say "Hello" to the soaked beans!

Step 3: Drain the soaking water off the beans.  Snatch any funky looking beans that have floated to the top and toss them in the compost.  Refill the pot with water and set on the stovetop.

Step 4: Add a good tablespoon or two of salt to the pot*.  Boil the beans until soft-ish.  Soft-ish is a relative term.  You don’t want them falling apart, but you want them cooked through.  And, remember you will be cooking them a bit more later – whether it’s in quesadillas, chili or baked beans…

* Salt.  We almost completely abstain from salt in our house and I made the decision to not add salt the first I cooked beans like this.  Ack-sputter-blah!  You totally need the salt.  And, now that I look back, a tablespoon for a six-quart pot of beans isn’t too bad.

Double bubble, toil and trouble...

Step 5: Pour beans into a strainer and run under cold water.  This stops the cooking process and doesn’t leave you with mushy beans that were soft-ish when you pulled them off the stove, but are now mushy-ish.

Cooked, drained and ready for storage

Step 6: Allow beans to cool.  Scoop beans into Ziploc bags (washed and reused ones if you are us) or another freezable vessel.  I store them in “large can” serving portions – just the right amount for a last minute meal.

Step 7: Marvel at your preparedness and ingenuity utilizing the bulk food sections and prepping your freezer with a stockpile of beans.

{Neglect to take a picture of freezer-ready beans because you are so busy marveling.}

On the horizon: (and working with the beans!)
A bit of slow-cooker remorse
Homemade Chili – the easy way!

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12 Responses to Bring on the beans

  1. Nancy Ging says:

    I’d suggest one extra step before soaking the beans–sort through them and remove any spoiled beans, little stones or bean-sized clods of mud, bits of grasses or grains that sometimes make it through the bulk cleaning process. It takes an extra couple of minutes, but it’s a lot better than biting down on a stone in your finished dish, or having the overall flavor ruined by one mildewed bean. The bad beans won’t hurt you, as far as I know, because you’ve boiled the heck out of it in the cooking process, but they do affect flavor.

    • sacredbee says:

      Hi Nancy,

      That’s a good idea. I haven’t run across pebbles or grass yet, but do take the time to pull out the funky beans.
      BTW – are you still blogging? I have seen anything new in awhile.

      -Kate

      • Nancy Ging says:

        Yes, I am. I’m just way behind in getting it online. Hoping to catch up this weekend. Have been creating menus and writing the newspaper articles weekly, of course.

  2. Susan R says:

    I bought some lentils that never got soft. Now I’m afraid of bulk anything. But you do inspire me to try again. Thanks for the good information.

    • sacredbee says:

      I had a bad experience with the round I did because I was afraid to cook the beans too long – I didn’t want mushy ones. Well, I avoided mushy ones but ended up with ones that “appeared” cooked but had a rock solid center – not a pleasant surprise in burritos or chili. :) Give it whirl again!

      • Nancy Ging says:

        Hard legumes can also be the result of beans that are too old. That’s one of the hazards of bulk bin buying–sometimes the turnover isn’t great. Try to use bulk bins at a place that’s busy and gets good turnover, like the Co-op. Of course, the more people use the bulk bins, the less this will be a problem.

        If you get old beans (won’t soften no matter how long you cook them) I’d suggest letting the store where you got them know that they need to monitor their bins more closely.

  3. Carrie says:

    If you are ever in Marysville stop by Winco Foods. Their bulk food section is HUGE and I mean HUGE! There is everything there from beans to dog treats. I’ve been purchasing things like split peas and even pancake mix. It isn’t organic – but I feel good about not using up a box each time I purchase something like that and I reuse the plastic bag for Humphrey’s city walks. The Dollar Tree has these great 2 qt containters with a screw on lid that fit perfectly in my pantry. It has been a good savings on our grocery bill.

    • sacredbee says:

      I’ve heard good things about Winco, too. I just might have to swing on by… Jacob might have to hold me back in the bulk food section. :) BTW – when I read your comment I totally read that you reused Humphrey’s bag AFTER his walk to buy the bulk food stuff… :\ And, it’s nice to see you on here. I like the newbies, but it’s nice to see familiar, friendly faces.

  4. Virginia says:

    And I figure what you save in the bulk section helps cover buying organic in the produce section. :)

  5. What a great idea. I’m a big fan of freezing stuff in small portions. (I love doing this with cooked diced chicken.) I’ve never thought to do this with beans and even though I keep beans in my pantry, usually resort to a can since I ‘forgot’ to cook the beans in time. The only exception to this is refried beans. We LOVE our refried beans here and I make a huge batch and freeze it in several containers for quick and easy lunches down the road.

    • sacredbee says:

      I love having things ready in portions that can be thrown together for last minute dinners – it relieves just a bit of the stress. Do you have a special refried beans recipe? It’d be great to have something to mix up the pinto and black beans in tacos, enchiladas and such.

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