A person whose opinion I highly respect once wrote me a letter sharing many beautiful things, including my “deep and abiding love of beans.” And let me tell you: truer words have never been written. (She may have cried a bit too. It’s good to see me.)
As someone who has dabbled in vegetarianism for years, I have never met a bean that I don’t like. They are adequately stuffed and, if seasoned well, have a deep flavor, not to mention a third of the cost of meat. While I’ve always been one to mix a can of beans into soup or use them to garnish a tray of nachos with cheese, I started making huge pots of beans, dried, not canned, when I started living alone in New York. I’ve always had a job (or jobs), but let’s be honest: I’ve never been without a tight budget.
So instead of going out to dinner (which must have cost a lot), I started having friends over for dinner. And that dinner was, more often than not, a pot of beans. These days, I have no friends at home, and although I want a pandemic-free reality, I still eat cheaply.
It varies depending on where you shop, of course, but this meal, this beautiful pot of beans, is the complete opposite of expensive. A pound of dried beans, which can easily serve four people, usually costs less than $2. And for $4, you can get some alliums, a lemon, and a head of vegetables (whatever’s on sale). I season them with dried chili, olive oil, and pantry salt, plus a little Parm rind from the freezer (flavorless, don’t throw ’em out!). I think they’re best served with crusty bread, bought fresh (about $4 and you won’t be eating them all tonight), or revived from the freezer.
Belly filler, but easy on the bank account.
As for the beans themselves, you can of course adapt them to your taste. I tend to use cannellini, Great Northern, White Lima, Pinto, or chickpeas in a pot like this, but it’s all good, really. Unless they’re very large, I rarely soak beans ahead of time (overnight pre-hydration can reduce cooking time, which, great, but I always forget), but if you want to anyway, just to feel something. , then keep all of step 1.
Some like to cook beans with celery or a lot of herbs, but after many (many) pots, I’ve found that these additions don’t add much extra flavor. Of course, if I have a handful of herbs on their last legs or some baby celery stalks hanging in the basket, I’ll definitely throw them in the pot. But in the end, I like to save on buying those fresh ingredients for when they can be the stars of the show. And this dinner is definitely the star of the beans. —Rebekah Firkser
Nickel & Dine is a budget column by Rebecca Firkser, editor-in-chief of Food52 and a huge fan of beans. Each month, Rebecca will share an easy and tasty recipe that she feeds four (or just you, four times), all for $10 or less. – Publishers