Friday, January 31, 2014

Bare Bones Meals: Beans, Beans, the Musical Fruit

Any budgeteer will tell you how helpful beans are to a well-rounded diet. Not only are they low-fat and reasonably high in protein -- they're easy to store, cook, and blend well with a variety of foods, too.

A favorite here in Colorado: anasazi beans. These flavorful beans have a strange history. One story has them being found in Anasazi ruin sites by archeologists sometime in the 1950s; another says that they were growing wild near the ruins, and found by pioneer homesteaders. (Or both.)
     Whatever their origins, they have another positive: they're less apt to cause those gaseous emissions that bean-eating may (ahem) influence. (Other options are here.)

Anasazis -- from
 A wide variety of bean types are out there, and most can be used successfully in the following recipes. The only ones I wouldn't recommend -- black beans, which have their own genre of recipes.(We'll cover them later, anyways.)

I grew up with Michigan Northern beans -- and a very basic soup that the Mama still serves on snowy days.


1 pound (or 2 cups) northern beans, washed
1/2 cup chopped onion
at least 8 cups water (add more, if needed)

Cook at a low simmer, at least 5-8 hours. (Crockpots are perfect for this.) Salt and pepper to taste.

That's it! As a kid, I always ate this with a tablespoon or two of ketchup stirred in. It can take on any veggie you want to add, as well, including carrots, kale, tomatoes...or the items in the soup below. has a legislative version of Northern Bean soup -- it's been a favorite for decades in the U.S. Capitol Hill cafeteria. This one's great for using up leftover ham, as well -- just substitute a cup of chopped ham for the bone.


  • 1 pound dried navy beans or great northern beans, washed and drained
  • 1 meaty ham bone or 2 smoked ham hocks
  • 3 medium potatoes, cooked and mashed
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 1/2 cups chopped celery
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
  • 2 large cloves garlic, minced
  • salt and pepper


Cover beans with water and bring to a boil; boil for 2 minutes. Remove from heat, cover, and let stand for 1 to 2 hours. Drain bean liquid into a bowl; measure and add enough water or broth to make 5 quarts; pour back into beans. Bring beans to a boil, reduce heat, cover and simmer for about 2 hours, or until beans are very tender. Add ham bone, potatoes, onions, celery, parsley, and garlic, and continue to simmer for another hour. Remove ham bone and cut up meat; return to soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper.
Makes about 2 gallons of soup.

* * * * * * * * * * * *
Another bean option: Baked Beans! This dish has fed New Englanders for centuries. It was a special favorite for weekends -- the beanpot could be started in the banked ashes of Saturday night's fire, then finished off the next day for Sunday's noon meal. For housewives whose religion denoted "no cooking/i.e., 'work' on Sunday," it was a godsend.

This version of the traditional dish comes from Amy Dacyczyn's Tightwad Gazette, but is very similar to my own grandma's heirloom recipe. (Grandma's family, the Browns, originally hailed from Peterborough, NH.) Try it for Saturday night supper, with a slice of steamed brown bread.


2 pounds (4 cups) dried beans
     (Grandma used Northerns for this, but I substitute Anasazis. Amy uses Jacob's Cattle beans)
1 teaspoon soda
1 medium onion, quartered
1/2 pound bacon or salt pork, chopped
1/4 cup brown sugar (omit this if you don't care for a sweeter bean - Grandma did)
1/2 - 2/3 cup dark molasses
2  teaspoons dry mustard   (or a tablespoon of coarse-ground wet mustard)
1 teaspoon salt

Soak beans overnight in cold water; next morning, parboil them in water (soda added) until skin peels back when gently blowing on a bean.
     Put the onion and pork in a bean pot or casserole dish; mix in beans. 
     Mix the rest in a pint of water to make a sauce, then also mix into the beans.

Bake at 300 degrees for at least 6 hours -- or in the crockpot on low for 6-8 hours. Makes the equivalent of 6 large cans of baked beans, enough to serve 8-10 people.


Unless you're serving a regiment, you'll have baked bean leftovers. They're delicious reheated by themselves, mixed with hot dogs or sausage, or spooned hot and steaming over toast. Convert them into Sloppy Joes, or into this soup, which Amy Dacyczyn's mom served.


2 cups baked beans (or substitute a large can of pork & beans, if you don't feel much like cooking)
1 8 oz. can stewed or canned tomatoes
1 celery stalk with leaves
1 onion

Blenderize all ingredients, and simmer 20 min. (This is Amy's way, but I'd rather chop the celery and onion, then serve it chunky-style.) Serve with crusty bread for 'dunkin;' makes 4 servings.

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