Thursday, January 19, 2012

A Pot of Beans and a Bit of Frugality

Merriam-Webster defines frugal as "characterized by or reflecting economy in the use of resources" while another dictionary defines frugality as "prudence in avoiding waste."  

I used to be a bit of a spendthrift.  If I wanted something, I bought it.  Often I regretted it afterwards like the time I bought the ruby red high heels which are still sitting in the bottom of my closet.  Who did I think I was? Dorothy?  The older I get though, the more careful I am with money.  I think that's what happens when you become an adult and start making your own.  You realize that your parents were right when they continuously repeated, "money does not grow on trees."  In today's world, I think people are becoming even more careful with money, whether due to economic conditions or the desire to get back to a simpler lifestyle.  One way we can be frugal is by watching the amount of money we spend on necessities and using up what we have before buying more.  

I know it may sound silly, but when I hear the word frugal, an image of a pot of beans pops into my head.  What?  You mean, that's not exactly what you think of first?  Actually though, a pot of beans is a perfect example of frugality because they're inexpensive, use very few ingredients, and can be used in so many ways.  You can make a simple pot of beans stretch into multiple meals and still have some leftover.  

I recently decided that I should begin making a pot of beans on a regular basis to eat alone and incorporate into other dishes.  For very little effort or money, you can have so much pay-off.  So, on Saturday evening, I prepped one pound of "new crop" pintos to soak, and on Sunday I spent time reading a magazine as they simmered away, unattended.  The recipe I used was for borrachos and was slightly adapted from lastnightsdinner at Food52.  I will not post the recipe here since it is not mine, but I will say that I changed it slightly to fit what I had on hand.  Rather than using bacon, I used 4 ounces of diced salt pork which eliminated the need for additional salt in the recipe.  I also used only 1 1/2 cups of dark beer and a pint jar of home-canned crushed tomatoes. The result was a tasty pot of spicy beans which made an excellent and filling dinner with a slice of thick honey oatmeal bread and a spoonful of chow-chow relish that I made over the summer (this is, by the way, my favorite use for chow-chow).

Borrachos with a spoon of chow-chow on the side
Now, while beans are cheap and easy, the really great thing about them is what you can do with the leftovers.  While you can freeze them to eat later, they also make wonderful additions to other meals.  Here are two ways I used the beans later in the week.  

Bean Reincarnation #1-  Tacos:  While we eat tacos once or twice a month around here, we try not use a lot of meat in the filling.  I usually use about half a pound of ground turkey combined with another ingredient.  I use a reduced sodium taco seasoning or a homemade blend and add a little water before allowing it to simmer for several minutes.  You can use whatever taco seasoning you prefer, but rather than one pound of meat, add only half that along with 2 cups of the above mentioned borrachos.  Cook as you normally would an all-meat filling.  Just be careful with the salt as the beans are already salted.  This is perfect for a quick taco dinner, taco salad or burrito filling.  

Bean Reincarnation #2- Bean Cakes:  Another way to use the leftover  borrachos (or any beans you have on hand) is to give them a quick grind in the food processor, chill the mixture a bit in the fridge, mold it into patties, and lightly fry them in a skillet.  The beans are already perfectly seasoned and need no additional ingredients beyond a bit of salsa and sour cream to top them off.  This would make an excellent side dish to any number of meals while also being a great stand-in for refried beans (actually you could eat these as refried beans simply by skipping the frying step).  They are also filling enough to be eaten as a main course, just remember that they are not vegetarian since they are cooked with a bit of pork.  

So, there you have it.  The next time you want to feel frugal or just want several nights of meals at your fingertips, cook up a pot of beans. 

Do you invent new uses for beans?  If so, let me know how by posting a comment.  I would love to know what you do with the leftovers.  


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