Wednesday, February 15, 2012

A Beginner's Guide to Beans, Plus 42 Bean Recipes

This article first appeared in October 2009.

Some will balk at their flavor and size. Many will have texture issues. And still others just won’t enjoy the farting.

But know this: there are few cheaper, healthier, and more versatile foods than the humble bean. Members of the legume family, beans can be found everywhere from gourmet restaurants to campfire cauldrons. They’ve been vital to the survival of certain populations, and instrumental to the development of particular cuisines. Also, they taste good.

Still, there are folks out there unfamiliar with chickpeas and pintos, kidney and black beans. And for them, CHG proudly presents the following: a breakdown of why beans are wonderful, plus 42 tried-and-true recipes in which to use them.


Low in fat, high in protein, and astronomically high in fiber, beans work beautifully as the main components of recipes, but also as fabulous alternatives to meat. This is for a few reasons: A) they create a complete protein when paired with nuts, seeds, or grains, B) their chemical composition makes you feel sated longer than a lot of other foods, and C) they have a bulky and substantial mouthfeel, so you never feel deprived. Studies have found them to be solid tools in weight loss and maintenance, and integral to the prevention of all kinds of diseases.

If that ain’t enough for you, this WebMD blurb is pretty convincing: “In a recent study, bean eaters weighed, on average, 7 pounds less and had slimmer waists than their bean-avoiding counterparts -- yet they consumed 199 calories more per day if they were adults and an incredible 335 calories more if they were teenagers.” Sweet.

P.S. True to the well-known rhyme, beans make you both smartier and fartier. They contain both certain vitamins that improve brain function AND undigestable sugars, which lead to exciting intestinal activity, which leads to gas. So there you go.


Grown globally from Ethiopia to Australia, beans are some of the most plentiful - and subsequently cheapest - edibles anywhere. A pound of dried beans in Brooklyn will generally run about $1, and will produce four to six cups of food after rehydration.

Compare that to meat. In my neighborhood, a pound of chicken breast (one of the healthier animal options) runs $1.69 on sale. It shrinks slightly when cooked, ultimately producing around two cups of poultry.

Let’s do some math, then. One cup of cheap chicken is $1.69 divided by two, or $0.85. One cup of beans is $1.00 divided by five, or $0.20. Using these (incredibly) rough numbers, chicken breast is 425% the price of dried beans.

Of course, the numbers will vary by area, sales, and math skills, but you get the idea.


It’s a controversy as old as storage itself: dried or canned beans? On one hand, dried beans are universally cheaper, and widely considered to possess a creamier consistency and better overall flavor. On the other hand, canned beans aren’t terribly expensive themselves, and the taste difference is pretty negligible when you’re talking about everyday kitchen use.

The tiebreaker, then, is time. If you have the wherewithal, forethought, and 90 to 480 minutes to rehydrate a bag of dried chickpeas, you’ll be rewarded in kind. If you‘re throwing dinner together and an hour-long prep time is crazy talk, canned beans are the way to go.

It’s worth noting that if respected cooks aren’t using canned beans already (Giada DeLaurentiis, Sara Moulton, etc.), they’re starting to come around. Even die-hard dried fans like Mark Bittman have been giving props to metal dwellers recently. Meaning: don’t fear the Goya.


If you’ve ever tried chili, hummus, minestrone, Texas caviar, Mexican food, Indian food, Italian food, or, er, refried beans, you’ve already experienced the wonder of the bean. They’re omnipresent in cuisines all over the world, and come in a range of flavors and sizes that can be adapted to thousands of dishes. Here are six of the most common found in the U.S., along with a few recipe suggestions for each.

(A quick note before we get to the beans themselves: there are a zillion types of legume, and some [like the soybean] are rocketing in popularity stateside. But to keep things manageable, we’re sticking to a few big ones.)

Black Beans
Used frequently in Latin cuisines, the black bean is a small, ebony bean with an earthy flavor. I find it pairs very well with grains, and makes for a stellar soup.
Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa
Black Bean Brownies
Black Bean Burrito Bake
Black Bean Salad with Fresh Corn
Black Bean Soup
Calabacitas Burritos
Stuffed Peppers with Black Beans and Corn

Black-Eyed Peas
A terrible band, but a wonderful food, black-eyed peas are all over Southern cuisine. Like other beans, they’re great sources of fiber, folate, and protein. Unlike other beans, you will always feel like they’re looking at you.
Black-Eyed Pea (Texas) Caviar
Black-Eyed Pea Salad
Collard Greens and Black-Eyed Peas

Cannellini/White Beans
There are a ton of variations on the white bean, but I dig cannellinis in particular for their creaminess and flavor. Found in many Italian dishes, you’ll find that Microsoft Word often corrects its spelling to “cannelloni,” which is annoying.
Escarole and White Beans
Garlicky Long Beans and Beans
Grilled Zucchini with Quinoa Stuffing
Guacamole Bean Dip
Penne with Lemon, Potatoes, and Cannellini
White Bean and Tarragon Soup
White Chicken Chili
Spinach and Cannellini Bean Dip

Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans)
Without chickpeas, there would be no hummus. And without hummus, there would be no joy. Vital to Italian, Indian, and Middle Eastern cuisines (among others), the plentiful and versatile garbanzo bean can be found in virtually every form, from dip to stew to flour (though I have yet to see a chickpea smoothie). Due to its subtle flavor and increasing ubiquity in the U.S., I like to think of the chickpea as a gateway bean; if you like it, odds are other legumes will soon follow.
Beets and Greens Curry with Chickpeas
Chickpea Salad
Couscous with Chickpeas, Tomatoes, and Edamame
Curry in a Hurry
Greek-Style Chickpea Salad
Lemony Light Hummus
North African-style Chickpea Salad
Pasta e Ceci
Pasta with Zucchini and Chickpeas
Pasta with Broccoli and Chickpeas
Pindi Chana (Spicy Chickpea Curry)
Roasted Chickpeas
Shredded Zucchini and Chickpeas Over Polenta

Kidney Beans (red and pink)
Substantive and quite large in comparison to other common legumes, kidney beans go great on salads and substitute fabulously for meat in chilis and stews. And seriously, what’s a frugal kitchen without red beans and rice?
Chili Corn Pone Pie
Pumpkin Turkey Chili

Pinto Beans (Frijoles)
Wonderful on their own and even better mashed, these pink-brown legumes claim the great honor of being the only bean my mom likes. Also, I could be talking out my neck here, but I find pintos a little sweeter than black beans and chickpeas.
Refried Beans
Swiss Chard with Pinto Beans and Goat Cheese

Multiple Beans
Each of the following recipes use more than one type of bean.
Bodega Beans (any)
Camp Stove Veggie Chili (black, kidney)
Curried Chickpeas and Black Beans (chickpeas, black)
Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili (any)
Gallo Pinto (pinto, black)
Indonesian Curried Bean Stew (chickpeas, black, kidney )
Light Leftover Turkey Chili (black, kidney)
Turkey Chili with Beans (white, pink, kidney)

And that's our ballgame. Readers, how about you? What are your favorite bean recipes?


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Tuesday, February 14, 2012

Pasta Puttanesca: Fancy Food for Frugal Entertainers

This post first appeared in February 2009. HOTUS and I eat it every Valentine's Day. It's dang good.

I’ve learned many things since moving out on my own (make the bed, don’t do drugs, etc.), but perhaps none have been as vital as the following excerpt from a 2003 life skills instruction manual. It was written by a wise, wonderful, unassuming literary icon (note: me) upon her brother’s college graduation, in hopes of inspiring him to put pants on:

“Learn to be at least marginally entertaining. Even if you are aggressively anti-social or covered in boils, the time will come when people want to see you. You must be prepared. Clean your place and don’t leave them to entertain themselves.”

See, with great power (adulthood) comes great responsibility (hosting friends and family). And occasionally, that means feeding people.

Which is why sometimes, in my darkest hours, when all else seems lost, I turn to Rachael Ray. I have conflicting feelings about RR, mostly because she invented “yummo,” which should be banned from all lexicons, everywhere. Still, she knows how to please a crowd. And I respect that.

I respect this Pasta Puttanesca, too. The recipe comes from an episode of 30-Minute Meals called “Quick Italian Classics,” and for the time involved, it’s outstanding. I made it for The Boyfriend on Valentine’s Day, and we almost had babies on the spot. (We didn’t though, Ma.)

Beyond the salty, briny wonder, the best thing about it is the serving size. It will feed roughly 3,000,000 people, and impress at least 2,999,990 of them. When you’re entertaining as a young’un, quality and quantity are good to have.

Should you try it on your own, know the following:

1) If you’re averse to seafood or olives, run far, far, far away. Don’t look back. Then stop and take a breath. Then start running again.

2) Just to restate: this is A LOT OF FREAKING FOOD. The Food Network site claims this will make four servings, which might be true if you live in a family of insatiable giants. In my phenomenally humble opinion, it’ll serve a minimum of six, especially if you include garlic bread or a salad or something.

(THINGS TO PONDER: Can one claim to be “phenomenally humble”? It’s essentially saying you’re the absolute best at being modest, which negates the whole thing. Discuss.)

3) For kicks, we added a drained can of quartered artichoke hearts. (The Boyfriend loves ‘em.) They’re not listed in the original recipe, and are only included as an option here, because they’re somewhat pricey (but highly suggested).

4) I used half black olives and half kalamata. BECAUSE I COULD. MUAHAHAHAHAHA!

So, next time you're forced to feed a crowd, consider the Puttanesca. It could be a valuable part of your adulthood.

Pasta Puttanesca
Makes 6 servings
Adapted from Rachael Ray.

1 pound spaghetti 
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
4 to 6 cloves garlic, chopped
1 tin flat anchovy fillets, drained
1 /2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
20 oil-cured black olives, cracked away from pit and coarsely chopped
3 tablespoons capers
1 (28 to 32-ounce) can chunky style crushed tomatoes
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained
A few grinds black pepper
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped
OPTIONAL: 1 14.5-oz can artichoke heart quarters, drained

1) Cook pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain and set aside.

2) In a large skillet, combine oil, garlic, anchovies, and red pepper and heat over medium heat. Cook about 3 minutes, until anchovies are completely dissolved. Add olives, capers, tomatoes, black pepper, and parsley (and artichoke hearts, if using). Once it starts to bubble, drop the heat to medium-low and cook 8 or 10 minutes, stirring occasionally.

3) Add pasta to pan. Toss to coat. Serve.

Approximate Calories, Fat, and Price Per Serving
434 calories, 9.3 g fat, $1.50

2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil: 239 calories, 27 g fat, $0.23
4 to 6 cloves garlic: 22 calories, 0.1 g fat, $0.20
1 tin flat anchovy fillets, drained: 119 calories, 5.5 g fat, $1.59
1 /2 teaspoon red pepper flakes: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
20 oil-cured black olives: 175 calories, 15 g fat, $1.84
3 tablespoons capers: 6 calories, 0.2 g fat, $1.64
1 (28 to 32-ounce) can chunky style crushed tomatoes: 279 calories, 0 g fat, $0.98
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced tomatoes, drained: 82 calories, 0 g fat, $1.19
A few grinds black pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
1/4 cup flat leaf parsley, chopped: negligible calories and fat, $0.49
1 pound spaghetti, cooked to al dente (with a bite): 1680 calories, 8 g fat, $0.80
TOTAL: 2602 calories, 55.8 g fat, $9.00
PER SERVING: 434 calories, 9.3 g fat, $1.50

Wednesday, February 8, 2012

10 Ways to Eat Less Meat

This was originally published in May 2010.

Today, we continue our May Top 10 series by addressing a popular topic in both the food and personal finance blogospheres: eating less meat.

“Why in the good name of Bea Arthur would I want to eat LESS meat?” some might ask. “I don’t get enough bacon as it is. Plus, humans were meant to be carnivores, right? Otherwise, how do I explain the dead alpaca in the fridge to my kids?”

Well, sweet reader. We come not to demonize meat, but to praise consuming it in moderation. Because when raised right and chomped sensibly, beef, chicken, pork, lamb - maybe even that alpaca - can be pretty good for you. What’s more, it’s good for your wallet, your children, the Earth, the moon, the universe, other universes, the multiverse, the Rebel Alliance, Hoth, Dagoba- … Sorry. Got carried away there.

Following that line of reasoning, here are 10-plus strategies for reducing your meat intake. Some are well known. Others, less so. But all told, it’s a pretty decent list, if I do say so myself. (Note: And I do.)

Of course, if you’d like to change anything or add your own suggestion, the comment section awaits. That’s what it’s there for, after all. (Also: quoting Glee.)

1) Have one or more meatless nights per week.
It’s hard to say whether the movement began with bloggers or Johns Hopkins’ Meatless Mondays. Either way, this 15% reduction in your weekly meat can have a massive positive impact on … well, everything we just mentioned (the environment, your heart, Tatooine, etc.). The options aren’t as limited as you think, either. Vegetarian burritos, pizza, chili, and pasta are so tasty, you won’t miss the extra eight ounces of pork.

2) Buy less meat. And when you do, only purchase pricey, delicious, humanely raised meat.
You have three grand and a choice: You can go to McDonald’s every night for a year, or Babbo every night for a month. You’d choose 30 days catered by Mario Batali over 3,000 stupid chicken nuggets, right?

Buying farmer’s market meat is kind of like that. You purchase less overall (because it’s pricey, yo), but what you do buy is so delicious, it’s worth the wait.

Not to mention … imagine a world where the chicken tastes like chicken. I’m not talking about the wan, watered-down, quasi-poultry we know and tolerate. I’m referring to genuine, robust fowl that screams, “I am bird! Hear me cluck! Or roar! Or roarcluck! Whatever.” That flavorful planet is attainable, if you’re willing to go for it.

3) Don’t eat meat before dinner.
You may have heard of Mark Bittman’s “vegan before 6” diet. Essentially, the New York Times writer doesn’t eat any animal products before dinner. (Um … that may have been somewhat self-explanatory from the name of the diet, in which case, I apologize.)

While restricting cheese and eggs might be a little too much to take, dude’s definitely on to something. How simple would it be to cut the bacon out of your morning feast? Or to swap grilled eggplant in for grilled chicken on your panini? Or to buy the deli’s awesome, overlooked Italian Bean Soup instead of their admittedly lame Chicken Noodle? Try it for a few days, and see what happens. Could be easier than you think.

4) Don’t make meat the focus of your meals.
There’s nothing like a good cheeseburger, but eating one every night takes its toll. Relegating meat to side dishes or secondary ingredients ensures you still get a decent helping of beefy goodness, without the egregious bad things. Chilis and soups are particularly wonderful for this, as is everything in Joy Manning and Tara Mataraza Desmond’s Meat Lite column on Serious Eats.

5) Go ethnic.
Mediterranean, Indian, Chinese, Thai, and even Italian and Mexican food rely much less on meat than traditional American cuisine. Throw your family a culinary curveball by having a World Kitchen Night, and preparing a few simple recipes from around the globe. Beyond the obvious benefits, you’ll also open minds and create adventurous palates. Sweet.

6) Filet or pound your cuts.
The recommended serving for meat is four ounces, which is about the size of a deck of cards. If you put that in front of my brother, he’d laugh maniacally and then shove a fork into his thigh, a la Gene Wilder in Young Frankenstein.

There’s a way around that, though: Take a large piece of meat – chicken breast, let’s say – and A) slice it in half through the middle, or B) pound it super-thin. This creates the illusion of a big cut, even though the piece is essentially missing its bottom half. Bonus: it’ll cook more evenly, as well.

7) Learn to make more vegetable, grain, and pasta-based meals.
Baked Ziti. Falafel. Pizza. Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili. Lasagna. Quinoa Soup with Avocado and Corn. Ratatouille. Macaroni and Cheese. Pasta Puttanesca. Black Bean Burrito Bake. Veggie Lo Mein. Stuffed Peppers. Tomato and Bread Soup. Pumpkin Orzo with Sage. Roasted Veggie Sandwich. OH MY SWEET HEAVENS, BUTTERNUT SQUASH RISOTTO. All substantial. All delicious. None will make you crave a hot dog.

8) Find substitutes you dig.
Not everybody likes tofu. I get that. Bean curd is an acquired taste. Still, have you ever tried seitan? Done correctly, it’s scrumptious. I’m not kidding. Leigh makes these barbecue seitan bites that are practically crack.

Meat substitutes scare people off sometimes, but flavor- and texture-wise, they’ve come a long way since Tofurky. If you’re open to the idea, the trick is finding one (or two or eight) that works for you. Whether that’s Portobello mushrooms or tempeh or Morningstar Farms Chix Patties (Which? Mmm.), odds are it’s a better option than many commercially available meats.

9) Make your vegetarian friend(s) cook for you.
Two of my friends have been vegetarians for nearly 20 years each. (One is aforementioned Veggie Might genius Leigh.) Both are among the best cooks I know, presumably because they’ve been forced to experiment with a wider variety of foods to compensate for the lack of meat. If you have similar pals, watch them cook. Ask how they get by. Eat with them. Vegetarians are experts at non-meat lifestyles, and you can learn a lot just by hanging out in their circles.

10) Do the math.
Save your next four grocery bills. Add up the totals. Subtract half the money you spend on meat. (That other half will be spent on more grains, vegetables, and beans, presumably.) Imagine saving that every month, for the rest of your life. Not too shabby, eh?

BONUS: Avoid the meat areas of your supermarket.
Out of sight, out of mind, right? It works for me.


These four tips are pretty sweet, and I didn’t see them anywhere but the cited sources.

Forget about protein.
Mark Bittman: “Plants have protein, too; in fact, per calorie, many plants have more protein than meat. … By eating a variety, you can get all essential amino acids.”

Use it all.
Planet Green: “Try not to throw anything away, and look around for cheaper, more interesting cuts of meat at your butcher.”

Adapt old meaty recipes.
Diet Girl: “Back when I first shacked up with Dr G, I started by taking my old standard meat recipes and finding veggie substitutes. This meant lots of beans and lentils.”

Make extra helpings of your side dishes.
Owlhaven's Mary Ostyn makes only 1 to 1-1/2 small servings of meat per person, but cooks extra veggies, grains, and such. It keeps costs down, and ensures her kids don’t go overboard.

And that’s it. Sweet readers, the comment section awaits. Oh, and don’t forget: next week, our 10 Series is tackling storage and leftovers. If you have tips for maximizing either, I’d love to hear.


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(Photos provided by Wheatbridge [chicken], Baby-Halloween-Costume.com [cow], and BuyCostumes.com [pig])

Wednesday, February 1, 2012

50+ Cheap, Healthy Super Bowl Recipes

This post first appeared in 2009

Two years ago, we posted a piece called Cheap, Healthy Party Food, filled to the brim with inexpensive, Super Bowl-appropriate recipes. Most of them came from thoroughly vetted outside sources like All Recipes and Cooking Light. All appeared delicious.

Since then, between CHG and my weekly Healthy & Delicious column at Serious Eats, we’ve compiled hundreds of our own recipes, many of which are floofin’ perfect for the upcoming game. We made and ate every single one of these, and can recommend them without reservation. Even to your Dad (whom I’m sure totes loves healthy food, especially on Super Bowl Sunday).

If you have suggestions or excellent, apropos recipes from your own blog, leave ‘em in the comment section! Together, we can make this the most delicious Super Bowl since the last time Tom Brady was in it.

(Special note: frugal shoppers! Even if you hate football with the white-hot intensity of a thousand angry suns, this is a great week to stock up. Look for sales on cheese, sour cream, beans, frozen foods, crackers, dip, and more at your supermarket.)

Avocado Corn Salsa
Baba Ghanouj
Fresh Salsa
Guacamole-Bean Dip Mashup
Lemony Hummus
Mango Salsa
Roasted Eggplant Spread
Seven-Layer Taco Dip
Spinach and Artichoke Dip
Spinach and Cannellini Bean Dip
Tomatillo Guacamole
Tzatziki (Greek Yogurt and Cucumber Sauce)

Cactus Chili
Camp Stove Veggie Chili
Chili Corn Pone Pie
Easy Vegetarian Bean Chili
Pumpkin Turkey Chili
Turkey Chili
Turkey Chili with Beans
White Chicken Chili
Winter Vegetable Chili

Avocado Chicken Salad
Black Bean and Tomato Quinoa
Chickpea Salad
Chili-Spiced Potatoes
Ellie Krieger’s Refried Beans
Gazpacho Pasta Salad
Golden Delight Egg Salad
Lemon Basil Pasta Salad
Potato Salad for Rainy Day People
Semi-Southern-Style Cornbread
Spicy Sweet Potato Fries

Baked Ziti
Black Bean Burrito Bake
Chicken Fried Rice
Chinese Chicken and Broccoli
Chipotle Pork Tenders
Falafel with Tahini Sauce
Grilled Flank Steak with Tomato Relish
Homemade Pizza
Macaroni and Cheese
Pork Tacos
Sausage and Pepper Sandwiches
Skillet Chicken Fajitas
Spiced Chicken Skewers
Stuffed Peppers
Stuffed Peppers with Black Beans and Corn
Vegetable Lo Mein

Black Bean Brownies
Crunchy Pecan Cookies
Roasted Chickpeas

Readers? Your recipes?


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