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Mention pinto beans and most people simply shrug their shoulders with disinterest. Even I used to do so. After all, when you walk down the supermarket isle and browse in the bean section there are all kinds of neat beans with far more exotic and enticing names. How about Cannelli, Anasazi, Adzuki or even those sexy Black beans. So many really neat beans – why settle for the pinto?
The pinto bean is typically the cheapest bean on the shelf, whether in the traditional dried form or in cans. Does being cheap make it less attractive? I think not. Because when it comes to beans, cheap, or shall I say thrifty, is a good thing. And not only the that, the pinto is sturdy enough to withstand inexact cooking methods without turning to mush in an instant.
Let me describe these little fellas for you. The Pinto bean is light beige in color with added reddish brown splashes of color. They are kind of cute in as much as a bean can be cute. The name “pinto” comes from the Spanish term for painted. Like magic, when the pinto is cooked, it becomes a nice pink color, almost like the blending of the beige and the red on a painters pallet. Neat.
So why am I telling you all of this? Two reasons. First, I have been experimenting with a no-brainer way to cook beans. Forget the boiling water, forget watching the time clock. I wanted to succeed in cooking dried beans start to finish in a crock pot or other slow-cooking pot such as cast iron Dutch Oven.
The second reason is that I wanted to put together an easy, delicious, and nutritious meal using cooked pinto beans. More specifically, I wanted to come up with a dish that could pass for company fare yet cost just a few dollars to prepare. And did I succeed? Well you be the judge.
Let us begin.
Pinto Beans in the Crock Pot
Nothing could be easier than cooking up a batch of Pinto beans in the crockpot. (And if you do not have a crock-pot, use a Dutch oven over a very low flame or in a slow, 200 degree oven .)
1. Measure out the desired quantity of beans and put them in the pot. I started with six cups although a good rule of thumb is to use about 1 cup per quart capacity of your pot.
2. Soak the beans about 8 to 10 hours. This does not have to be exact. I found it easier to put the beans on to soak mid-afternoon but most people would probably prefer to soak them overnight.
3. When the time is up (or convenient), dump the water and replace with enough fresh water to cover the beans plus an additional inch or two.
4. If using a crock-pot, cook on low for 8 to 12 hours. (I cooked mine overnight and my gosh, the house smelled wonderful in the morning as I was waking up). The beans are done when you can squish them between your thumb and finger.
5. Season with some salt and you are done. I used 2 teaspoons of salt for my six cups of beans plus I added a healthy shake or two of Tabasco, You could add other seasonings (chili powder, cayenne, or whatever you like) as well. The important thing is not to season until the beans are cooked or they will get tough.
6. Now at this point, I shut the crock-pot off and let it sit until I had time to deal with my big, beautiful pot of beans a couple of hours later.
Pinto Beans and Rice
The beans are done and it is meal time. Now what? Nothing could be simpler than fixing up a bowl of pinto beans and rice. Here is what to do:
Cook up the desired amount of rice. In my case I used 2 cups brown rice and 1 cup white rice mixed together but I don’t think the exact type you use will matter. All results will be equally delicious.
While the rice is cooking, re-heat the desired quantity of beans. I used a microwave but that is a matter of personal choice.
Layer the rice in the bottom of my bowl then topped the rice with a generous serving of reheated pinto beans. I add a few dollops of salsa, some shredded cheddar and some sour cream. That’s it – you are now ready to eat.
Come con ganas!
Planning ahead for a family or a company meal? Layer the rice in the bottom of a baking dish then cover with a generous layer of beans. Add a nice topping of shredded cheese and set the dish aside in the refrigerator until you are ready to eat. Re-heat and serve with some salsa, sour cream and perhaps some additional cheese and crushed tortilla chips. Trust me, this is delicious – like a taco without the shell.
Just How Thrifty are Beans and Rice?
The big pan of pintos and rice produced over six huge servings. I was not very scientific in computing the cost and made some assumptions such as the fact the the salt and Tabasco was “free”. Here is what I came up with using standard grocery store prices rather than the bulk food prices such as those you would find at a warehouse club or discount supermarket.
Less than five bucks for six hearty adult-sized servings is darn good these days. Plus, you can probably shave another dollar or so off if you are using bulk rice and beans.
The Health Benefits of Pintos
As with most beans, pintos are an excellent source of fiber. In addition to lowering cholesterol, the high fiber content of pintos helps prevent blood sugar levels from rising too rapidly after a meal. This makes making these beans an especially good choice for individuals with diabetes, insulin resistance or hypoglycemia.
When combined with whole grains such as brown rice, pinto beans provide virtually fat-free, high quality protein. And by adding a little meat, dairy products, rice or corn, pintos will supply all of the essential amino acids necessary to stay healthy. For a more thorough discussion of the health benefits of pintos, check out this great article on the Whole Foods website.
The Final Word
A frequent question I get is “how do I squeeze a few extra dollars out of my budget to purchase extra water, food and gear for an emergency?” My favorite answer is to think through your eating habits and to substitute quality, home cooked real food for processed, packaged or heaven-forbid,take-out style fast foods. By substituting a simple but delicious meal of beans and rice one or two days a week, you can easily shave $5 or $10 a week and maybe more from your food budget.
I am lucky that I don’t have to budget that closely. But you know what? I do so anyway because I like to save up for those special moments in life such as a concert or a vacation. Without watching my food costs, there would be little left over for fun. And isn’t that what life is supposed to be about?
Enjoy your next adventure through common sense and thoughtful preparation!
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Bargain Bin: While not exactly survival gear, a crock pot can make budget cooking so much easier. There is something about the blending together of flavors that occur when ingredients are slow-cooked together over an extended period of time. Even though there are only two of us in my household, I have the 6-Quart Smart-Pot Oval Crock Pot but any old crock pot will do, even a thrift store version.
My only recommendation is that you get a crockpot with a removable liner so you can store the leftovers after that fact. This makes clean-up easier as well.
Lodge Logic 5-Quart Double Dutch Oven and Casserole with Skillet Cover: I would remiss if I did not mention that a cast iron Dutch Oven will also make delicious beans. Simply substitute the crock pot for your cast iron pot and use a slow, 200 degree oven. I have seen some volatility in the price of cast iron lately but anytime you can purchase a quality, pre-seasoned Dutch Oven for less than $40 you are doing good. Of course a hand-me-down from Grandma would be better. And with some elbow-grease, a thrift store find would be super.
Shop the Emergency Essentials Monthly Specials: The monthly specials at Emergency Essentials feature discounts of up to 35% off sometimes a bit more. I have a monthly budget and each month I add a bit more FD products to my long term storage – always making my selection from sale items.
There are a lot new items that are put on sale each month – be sure to take a look.
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11 Steps to Living a Strategic Life: This little book will provide you with the motivation to get started or stay on track with a self-reliant life. 11 Steps to Living a Strategic Life, co-authored with my long time pal, George Ure (www.urbansurvival.com).