I’ve never been poor, but I’ve certainly been broke. And like a lot of people of some privilege who find themselves having an economically challenged few years, I attacked the situation, finding satisfaction and even joy in efficiencies, cost savings, and budget living. Some people take toilet paper from public bathrooms or memorize a schedule of museum free days. For me, it was beans.
I was starting to get serious about cooking at that same time in my life, and learning to make meals that cost less than $2 worth of ingredients per person felt powerful. Dried beans were a no-brainer. When I had been a vegetarian for several years of my childhood, my dad had regaled me with stories of subsisting on beans and rice in college. He even bought a stovetop pressure cooker to make them for his vegetarian daughters. I was unimpressed.
But fast forward to my early twenties, and a bag cost the same as a can of prepared beans but offered about six times as many servings. All I had to do was make them taste good.
I started with chickpeas, cooked with equal parts store-bought stock and water, a smoked turkey neck (bear with me, I’ve moved away from this), and a bay leaf. Pretty good. Next up, baked beans with navy beans and too much molasses. Bad.
I felt like Martha Stewart going through a Bohemian phase, earthy and efficient, serene and competent.
I’m usually not methodical in my cooking, but I found myself making a practice of trying different dried beans and different cooking methods: soaking versus not soaking, slow cooker versus stove top versus oven, different aromatics, different cooking liquids. This was low-risk cooking. The ingredients were cheap, and even the worst results could be made into a spicy chili or pureed into soup, so there was never any real loss.
Can you think of anything so satisfying as leaving a pot filled with less than $5 worth of ingredients alone for hours and then coming back to a week’s worth of food? I felt like Martha Stewart…