Tuesday, May 13, 2008

City Kitchen Chronicles: Bodega Beans

City Kitchen Chronicles is a bi-weekly column about living frugally in Manhattan. It's penned by the lovely Jaime.

Hi folks. I'm very excited to, as Leigh said last week, have been invited to join the CHG tea party. This blog has become a touchstone for me, trying to get my financial situation under control (and keep it there), and at the same time striving to put good, healthy food in my body.

I work in theatre, and this means I often get home rather late at night. (Last night's 9:30pm was a total treat.) There's always some reading or play or *gasp* seeing my friends, and my apartment is at the very northern tip of Manhattan, so there's no jetting home for a quick dinner before going out. (As such, I often end up brown-bagging two or three meals a day.) Those lucky nights when I'm home relatively early, the hours between getting home and going to bed are often spent making food for the next few days. I'm only cooking for myself, but I'm almost always cooking for a few days at once. (My soup kick this winter was epic.)

This recipe is a staple of mine. It's several generations of hand-me-down - I found it on The Amateur Gourmet as "Rachel Wharton's Bodega Beans," so I refer to them as "The Amateur Gourmet's Rachel Wharton's Bodega Beans," and this is just passing on the brilliance. "Jaime's on Kris' Blog Amateur Gourmet's Rachel Wharton's Bodega Beans"?

This meal is prime convenience cooking, made up of ingredients you can get at any bodega or corner store (a can of beans, an onion) and whatever you might already have at home (oil, salt, pepper, maybe some vegetables). As an added bonus it's incredibly cheap, incredibly delicious, and surprisingly healthy.

What's the secret? Onions, salt, and oil. Recipe for a healthy meal, right? But healthy oils in reasonable amounts are, as it says, healthy. And, okay, I have obscenely low blood pressure, so I'm a salt queen. (You probably should worry much more about salt from processed foods than what you're generously sprinkling on a pot of vegetables.) But the saltiness is variable. The oil even is, too.

That's actually the genius of this recipe, aside from its power to trump brownies in appeal: it's insanely flexible. The only requisite ingredients are the onion, oil, salt, and a can of beans. And then you add garlic (if you have, and why wouldn't you have?) and whatever vegetables you have on hand or are cheap that week. Green peppers are often 99 cents a pound by me, and peppers of all colors will finally get cheap as we get into summer. This week I bought a 99-cent bag of carrots, so some of that's what went in last night. This works with any vegetable that goes well with salt and oil, which is everything: asparagus, snap peas, some spinach wilted in at the last minute, etc. (If you're really in a bind, it's not quite as healthy without some colorful veggies, but it's still delish, and even cheaper.)

So here's the recipe, or not the recipe, since it's a recipe-less recipe. (My favorite kind.) But as told to The Amateur Gourmet by Rachel Wharton, with variations from me.

Bodega Beans
Serves 3
Adapted from Amateur Gourmet/Rachel Wharton.

1) "Buy a big can of white beans." Pintos are my favorite for this, having texture and flavor that holds up well, but any white beans will work. Make sure to rinse the beans in a colander.

2) Chop an onion. Sauté it in olive oil. I like to cook it slowly, caramelizing a little, for about 20 minutes. A little salt helps them release their moisture. This is also when you’d add garlic, if you’re using it.

3) Pour in the beans. Warm until heated through. At this point I add the veggies, so they don’t get cooked to mush.

4) Lately I'll also grab a chunk of brown rice from my freezer (Don't you stock cooked rice by the half-cup in your freezer? Why not?), to stretch the veggies a little farther - this makes me feel a little poor, but also clever and frugal, and full. (Without the rice, this makes two servings rather than three.)

5) Drizzle with olive oil. Mmm.

6) Salt and pepper to taste. Mmmmmm.

If you're not hideously strapped for cash, this is no exception to the rule of cheese makes everything better. When I have it, I'll mix in a little goat cheese to get melty, or you could sprinkle on some parmesan. If you stock a vegan-friendly pantry, a few shakes of nutritional yeast (delicious, savory, loaded with B-vitamins) goes well, too. Adding a small pour of barbeque sauce would completely violate the inherent flavor simplicity of the dish, but would also be delicious.

Although I love this meal largely for its improvisational unrecipeness, I don't want to start my CHG tenure by shaking things up *too* much, so here's the calorie/$$ breakdown for one (especially inexpensive, still totally delicious, healthy, and filling) way this could be put together:

1 can of beans: 330 calories, 1 g fat, $0.79
1 large onion: 57 calories, 0.1 g fat $0.35
2 carrots: 52 calories, 0.3 g fat, $0.25
3 T oil: 360 calories, 40.5 g fat, $0.12
Salt: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
Pepper: negligible calories and fat, $0.02
3/4 c brown rice: 164 calories, 1.2 g fat $0.30
TOTAL: 963 calories, 43.1 g fat, $1.85
PER SERVING (TOTAL/3): 321 calories, 14.4 g fat, $0.62

Sixty-two cents! It's like a college student's dream, if we replace "college student" with "25-year-old non-profit theatre employee who really, really wants to pay off her credit cards."

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Kathy said...

Sounds wonderful! Now what kind of beans do you throw in? I have been cooking my brown rice in big batches since it takes so long to cook.

Jennifer said...

This sounds great! I have been on a freezing kick lately, so my freezer is packed to the gills. I am definitely interested in learning how you freeze the rice though. Since half the time the rice takes longer than the rest of the meal to cook, it would be great to have some frozen backup. How do you freeze the rice so that it freezes as a block?

Jaime said...

kathy - I like pinto beans, because they have texture and flavor that stand up to the other ingredients, but any white or light beans will be great.

jennifer - Thanks! To do the rice, and this really could be a post in itself, let it cool spread out on a plate, and don't let it get too dry. Then put it into a freezer ziploc bag, flatten it so the rice is uniform through the bag, and make separations with a skewer or chopstick. Freeze it flat. Once it's frozen, you can fold it up or break the sections up. You can also measure servings (I go with half-cups) of cooled rice and then wrap them into patties in plastic wrap.

Dani said...

yum. Beans, Salt. Oil. What can go wrong?

Jennifer I freeze rice in either ziplock bags or small plastic containers. Whatever is on hand at the time.

Kathy said...

Thanks Jamie,
I freeze with a food saver in small batches.

I thought of something that might link low BPH. I have been using sea salt, and I don't have any BPH problems. Do you use sea salt as well?

Jaime said...

Kathy, I use Kosher salt, but I've always had low blood pressure. I think it's genetic, and also a common side-effect of being youngish and female.

Calidaho said...

Made the beans tonight! Delish! I added some chard and a tomato that was just about past its prime...too ripe for slicing and eating raw but too beautiful to toss.

My hubby even liked it and he is not a fan of bean based dishes unless there is a large amount of beef in it.

Oh, and I used whole wheat cous cous instead of rice. I really love Trader Joe's for making yummy stuff so cheap!

Alexandra said...

I just made this the other night; it was so filling, which is great for a teacher on a tight budget. I live in Chile, so I used frozen habas - fava/broad beans - instead. If you choose to do that, you have to boil the beans in their shells for about 90 seconds, take off the shells, and wait til the carrots are almost read to eat to add the beans to the dish.