Beans are cheap, healthy, and many varieties are grown in Michigan!  They’re great food, but a lot of people don’t know how to cook with them, or have had bad luck in the past getting them to cook up well. Here are  a few pointers and recipes.

Bean Basics

  • The fresher the bean, the faster it will cook.  Very, very old beans may never get soft.  If you think you can’t cook beans, try starting with fresh beans bought from the co-op; keep them in glass jars at home.
  • For better nutrition, shorter cooking times, and fewer crunchy beans, soak beans in cold water overnight.  Cover the beans with about 3” of water in a glass, plastic, or stainless steel bowl or pot and let stand at least 8 hours.
  • Any “split” bean (split peas, mung daal, split red lentils) and most tiny beans (lentils, black gram daal, adzuki beans) will cook in under an hour without soaking.
  • Beans will foam up when you cook them.  Use a very big pot so they won’t boil over.  You can skim the foam or just ignore it.
  • Add salt, tomatoes, and salty/acidic flavorings toward the end of cooking to avoid toughening the beans’ skins.  Beans seem to benefit from a fairly heavy dose of salt, so if your bean dish doesn’t taste like anything, try adding more salt.
  • Make big batches and store pre-cooked beans in the freezer in recipe-sized portions.  Beans may be pressure canned (only – do not water-bath can!).


Lentil Soup

  • Pour enough oil into a medium saucepan to cover the bottom one lentil deep.
  • Add a chopped onion and 1c. lentils (brown, red, or green).
  • Add 3-4 c. water and a bay leaf; bring to a boil then simmer for 30 mins.  Use more water for soup; use less if serving over rice.
  • The lentils should be mostly done but it’s ok if a couple still have a little crunch.
  • Add 1 tsp. veggie bouillon, or about ½ tsp. salt and herbs to taste.
  • Add 2-3 chopped carrots, greens, and/or a diced potato, if you like.
  • Simmer 15 more minutes until all is cooked.
  • Serve as soup, or over rice, with a vegetable side if you didn’t put the veg into the stew.

Sag Daal (Indian beans and spinach)

  • Cook 1 c. daal (split mung beans, split red lentils, or yellow split peas) in 3c. water and 1 bay leaf until tender. Since you’re using split beans with no hulls, the beans will “puree” themselves as they cook.
  • Saute in oil or ghee 1 small diced onion, 1 tsp. turmeric, ½ tsp. coriander, ½ tsp. cumin, ½ tsp. salt, and a teaspoon each fresh ginger and chopped garlic. Also add ground cayenne pepper to taste.
  • Add the lentils to the toasted spice mixture.
  • Add a bag of fresh or frozen spinach, or a washed and shredded bunch of kale.
  • Cook until greens wilt; serve over rice.


Refried Beans

  • Soak 1 c. of dried pinto or cranberry beans overnight in cold water.
  • Boil the beans with 4-5 cups water and a bay leaf for about an hour or so.  Beans should be very tender. Drain, reserving some of the cooking liquid.
  • Saute a diced onion, two cloves of minced garlic, and a diced fresh chili pepper in oil or lard. (You can substitute dried cayenne pepper in the next step instead of a fresh chili, or leave the chili out for mild beans.)
  • When the onion is soft, add the drained beans and mash with a spatula as you stir.  Add the reserved cooking liquid a tablespoon at a time until you reach the desired consistency.
  • Add salt and dried spices to taste (cumin, chili powder, cayenne pepper).


Hi, folks!

I realize I’ve not been writing much here this year – event wrap-ups and such. I really overdid it last year, and not blogging has been a way for me to keep the activities coming while staying somewhat sane.

I did want to share this, though: come instructions for making very large batches of salsa in a group. And here’s a pic of the group that made 79 pints in August!
2010 Salsa Day

The salsa recipe

We’ve used this recipe two years in a row at our salsa canning work days, and it’s worked out very well. It’s from the National Center for Home Food Preservation and has been tested to be safe for water-bath canning. You can use any combination of sweet and hot peppers to yield the quantities listed, and you can add more spices (garlic, cumin, salt, etc.) but don’t alter the basic proportions of tomatoes-peppers-onions-lemon juice.

Use paste-type tomatoes (romas, Amish paste, etc.) so you don’t have to cook it forever to get it to thicken up. I’ve also found it helps to bring half a cup of cayenne pepper to the workshop so you can adjust the heat without throwing off the rest of the recipe. Our peppers have not had much heat the last two years, and the cayenne really helped keep the spice lovers happy!

Paste tomato salsa
Yield Unit 13 pints x2 batches x3 batches x4 batches x5 batches x6 batches
Tomatoes, chopped Quart 7 14 21 28 35 42
Onions, chopped Cups 5 10 15 20 25 30
Jalapenos Cups 1 2 3 4 5 6
Sweet long chilis Cups 3.2 6.4 9.6 12.8 16 19.2
Garlic Cups 0.4 0.8 1.2 1.6 2 2.4
Lemon or lime juice Cups 2 4 6 8 10 12
Salt Tbl 2 4 6 8 10 12
Cumin, ground Tbl 2 4 6 8 10 12
Oregano Tbl 2.4 4.8 7.2 9.6 12 14.4
Black pepper Tbl 1 2 3 4 5 6
Cilantro Cups 0.6 1.2 1.8 2.4 3 3.6
Finished pints 13 26 39 52 65 78

This chart should be extremely helpful to figure out how much of each dry, uncut ingredient to bring to yield the quantities of chopped materials listed above. There’s always some uncertainty when changing between weight and volume, so take the measurements below with a grain of salt and be sure you measure your chopped ingredients as you stir things together. Don’t add those extra two onions just because you have them; you have to increase the recipe in correct proportion. The numbers below should err on the side of having too much of something. Chop some stuff, measure, and then chop more as needed so you don’t end up with 3 spare quarts of tomatoes but no extra onions.

Updated 8-28-13

What to bring (one 13pt batch) By weight By volume By the piece
Tomatoes, whole Pounds 14-15 Dry quarts 9 (1 peck) Small romas 60?
Onions, whole Pounds 2.5 Dry quarts 1 heaping Medium 6-7
Jalapenos, whole Pounds 0.5 Dry pints 1 Peppers 10
Sweet chilis, whole Pounds 2 Dry quarts 2 Large Bell peppers 5-6
Garlic, bulbs Pounds 0.25 Dry pints 0.25 Bulbs 2

When putting together your list of what to bring, you may end up dividing up shares like this:

  • 5 pounds of onions
  • Another 5 pounds of onions
  • 4 pounds of jalapenos
  • 3 pounds of sweet peppers
  • Another 3 pounds of sweet peppers
  • 4 large bulbs of garlic and a quart of lemon juice
  • 4 large bunches of cilantro
  • 2 more quarts of lemon juice
  • All spices (usually easiest for the organizer to bring)

Tomato conversion chart (pounds, quarts, bushels, etc.)

Tomato conversions Bushel Gallon Peck Quart (dry) Pounds Quart (diced) Pint (diced)
One bushel 1 8 4 32 53 17-20 35-40
One peck 0.25 2 1 8-9 12 4-5 9-10
One canner load, or the recipe above (7qt) 0.25 1 8-9 13-14 14 9
One quart 1.5-2 2-2.5 1 2

Organizing who’s bringing what

Here’s what I do:

  • Ask for people to RSVP. My kitchen at the Grange can hold 10 people, max, so I set the limit at 12 because someone always has to miss at the last minute.
    • Be sure to think about how much stove space you have. At the Grange, we have 2 electric stoves. Each stove holds one canner and one pot of salsa. We also have 2 portable butane burners that each hold a 10-qt pot for cooking down salsa. Cooking the salsa down is what takes the most time – 30-45 mins for each big 8qt batch.
  • Once I know how many people are coming, I decide how much salsa we’re going to make. I usually aim for about 8 pints per person.
  • Then I divide up the ingredients. Each person brings a share of tomatoes, plus one other share of other ingredients. I use Doodle to have people sign up for their shares online, but use whatever’s convenient for you.
  • Be sure you have canners, big measuring cups, bowls, and large cooking pots, spoons, etc. You can use quart or half-gallon canning jars to measure ingredients in a pinch. I like having restaurant-style ingredient tubs with cup/quart markings on the side. You may want to use Doodle to have people sign up to bring equipment as well as ingredients.

Running the workshop

  1. Sanitize all counters and sinks (1 gal water + 4 drops bleach; use new sponges)
  2. Rinse out all bowls, tubs, colanders, etc. if they are new or have been in storage.
  3. Finalize quantities; determine if any additional ingredients are needed.
  4. Tape a copy of the recipe next to each cooking station. For example, a 10qt pot can hold one batch of the salsa listed above (makes 13 pints), so write out the recipe for one batch.
  5. Wash tomatoes.
  6. Start chopping ingredients. As ingredients are chopped, whoever dumps that ingredient into the pot marks off what they’ve just added on the recipe sheet. So, if I add 4 quarts of tomatoes, I put 4 hash marks next to the “7qt chopped tomatoes” line on the recipe. That way, everyone knows when a particular pot contains all its required ingredients.
  7. Start heating water in canners.
  8. Start cooking the salsa as soon as there are a couple quarts of tomatoes in the pot. Add the fresh herbs in the last 15 mins of cooking. Aim to get one batch of salsa cooking before all ingredients are chopped.
  9. Wash jars and place in canners or oven to warm.
  10. Warm lids in saucepan.
  11. Continue to cook salsas until they are thick.
  12. Start cleanup as soon as all ingredients are chopped. You’ll be done chopping long before the salsa is done cooking.
  13. Can salsa – water bath 15 mins per pint/20 mins per quart.
  14. Finish cleanup.
  15. Listen for the “ping”!
<a href=”; title=”2010 Salsa Day by espring4224, on Flickr”><img src=”; width=”500″ height=”375″ alt=”2010 Salsa Day” /></a>

A nice crowd (was that 10 people?) participated in Sunday’s workshop on ketchup, mustard, and salad dressing. Even though Kraft and Heinz would like you to think these things are something only they can make, about half our folks had made at least one of these items before at home. It made me thankful, yet again, that we still have some traditions to preserve, and we aren’t starting entirely from scratch!

Download the workshop’s condiment recipes here.

Ketchup basics: Ketchup is made from concentrated tomatoes (simmered-down puree or even tomato paste) and seasoned with vinegar, salt, sugar, and a somewhat surprising blend of spices: cinnamon, allspice, cloves, cayenne, and sometimes onion and garlic. Two recipes are included in the downloadable recipe packet.

Mustard basics: The type of mustard seed you use really matters! Don’t use all brown or black mustard seeds; use some yellow ones as well. The darker mustard seeds have a more bitter flavor and can be overwhelming if used alone. Dried mustard powder can be used alone or with whole mustard seeds, depending on the kind of mustard you want to make. If using whole seeds, soak them overnight in water and vinegar so they’ll crack open when you put them in the blender the next day.

Mustard changes flavor a lot over time. The first day you mix it up, it might be too strong (hot and/or musky) to eat right away. Let it mellow a week or more in the fridge, and it’ll probably taste much better. An exception to this is mustard made from mustard powder and water or vinegar. If you want nose-searingly hot mustard, make it just before serving and don’t bother saving the leftovers. Like wasabi, it’ll singe your nose hairs but lose potency over time.

Salad dressing basics: Salad dressing is usually a variation on oil + vinegar + spice. Since oil and water don’t mix, you either need to constantly re-mix it, or find some kind of emulsifier (a substance that binds the water and oil together). Xanthan gum is commonly used to emulsify commercial salad dressing; we also discussed whether prepared mustard can help salad dressing stay emulsified.

Homogenized dairy and mayonnaise are both emulsions, and they can help emulsify other ingredients. Ranch dressing, for example, gets its sourness from buttermilk and yogurt or sour cream and its fat from mayo. (You can also leave the mayo out for a thinner, lower-fat dressing.)

A standard vinaigrette traditionally has two parts oil to one part vinegar – but you’ll want to use a tasty oil (like a good olive oil) for this. Participants also have made good dressings with 3:1 or 1:1 oil and vinegar. It depends on what you like, and how good your oil tastes. Classic French dressing is just a vinaigrette with paprika. The simple Honey French dressing in the recipe packet has equal parts oil, vinegar, and honey with some paprika and salt. The honey thickens it enough to be distinct from a vinaigrette, but it’s not so “ketchup-y” tasting as other “French” dressing recipes.

Folks made their own salad dressing and mustard concoctions at the end of class. some of them needed extra ingredients, or time to let the flavors blend. Folks, report back here with your results! I’ll re-post the recipes when they come in.

cabbageLast Sunday, we learned how easy it is to make homemade sauerkraut. I forgot my camera (again…) but the inimitable Ilex over at Homesteading in a Condo recently posted a photo essay of how she makes kraut. I refer you to her excellent guide to making sauerkraut, and make a few notes here about how we varied the process slightly.

Holly has beautiful, vintage sauerkraut crocks, and she makes several gallons at a time. If you are not blessed with such crocks, or want to make smaller batches, all is not lost! Canning jars make excellent small-batch kraut containers – use either quarts or half-gallon wide-mouth jars.

You can either salt the shredded cabbage in a bowl, tossing thoroughly to mix, or layer cabbage and salt right in your crock or jar. In either case, every few inches you need to stomp the cabbage and thoroughly bruise it. This gets it to release its juice, which will combine with the salt to make the salt brine that preserves the cabbage. Shred, salt, stomp. Shred, salt, stomp. That’s about all there is to it.

When you get to the top of your container or run out of cabbage, you want to make sure the kraut is submerged under brine. In a canning jar, I get great results by tucking a whole cabbage leaf into the jar, tucking it down around the shredded cabbage, to make a “stopper.” Then I put a quart-sized freezer bag into the neck of the jar and fill the bag with brine (2T salt to 1 quart water). Make sure the bag fills every crevice and holds the cabbage under the brine, and top with a loosely-sealed plastic lid.

Some other thoughts:

  • A 3-4 pound cabbage makes about a quart of kraut.
  • Use a total of 1.5 to 2 tablespoons of salt per quart of kraut. Measure it out beforehand and sprinkle it in evenly as you go.
  • More salt preserves better; less salt tastes better. As long as you keep the cabbage submerged and the top on (but not tight), you can usually keep the kraut from getting moldy.
  • Mold or “scum” (usually kahm yeast) is not dangerous, but it doesn’t taste good. You can safely scrape it off (taking a layer of kraut with it, if the gunk isn’t free-floating) and the rest of the kraut is OK to eat.
  • You can season kraut. Try:
    • 1-2 Tbl Caraway seeds
    • 1-2 Tbl mustard seeds plus 1-2Tbl prepared horseradish, dispersed evenly throughout the kraut
    • Add red pepper flakes, shredded carrots, shredded daikon, scallions, and ginger for a kimchee-like salad (this works great with nappa cabbage, and may need some additional brine)

Also, you don’t just have to eat your kraut straight. Try these:

  • Crumble and brown sausage with a diced onion. Add shredded cabbage and kale, a diced tart apple, and cooked diced potatoes (boil them with a lot of salt!). At the last minute, stir in about a cup of kraut and just heat it through. Top with cheddar, if you’re feeling decadent.
  • Add well-drained kraut to potato pancakes.
  • Mix 1/4 c. kraut or pickle juice, 1/4 c. vinegar, 1/4 c. salad oil, and 1 Tbl prepared mustard. Mix together and use as salad or slaw dressing.