Getting dinner on the table on a Wednesday afternoon will forever be a problem that needs be solved.
Where do you find the energy to start a meal after a full day of work? How do you find time for cooking when you have all of 1.75 hours between arriving home and needing to wrangle kids into bedtime routines or desperately needing to lie like broccoli?
I am a fervent advocate of meal planning and have spent the greater part of my last seven years tracking family meal plans on my blog. Meal plans give you a map for a week and help you take the guesswork out. Absolutely. They do.
That said, I totally acknowledge that it takes a lot of trial and error to figure out what can actually get accomplished in that 1.75 hours that you have on Wednesday, and it is in that trial and error phase that most folks get frustrated and give up on meal planning.
So, I have a different proposition for you — a baby step of sorts. Instead of tackling a meticulous plan that will cover an entire week’s worth of meals, how about cooking up a large batch of a few simple ingredients to give your week a jump-start? Don’t worry, we’re not talking about cooking 21 casseroles in a weekend.
It’s something more along the lines of cooking a large portion of brown rice, cutting some veggies, maybe making a sauce, and using those ingredients to give you lots of readied options at 6 p.m. a few days later.
Much like planning based on a few seasonally available vegetables, planning a handful of meals around a few base ingredients limits options, but in the best possible way. It gives your meal plan a starting place and helps you learn how to best work with ingredients on hand along the way.
With practice you’ll be better equipped for last-minute dinners and your #kitchensinkdinners and #kitchensinksalads will be exponentially better.
- Make your first ingredient one that you actually love. This is not the time to teach yourself to tolerate the earthy taste of a lentil if you usually find yourself pushing them to the side of your plate.
- Start with a single grain or legume in an amount that can be reasonably used within three to four days. I would suggest a single dry pound of a legume or 2 uncooked cups of a grain.
- Season simply. Simple seasoning of salt and pepper for your large batch gives you flexibility to go from Mediterranean to Indian to Italian flavor profiles with that same batch.
- The cookbook index is your friend when you are trying to narrow recipes down. Zone in on your batch ingredient in the index of a cookbook you’ve been wanting to use. From there, focus on recipes that have familiar ingredients or things that you already keep on hand in your pantry or fridge.
- Try something different with the last bits. Trying out new flavor combinations or preparations is a lot easier to stomach if you are trying to use up 1/2 cup of this or 1/4 cup of that.
- Use your freezer! Don’t feel bad if you get to the second meal and realize that there is no way that you can eat another chickpea. It happens. Use it as an opportunity to build up your homemade freezer stash for dinners in the following weeks, but act on that impulse that you’re not going to eat it. If you wait until the following Sunday, you can’t freeze it for later and you’ll have to waste the food.
- Once you start finding ways to use up that large batch of a legume/grain, you might try making a sauce or a vinaigrette that you can use on salads and simply prepared vegetables during the week.
How to Cook Black Beans
The beauty of the humble bean is that it takes no more than heat and a lidded cooking vessel to achieve a satisfying bowl of cooked beans. The electric pressure cooker is my gadget of choice for cooking most legumes, mostly because the process is completely hands-off complete with pings and dings that alert me when it has completed its magic. Stove-top cooking gives you the most control over texture, and the slow cooker is dreamy if you want to get some meal prep in while you tend to the rest of your day. Use the method that makes the most sense for you.
— Nelly Ramirez
For all cooking methods:
1 pound bag of beans
3 tablespoons salt
1/4 onion, not chopped
Add beans, salt and 6 cups of water to a large bowl. Soak beans for a minimum of 4 hours. If soaking overnight, place in refrigerator. Drain brine and rinse. Transfer beans to cooking vessel (large pot for stove-top, slow cooker crock or pressure cooker). Add 6 cups of fresh water and onion.
On stove-top: Bring water to a boil. Lower heat to medium, cover, and simmer until beans are tender but still intact (about 90 minutes).
In slow cooker: Cover and cook on high for 4 hours or low for 8 hours.
In electric pressure cooker: Set to high pressure (10-12 PSI) for 7 minutes using natural pressure release. Your beans will continue to cook gently while the pressure is released naturally, so don’t speed along the pressure release part of the process. Only uncooked beans lay at the end of that time-saving rainbow. It may take 20 to 25 minutes for the cooker to depressurize naturally. (Please check your manual for recommended food minimums/maximums.) A note if you’re using an InstantPot or similar multi-cooker: Use the custom time settings when using the “Bean” preset to lower cooking time to 7 minutes. The defaults on most multi-cookers are for unsoaked beans.
Storing cooked beans in pint jars or 2-cup containers makes it easier to match quantities in recipes that call for canned beans. They’ll keep in the fridge for 3 days. If storing in freezer, drain off cooking broth to prevent freezer burn.
Tip: Reserve your cooking broth! Unlike the cooking liquid in cans, it holds lots of flavor. Use it in place of water or broth in a black bean chili or when cooking rice.
Black Bean, Hominy and Kale Stew
You can use whatever leafy greens you like in this hearty, stick-to-your-ribs stew. A note about broiling chili peppers: Broiling chilies gives them a soft, silky texture and deep smoky flavor. Place the chilies on a foil-lined baking sheet for easy cleanup and broil until they’re blackened and charred. Placing the charred peppers in a zip-top plastic bag or paper bag lets them steam, loosening the blackened skin so you can easily peel it off.
2 poblano chilies
4 tomatillos, husks removed and halved
2 teaspoons olive oil
1 1/2 cups chopped onion
1 jalapeño, seeded and minced
2 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoons ground cumin
3 cups organic vegetable broth (such as Swanson)
1/4 teaspoon salt
1/8 teaspoon ground red pepper
3 cups cooked black beans (about two 15-ounce cans, rinsed and drained)
1 (8-ounce) bunch kale, stemmed and chopped (about 4 packed cups)
1 (15-ounce) can hominy, rinsed and drained
6 tablespoons reduced-fat sour cream
2 ounces sharp white cheddar cheese, shredded (about 1/2 cup)
1/4 cup chopped fresh cilantro
Heat the broiler to high.
Place the poblano chilies on a foil-lined baking sheet. Broil 7 minutes on each side or until blackened and charred. Place in a zip-top plastic or paper bag; fold to close tightly. Let stand 15 minutes. Peel the chilies; cut in half lengthwise. Discard the seeds and membranes; coarsely chop.
While the poblano chilies roast, place the tomatillos in a food processor; process until smooth.
Heat a Dutch oven over medium heat. Add the oil to the pan; swirl to coat. Add the onion and jalapeño; saute 5 minutes or until tender, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic and cumin; saute 1 minute, stirring constantly. Add the tomatillos, broth, and next 4 ingredients (through kale); bring to a boil. Cover, reduce the heat, and simmer for 10 minutes or until the vegetables are tender. Add the roasted poblanos and hominy; cook 2 minutes or until heated through. Ladle the stew into each of 4 shallow bowls. Top with the sour cream and the cheese. Sprinkle evenly with the cilantro. Serves 6.
— From “Everyday Vegetarian: A Delicious Guide for Creating More Than 150 Meatless Dishes” by the Editors of Cooking Light (Oxmoor House, $21.95)
If ever there was a reason to cook black beans from scratch, this is it. All the flavor from your reserved cooking broth makes short work of your seasoning. Frijoles colados can be served with toppings or poured over rice, but I still take them how my dad did — with a sprig of cilantro, a squeeze of lime and a tortilla for dipping, por favor.
2 cups black beans
2 cups cooking liquid
1 teaspoon of vegetable or neutral oil
1 thickly cut slice of onion
Salt, to taste
Toppings: Cilantro, lime, radishes, avocado, queso fresco
Add beans and cooking liquid to blender and puree until smooth. Pour pureed beans through a fine mesh colander and transfer to a small saucepan. Heat oil in small saucepan. Add onion round and cook until soft. Add bean puree and simmer until heated through. Salt to taste.
To reduce to a black bean dip: Add 1/2 teaspoon of cumin and slices of your favorite hot pepper. Continue to simmer on stove-top until thick enough to hold a chip.
— Nelly Ramirez
This pesto, which uses cilantro and lime in place of the usual basil and lemon, is well suited for an Austin dinner table that is accustomed to Tex-Mex and Mexican flavors, especially black beans. Use it in place of salsa on a taco or taco salad or to Southwest up your Buddha bowl. You could even spoon this on top of a bowl of black beans served with a side of cornbread or flatbread.
1/3 cup pumpkin seeds, raw and unsalted
2 cups cilantro (about 1 large bunch)
2/3 cup olive oil
1/3 cup grated Parmesan cheese
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 garlic clove
Salt and pepper, to taste
Toast pumpkin seeds in a dry skillet over medium heat until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Err on the side of less toasted to prevent burning.
Toss all ingredients in blender or food processor and puree until smooth. You can add a fresh jalapeño or a single chipotle chili (from canned chipotles) for heat if you’d like to add a spicy kick.
— Nelly Ramirez
Nelly Paulina Ramirez (@aneelee on Twitter and @thereal_aneelee on Instagram) follows the local growing seasons from her kitchen in South Austin. She first learned to cook alongside her mama making traditional recipes from Yucatán, prefers paletas to ice cream, and puts up a year’s worth of tomatoes over the summer. Her vegetarian meal plans, recipes, and kitchen tips can be found at aneelee.com.