It’s Wednesday, so that means it’s time for your weekly edition of Stretch Your Food Dollar. Last week we talked about baking your own bread to cut food costs. This week we’re talking about the musical fruit: beans. Hat tip to our readers Reyna and Cheap Bastard for the suggestion.

Canned beans are certainly a cheap and convenient source of protein for those who are cutting their consumption of meat to stretch their food dollar. You can get canned beans for under $1 a can if you watch the food sales. However, the best way to get the biggest bang for your bean buck (no fart joke intended) is to buy dried beans. You can get a 1 pound bag for under $1 at your regular grocery store, but if you go to Costco or a store that allows you to buy in bulk (like your local food co-op), you can usually get a much better deal.

Cooking dried beans takes a little extra preparation. You need to soak them overnight to help dissolve the starches that cause beans to be so melodic. Put your beans in a pot or a bowl with enough water to cover them, then stow them in the fridge. If you forget to do it before bedtime, you could always do it in the morning before you leave for work.

After a thorough soaking, drain the old water, then refill with clean, cold water. You’ll need 3 cups of water for every 1 cup of beans you’re cooking. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce the heat to a simmer. Different varieties of beans require different cooking times, but you generally need to cook dried beans for 1 to 1½ hours. Be sure to add some salt to the beans 20 minutes before they’re done. Don’t do it any sooner, because it will cause the beans to be tough.

Lentils and dried peas don’t need a pre-soak. They’re another cheap (and healthy) source of protein for anyone on a tight food budget. For great recipes, check out Veganomicon by Isa Chandra Moskowitz and Terry Hope Romero. Or, click on over to The Post Punk Kitchen for free online recipes and vegan cooking tips.

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