As vegetarians (though not vegans), we get some of our protein from beans.
Rather than buying beans in a can, we always cook beans ourselves. It's so easy to cook them, why not? They taste much better, and they're more economical, too. You also don't have to worry about extra salt or about BPA in the lining of cans.
I sometimes use some right away in a recipe, but generally I freeze at least some of them in recipe-size packages so they're always available and just as convenient as cans. Obviously you can save a little the cooking time by buying canned beans, but the benefits seem to be a good tradeoff to us.
Besides the usual garlic cloves, we love the garlic scapes (the curly top that forms), which are available only during a short time.
We used to just cut the scapes off the plant, which is important to do to produce good garlic, but we never used them until I found this recipe for dip on the New York Times website, which I modified to make as a spread. We make and freeze as much as we can so our supply lasts for at least part of the winter.
That's it! We generally spread it on crackers, but it could be thinned with some water or more oil and used as a dip I suppose. I generally sprinkle it with some salt, so I guess the salt in the recipe could be increased, but this allows for individual taste.
We frequently prepare Bob's Red Mill soup mixes. These are convenience foods, but they're not a processed food. It's just a convenient packaging of a bunch of raw ingredients.
Basically, making soup isn't much different from cooking beans—there's just a variety of beans, and I season them with bouillon.
First, I sort and rinse the beans, though I've never found any stones or anything in this brand of beans. Then I soak the beans in water overnight or for about six or seven hours during the day. I drain them, then add to the beans about 14 to 16 cups of water, depending on how "soupy" I want it to be. I then add about 6 bouillon cubes (Rapunzel brand).
Sometimes I throw in some chopped onions, cut up mushrooms, celery, chopped tomatoes or other soup-type ingredients, but usually I just cook the beans with bouillon.
I suppose that compared to a can of soup, these $4.50 packages could seem expensive, but when we consider that these four-cup packages turn into about five quarts of soup (depending on how much water and other ingredients you add), they're a bargain.
Even though there are no seasoning packets, each combination of raw ingredients in the different Red Mill soup varieties create very different flavors of soup. They're all delicious and nutritious.
As with most things, we make a large batch—the whole five quarts at once. We keep one quart in the refrigerator, then freeze the rest so we always have a quick meal available.
I used to make a much more complicated pea soup with lots of extra ingredients. There's nothing wrong with that, but this is so much simpler and just as tasty. I used to like Campbell's condensed pea soup when I was a child, and this reminds me of that, but much fresher and tastier. This is based on a recipe in Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian, a great cookbook!
Depending on the amount of water we use, it can seem like real condensed soup. We often freeze some this way (which saves freezer space), then we just dilute it when we serve it. Just like the old-fashioned canned soup!
We've been told that they aren't like "real" brownies, but we really like them. Once our taste buds got used to less than super-sweet foods, we changed our opinions about what tastes good, I guess.
We love using our dried sour cherries. It's a treat to find these little tart gems from our summer garden in our favorite chocolate dessert!
We love hummus. It makes a really easy and delicious spread for crackers. We don't generally use it as a dip, so we make it quite thick.
We love this spread on crackers, but I suppose we could add some lemon juice and turn it into a dip.
We make extra and freeze it.
Here's another version of hummus—although you could just call it a spread, I guess, because "hummus" is the Arabic word for chickpea, and this version uses black beans, not chickpeas. No matter what you call it, though, it's delicious, and has a spiciness that my traditional hummus doesn't have.
This also makes a nice Valentine's Day dessert. We usually add a bit more tofu and/or a little less chocolate or sugar to make this less rich and less sweet. You can find your own balance by adjusting the amounts of each ingredient. Anything will work since the recipe doesn't depend on things rising or other chemical reactions. It's just combining a bunch of ingredients — my favorite kind of recipe!
We like Wegmans 10-inch whole wheat burritos, which we keep on hand in the freezer. We like them because they're one of the only whole wheat burritos that are large enough to hold all the things we like to put in them!
We add whatever beans we've cooked (kidney, black beans, etc.) that are stored in small packets in the freezer, some organic salsa, onions, cheese, olives, and a dollop of our yogurt.
Just heat it up in the microwave, roll up and serve. A really delicious and nutritious meal in just a few minutes.