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Saturday, January 16, 2021

Making Budget Foods and Recipes More User-Friendly: Cooking Dried Beans and Making Hummus

As I wrote last week, a friend of mine recently made a wise observation. She noted that a lot of folks weren't raised learning basic frugal cooking skills. Instead, in their family homes of origin, a lot of foods that they consumed were what we'd recognize as convenience foods, such as boxed meal helpers. There's nothing at all wrong with that scenario. However, they now find themselves (through no fault of their own) on a very limited budget, unemployed or forced into early retirement due to this pandemic, struggling financially right now and looking for help so that they can help themselves. Enter Basic Frugal Foods Made Easy, my weekend version of this blog that goes back to the basics to help others make very delicious foods while sticking to a tight budget. Remember, once you learn a piece of information or a new skill, you own that information to use over and over again. 

When you ask what types of foods are considered frugal, dried beans pop up in the top 10 of just about every list. And they are frugal, at about 6 to 11 cents per serving. They're also mostly fool-proof to cook from scratch. If you compare cooking dried beans to, say, making a cake from scratch, you're going to have far more success on your first try with the beans over that cake. Plus, beans are extremely versatile. Add a cup or two of cooked beans to a basic vegetable soup (even canned), and you've turned a light soup into something substantial. Throw some cooked beans in with raw vegetables or grains and you've completed the nutrient profile for a salad. Stew beans with seasonings and tomatoes to serve over plain rice. Bake beans in the oven with onions, spices, and a piece of ham for a hearty comfort food. Mash and season beans for using in Mexican meals. Puree beans with stock to make rich soups. Or use your food processor to make flavorful dips and spreads. Beans are delicious and cost-effective.

Using basic equipment   There are a few ways that home-cooks cook their dried beans. Some use a crockpot, others use an instant pot, while still others use an old-style pressure cooker. Today, I'm going to discuss the most basic way to cook dried beans, requiring only a stove burner and a large pot.

I like to keep several different varieties of dried beans in the pantry.
I opt for 1-lb bags of the types I won't be using up as quickly.
I buy varieties that I use frequently in larger quantities.

Tip for bean newbies: If you're new to cooking with dried beans, start with small bags, like 1-pound bags. You'll still save a chunk of change compared to buying meat or even canned beans, but you won't be buying more than you can cook within the best-by dates. Yes, dried beans have a best-by date, not due to spoilage, but because dried beans continue to lose moisture as they age. And the more moisture they lose, the more difficult it is to get them rehydrated (meaning, if they're old enough, dried beans can remain hard little pellets even after long cooking).

I bought these garbanzos in late spring,
 and they have a best-by date of Mar 2021.

So, check the sell-by/best-by date on the package before buying. If that date is somewhere in the past, move on and check the packages of other types of beans or look for beans in a store that appears to have a high turnover of dried beans and grains.

If once you've bought the beans, you realize that you're right around that best-by date or before, go ahead and use the quick-soak method for rehydrating beans. If the beans are more than 6 or so months past the best-by date, use the long-soak method. If your beans are a couple of years past the best-by date, you could try soaking a cup of beans overnight, then cooking to see if they'll be usable. If they don't soften, use them as pie weights or in a lovely bean mosaic.

Merits of the two soaking methods  Quick-soak means that if you forget to soak beans overnight, you can do so the day you will be cooking. Long-soak means you don't need to watch a pot come to a boil, then shut off heat. If your beans are within the best-by date you can really choose either method with no difference in outcome.

Depending on bean type (and how well they fit together), a 1-pound bag of dried beans contains roughly 2 1/2 cups, dried, which will yield about 6 cups of beans, cooked. A serving of cooked beans is about 1/2 cup, which is about 1/4 cup dried. The protein content in that amount of most beans varies between about 7 and 11 grams of protein. For four servings, you'll want to cook 1 cup of dried beans.

Preparing your beans for cooking

Cooking dried beans is a two-step process. First, the beans need rehydrating through a soak, then afterward the beans are cooked.

In a shallow bowl, pick over your beans and remove any clumps of dirt, pebbles, or badly discolored or shriveled beans. I typically find between 1 and 4 beans that fit those categories in 1 cup of dried beans.

Cover your dried beans with a couple of inches of cold water and agitate for a minute. Drain and repeat once more. Drain.

Soaking Beans (choose one method)

  • Long-Soak Method  Place rinsed beans in a large container and cover beans with about 3 to 4 inches of cold water. Allow to soak for 8 to 12 hours. Drain and rinse.
  • Quick-Soak Method   Place rinsed beans in a large pot. Cover the beans with about 3 inches of fresh water and bring to a boil on HI. Allow to boil rapidly for 2 to 3 minutes, then turn the burner off. Set your timer for 1 hour. After 1 hour, drain and rinse the beans and the pot.

Garbanzos after the quick-soak hour, just before draining

Cooking the Beans

After the soak/drain/rinse period, cover the beans once more in plenty of fresh water, about 3 inches above the level of the beans. Bring to a boil, reduce to simmer* and allow to cook until soft, anywhere from 45 minutes to 2 or 3 hours, depending on bean type, length of soak time, and age of beans. Once cooked to soft, drain and rinse. Beans are ready for use in recipes or freezing in meal-size portions for future cooking.

*for reference, a simmer is just below the boiling point (which is 212 degrees F), a range from 185 to 205 degrees F.

Do not add salt or acidic ingredients until beans are cooked. Salt and ingredients such as tomatoes, vinegar, and molasses can prevent softening of the beans. You can add onions, garlic, and herbs to the cooking water, however, if desired.

It's important to throughly cook beans. According to Iowa State University Extension, even just a few undercooked beans contain enough toxic lectins to make one sick. This is especially true for kidney beans. Beans should be cooked until soft enough to mash easily with a fork.

Cook Times (after Soaking) for Some Common Beans

Garbanzo -- 1 3/4 to 3 hours
Pinto, Navy, Small White, Kidney -- 1 1/2 to 2 hours
Black -- 1 1/2 hours
Great Northern --1 to 2 hours

A great bean dish for cooks new to working with dried beans is hummus. It's relatively uncomplicated, bursting with garlicky richness, familiar to many regardless of their income (meaning it doesn't seem like "poor people's food"), and it has broad appeal, making it a welcome addition for gatherings and potlucks.

The traditional beans for hummus are garbanzo beans. For the creamiest hummus, garbanzos should be slightly overcooked. 

If you choose to use canned garbanzo beans, you'll want to rinse the canned beans, then simmer in water for about 20 minutes for that slightly overcooked texture. Overcooking the beans not only softens them to a creamy consistency, but it also helps separate some of the skins from the flesh.

Garbanzos cooked to skins slipping off and slightly overcooked,
 just right for creamy hummus

Once fully cooked to near falling apart, drain the beans in a colander and rinse. Pick out any loose skins and discard. 

Optional: for ultra-smooth hummus, gently rub beans between fingers and remove additional skins. This is all up to you how much skin you want to remove. Removing the skins makes for a smoother hummus and easier digestion for some. It takes me about 15-20 minutes to slip the skins off of the beans. But, if you want to just skip this step, garbanzos with skins intact will make a perfectly fine hummus. Just pick out any loose skins before processing.

To the left, beans with skins removed. To the right, the skins.
More digestible for me and smoother texture to hummus. 

Making Traditional Hummus

you'll need:

a food processor for pureeing the cooked beans and toasted sesame seeds

about 3 cups thoroughly cooked/overcooked garbanzo beans (start with 1 cup dried), OR, 3 cups of canned beans may also be used, with the above suggestion to simmer the canned beans for 20 minutes, then drain  --  set about 1 tablespoon of these completely cooked whole garbanzo beans aside for garnish, if desired

a shy 2/3 cup hulled sesame seeds (about 3 ounces), toasted
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 to 2 cloves garlic, minced
4 tablespoons lemon juice
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 to 3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
2 ice cubes

garnish: reserved cooked garbanzos, olive oil, paprika, minced herbs, sprinkling of kosher salt

before toasting

after toasting

To toast sesame seed:
Spread sesame seeds out on a baking sheet. Bake at 350 degrees F for about 8-9 minutes, until golden around the edges. Allow to cool on the pan for 5 minutes. 

Process and pulse toasted sesame seeds in a food processor along with 2 tablespoons of olive oil until creamy. 

Tahini substitute: ground toasted sesame seeds with olive oil

Mince 1 to 2 cloves of garlic. Drop into a cup with 4 tablespoons of lemon juice. Allow to stand for 3-5 minutes. The acid in the lemon takes the edge off of the fresh garlic.

Meanwhile, process the garbanzo beans along with the sesame paste until you have a thick paste, scraping sides of food processor bowl periodically.

Add garlic, lemon juice, salt, and cumin. Process until smooth. Taste and adjust salt, lemon, and/or cumin.

to the right of the mass of hummus is an ice cube

Here's the trick to fluffy hummus -- add 1 ice cube and pulse/process until it has been blended in. Add the 2nd ice cube and do the same. It isn't just about getting water incorporated into the mixture, but getting ice cold water incorporated. My thought is the melting ice chills the starch from the beans and thickens the mixture just slightly, while at the same time, whipping air into the hummus.

And it's done! See how easy it is to make hummus?

Spread the hummus in a shallow dish. Garnish with about 1 tablespoon additional olive oil, the reserved garbanzo beans, some paprika, minced green herbs (such as parsley or even garlic chives), and a tiny sprinkling of kosher salt. 

Serve with pita bread triangles, Italian bread (like the 2-hour, no-knead bread that we made last week), crackers, or raw veggies. Or, use hummus as a spread for Mediterranean vegetarian sandwiches, along with roasted red pepper strips and eggplant, lettuce, and thin slices of tomato. Hummus can be a side dish, or it can be the main protein source for a meal with pita and veggie sticks.

The sesame seed/olive oil paste is a common substitution for tahini. On buying sesame seeds -- best prices are not in those tiny bottles in the spice department of your grocery store, but in bags from bulk e-stores, such as ($3.99/lb) or in bulk bins from your grocery store.

You can also make hummus without sesame paste (tahini) and substitute another highly-flavored item, such as a roasted red pepper, peeled and pureed into the mixture, or a half-cup of cubed and roasted eggplant, pureed, or a half-cup of drained, pitted kalamata or black olives, pureed into the beans and seasonings. With any of these substitutions add about 2 to 3 tablespoons of olive oil to compensate for the fat missing from the tahini.

The cost  of dried garbanzo beans is $1.18 at Walmart for 1 pound, at 9 cents/serving, compared to 58 cents for 15.5 oz can of Great Value garbanzos, at 17 cents/serving. Either one is a pretty good bargain, though, when compared to the price per serving of meat.

I was able to make a little over a pint of hummus for around $1.50 to $1.60. The bulk of that cost was in the sesame seeds (75 cents worth at $3.99/lb). A comparable amount of hummus would cost between $4.50 and $5.00 at the grocery store. Served with carrot chips and slices of homemade Italian bread, this is a nice and inexpensive option for a mezze plate. (Carrot chips are thin slices of carrot cut on the diagonal.) The amount of hummus from this recipe serves 6 to 8, with about 44 grams of protein in total (the equivalent of 7 large eggs).

There are also legumes that don't require a soak period. These include black-eyed peas, split peas, and lentils. I have a great lentil and vegetable soup recipe to share in a coming week. Stay tuned.


  1. I am relatively inexperienced with cooking with dry beans so this is very interesting to me. Do you think I could pan-roast my garlic first if I were to make hummus? Raw garlic gives me heartburn but I find that if it's cooked, I can tolerate it well.

    1. Hi Kris,
      yes, absolutely! You could even use garlic powder if that works for you -- that's what I use when I'm in a hurry or out of garden-grown garlic. But I think roasted garlic would give your hummus a pleasant, smoky flavor dimension, which would be delicious.

      Enjoy your weekend, Kris!

    2. Kris, I don't like raw garlic either. When I make hummus, I just lightly saute the minced garlic in the olive oil I am using for the recipe. Works great!

    3. I use a lot of garlic each month. Some in my family dislike raw garlic too. I take about a half cup of peeled garlic cloves, cover them with oil (olive or vegetable) in my smallest saucepan. The garlic should be totally submerged, I usually have about a half inch of oil above the garlic cloves. Simmer the pot for about 20 minutes, until the garlic is browned and very soft. Place the cooled garlic and oil in a jar and refrigerate until needed. The oil is now garlic flavored and a drizzle can be used as a salad dressing base or other garlic use. The soft cloves now roasted would be perfect in hummus, we used them when we make garlic bread.

    4. Thank you, Tina and Robin for your advice on muting garlic's pungency. Your suggestions are very helpful. I like the idea of the flavored oil for other uses, too.

  2. Very good post Lili. Easy to understand and not hard to do. I may have missed it but you can also cook your beans and freeze in recipe size containers if you want to cook a lot at once.

    1. Hi Cheryl,
      Thank you. And thanks for highlighting that cooked beans can be made in larger batches, then frozen in meal-sized quantities.

      Have a great weekend, Cheryl!

  3. Great post, Lili. You can also use peanut butter (or any other nut butter) instead of tahini. It works just as well.

    1. Hi Tina,
      that's good to know! Thanks for sharing.

      Enjoy your weekend!

  4. Dried beans were a staple of our diet when I was growing up and now. However, hummus was not. I have made it a few times with mixed results. The extra details you give for the preparation I think will help a lot. However, we can get 10 ounces of hummus at Aldi for 1.79 that we like, so I don't think I'll delve into hummus making again anytime soon. But now I know where I can get good directions when I want to. Thanks.

    1. Hi Live and Learn,
      I'm glad you have a good option for buying hummus at a good price. I sure wish Aldi would move out west!

  5. I agree with Live and Learn. I too have made hummus from dried beans but was a bit disappointed in the result. It just wasn't as creamy as the commercial kind. I think your extra details (removing skins, ice cubes) may make the difference next time. Thanks for such a complete post.

    1. Hi Lynn,
      In addition to removing the skins, and using ice cubes, also make sure you slightly overcook the beans. I think it's the 3 things together that make this hummus so fluffy, creamy, and smooth. Good luck!


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