I haven’t done any food blogging in a while, but the Shutdown is in day 8 or 9 or something and I suspect there are people who are looking at their bank accounts and starting to get worried. Not just about mortgages or school payments, but about the act of getting a decent meal on the table tonight.
It’s a problem that women (let’s face it, mostly women) have faced throughout history. Down through the generations, the centuries, the millennia, they’ve faced down the challenge of getting something reasonable on the table in hard times. You can, too. In fact, depending on your pantry, my beans on toast will run you about $5 to feed a family of four, comfortably. And it will give you a head start on tomorrow’s meal.
1 lb. bag of dried white beans (whatever is cheapest)
1 bundle swiss chard
In the morning, rinse and pick through the beans to make sure there are no rocks. Mix together in a large bowl (I like my red speckleware for this) 1 gallon of water (16 cups) and 3 T of salt. Stir the water until the salt is dissolved and then pour the beans in. Put it to one side, noting the time. You’ll need to take it out after about 8 hours.
Now make bread.
If you don’t know how to make bread, it’s not hard. It’s really not. Making amazing, fall-down, to-die-for French bread is hard — I’ve been cranking out two or three loaves a week for 20 years and I don’t make that kind of bread. But an everyday loaf requires very little genius. I will do a post on how to make a great load at some point, but the internet is full of ways to make bread. You can do a no-knead method that takes a full day, Alton Brown’s most-of-the-day loaf, or you can go to Craig’s List and get a second hand bread machine for $20. There are about 50 listed on my city’s page right now.
And yes, making bread is a skill. But if you’re furloughed, you have time. Learn this skill and save yourself a lot of money — flour is almost always cheaper than bread.
Once you beans have soaked for 8 hours, drain and rinse them. Then put them into a pot and cover them with cold clear water. If you have it, add a bay leaf, thyme, half an onion, or some other aromatic that you love. Bring the water to a boil, lower to a simmer, and cook until the beans are done. This varies a lot depending on the bean, so start checking at about half an hour. Taste test at least four beans each time you test because they cook at different rates some times. It may take three or four, in dire cases. Start early in the afternoon.
Once the beans are tender, drain them in your sink. (Really thrifty cooks will save the bean water. I’m not telling you to do it, I’m just saying that they do.) Take about half the beans and put them into a snaptop in the fridge. You’ll eat them later in the week.
Take the warm half that you still have in front of you and put it into some machine to mash them up. A food processor is best for this, but a blender will do. If you don’t have a blender, put them in a bowl and grab a potato masher. If you don’t have any of these things, borrow them from a friend.
Before you mash the beans, though, add a few large glugs of olive oil, a hefty three-finger pinch of salt, and a bit of water. Now, mash the beans into a smooth paste. Think hummus. Once you’ve achieved that consistency, add minced garlic. Taste. Is it good? If not, add more salt, oil, and garlic, in small amounts, until it is good.
You can also add any other flavorings that may be hanging around in your pantry. Dried oregano or thyme. Fresh basil or parsley from your garden. Lemon juice. My daughter likes lime juice in it. Those jarred roasted red peppers you bought for that tapas party last summer? Excellent addition. That onion-bacon jam that your weird aunt gave you for your birthday? It’s fantastic with this. (And, yes, I’m the weird aunt who gives onion-bacon jam to people for their birthdays.)
Set that to one side. Now take your swiss chard and chop it up into narrow ribbons about as wide as your little finger. Cut the stems a little smaller — maybe as wide as a pencil. Dump them into a big bowl of cold water (my red enamelware again). Swish them around and let them sit while you put a skillet on the stove. Add about 1/16 of an inch of olive oil to the bottom of the pan and get it warm (not hot). Then add the dripping mess of greens from the bowl into the warm oil. It will spit and sizzle but not too loudly. If it’s loud enough to be alarming, turn the heat down. If you have to strain to hear the sizzle, turn it up slightly. Add a generous pinch of salt.
Use tongs to toss the greens in the warm oil. This is mildly tricky, because no matter how big your skillet is, there are always more greens in a bunch than fit comfortably in a skillet. This irritating fact is actually deliberate — the greens will wilt down to a fraction of the volume very quickly. So slowly and patiently turn the greens over and over, don’t mind if you spill a few. Your honey will clean up the stove because you’re cooking. Keep turning as the greens start to glisten darkly and begin to wilt. Keep turning. If you bought rainbow chard or ruby chard, the water in the pan will turn a shocking shade of pink. Once the chard is limp and reduced to a pile of luscious shreds, you need to add some garlic. How much garlic is up to you. One clove is fine. One head is fine.
Toss the garlic with the greens for about 30 seconds. Then add about 2 tablespoons of whatever vinegar you have in the house. I like cider vinegar for this, but wine or flavored vinegars are fine, too. Toss some more. Taste it. Does it taste good? If not, add more garlic, oil, vinegar, or salt until it does.
Now, you can serve the bean spread on fresh bread or on toast. You can serve the greens on the side or even on the bean spread. Either way, you have a whole meal for about $5.
Tomorrow, what to do with those leftover beans.