Black Bean Stew with Sweet Potatoes and Collards

This is a hearty, nourishing stew that is perfect for a cold winter day.

Ingredients:

1 lb or so of dry black beans, soaked and cooked, cooking liquid reserved (I removed about 2 cups of cooked beans to store in the freezer for another day)

2 big sweet potatoes, peeled and diced

2 or 3 medium onions, chopped

5-10 cloves garlic (you can leave them whole or mince/crush)

1 bunch of collard greens, stemmed (keep the stems!) and chopped

2 bell peppers, any color, seeded and diced

1 small can tomato paste

Seasoning suggestions:  bay leaf, oregano, cumin, cilantro, cayenne, fresh hot peppers, etc.  A squeeze of lime is nice for serving, too.

1.  Start with your cooked beans simmering in their own broth.  Add garlic, onion, bay leaf, and any other dried seasonings you choose to use.  Save fresh herbs for the end.  Keep it simmering while you chop other things.

2.  Finely mince the stems from the collards.  I did this by putting them into the food processor whole and pulsing until they were in little tiny bits.  I also threw the onions and half the garlic with them, but that’s because I’m lazy, not because it’s necessary.  Feel free to chop everything by hand if you are less lazy than me, or don’t have a food processor.

3.  Add the sweet potatoes, minced stems, and tomato paste to the pot.  You may need to add a little more water at this point too.  Simmer until the sweet potatoes are soft and flavors have melded, 10-20 mins.  Taste and adjust the seasonings, then add the peppers and simmer some more.

4.  Steam the collard leaves until bright green and tender, or if you have a big enough pot (I don’t), just throw them in the soup with the peppers and cook until they wilt.  Add any fresh herbs once all the vegetables are soft.  Serve the stew over the steamed greens and garnish with some hot sauce and nutritional yeast, or a squeeze of lime or a dash of apple cider vinegar.

I like this soup because there’s so little waste.  Why throw those stems away?  When I make collards or kale on their own, I always chop up the stems and saute them with the onions, so I thought, “Why can’t I put them in the soup too?”  The results are delicious, and I hardly had to put any scraps in the garbage.  Bonus of extra fiber!

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Healthy Food, Healthy Wallet

Happy New Year!  At a little over a week into 2013, I think it’s time we talked about shopping. I’ve had this post stewing in my head since I started writing this blog back in May.  My own budget is going to be tighter this season as I save up for a possible move in July and continue the never-ending search for the perfect second job.  Thus, I’ll be following my own simple rules for a healthy body and a healthy budget.

First rule for healthy eating:  Avoid packaged, processed foods.  Chances are, if it has more than a few ingredients, it’s really bad for you. Additionally, whatever it is can probably be made at home for far less money (compare the cost of my Black Bean Burgers  to some packaged variety).  My only major exception to this is plant-based milk.  I use it for baking, pancakes, and smoothies and alway get it unsweetened.  The store brands at big health food chain stores like Whole Foods and Trader Joe’s are usually the least expensive.  Even at its high price, it still is often cheaper than organic cow’s milk.  Read up on why cow’s milk is bad for you.

Second rule for healthy eating:  Actually, do I need another?  Ummm…Eat more plants!  There are plenty of experts on the internet who can help you with this.  Check out VegSource for more information.  They can link you to all kinds of helpful things.

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Moving along to shopping for those foods…

First rule for a healthy wallet:  Look at the unit price.  That means the price per pound/ounce/gallon/gram etc.  I learned this trick at an early age from my mom, the ultimate bargain-shopping champion.  Unit price is usually printed in tiny letters on the price sticker that’s on the rack at the store.  From there you can tell what’s cheapest for the amount you’re getting.  The bigger package is not always better!  At my local store, black beans are $1.49/lb if you get a one pound bag.  The three pound bag almost always costs more per pound.

Second rule for a healthy wallet:  Shop around and jot down what things cost (unit price!) at different stores.  This is how I know that frozen spinach, edamame, and blueberries are the best price per pound at Trader Joe’s rather than my local grocery.  (I’m a nerd and have a spreadsheet comparing different stores.)  On the flip side, conventionally grown produce is nearly always cheaper at the little Korean market up the street.  That’s a plus, since I like to buy fruits and veggies throughout the week based on what’s on sale.  All I have to do is walk past on my way home.  Pay attention to quality too. Apples are one thing I never fail to buy at the farmers’ market, even though they cost a little more per pound.  They just taste better when they are fresh and local.  To me, that’s worth a little extra money.

Third rule for a healthy wallet:  Keep certain staple items in stock in your pantry and freezer.  For me that means a variety of dried beans (cheaper than canned by a long shot), a variety of whole grains, some canned goods (tomatoes, pumpkin), and frozen produce (always spinach, usually peas and edamame, as well as berries and bananas for smoothies).  I also usually have some nuts and seeds, as well as raisins, whole wheat pasta, root vegetables (potatoes are always a bargain!), and a loaf of frozen sprouted bread.  For beans, grains, nuts, and seeds, I find the bulk bins at a nearby natural food store very helpful.  They are not always cheaper than what I can get at Trader Joe’s, but it’s always worth a look, especially when I want something unusual.  TJ’s is great for brown rice ($1.09/lb!) and nuts, but they don’t have fun things like wheat berries and millet and fava beans.

Getting back to those first two things about healthy eating:  I honestly believe that if you take care of your body now, you’ll save on medical bills later.  Some might attribute my lean figure and low cholesterol to my age, but I don’t.  My family has a long history of weight and heart problems.  I’m determined to beat my genetics.  I’m slim because I eat foods that aren’t very calorie dense and because I walk a lot.  Can’t say for sure why my cholesterol, triglycerides, and blood pressure are so low, but I’ll bet it has something to do with the plants I eat.  Give your body the right fuel and it won’t let you down.

Any questions?  Cheers to your health!

Stretching

Spent too much over the holidays?  Budget shot from too many nights out, plane/train/bus tickets, and gifts for your family and friends?  Yeah, me too.  All will be well when I get paid tomorrow, but in the meantime, I need to make the most of what I’ve got in the pantry.  (Improv Soup, anyone?)

Upon my return to the city over the weekend, I whipped up a red lentil and sweet potato soup with some curry and other spiced.  As I recall, there’s not much in it besides onion, carrots, celery, 2 big sweet potatoes, and half a pound of red lentils.  It’s tasty, but I can make it last longer by doing a few key things:

Adding brown rice (I get it on the cheap at Trader Joe’s for $1.09/lb)

Adding more vegetables (frozen spinach and others are often less than $2/lb)

Adding a can of tomatoes (watch for sales and buy a whole lot!)

I was planning on doing all of these things until I discovered that I am out of canned tomatoes.  Fortunately I had a couple cans of pumpkin, which is a natural addition to sweet potatoes and spices.  I’ve also added cooked brown rice, some frozen green beans, and a 10oz package of frozen spinach.  For more seasoning, I threw in some more spices (fennel, mustard, cumin), minced fresh ginger, and a just starting to shrivel jalapeno.  Some salt too.

Throw it all in a big pot (except for the rice, which you should save for the end so it doesn’t suck up all the broth) and simmer until it tastes good, adjusting the seasonings as it cooks. The only thing I’d change about my soup is that it could use another onion.  What’s really important though, is that I turned three servings of soup into ten.  I’ll eat like a queen until my paycheck clears!

Almost any dish can be stretched into soup this way.  I have a few servings of Wheat Berry Salad that could probably stand the same treatment if necessary.  Just add water, onion/carrot/celery, and some beans or canned tomatoes, simmer, and voila!  Soup.  Even if you’re not broke, it’s a great way to use up leftovers that you’ve grown weary of.