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Why go dry?

Living

NATURAL HIGH Dried beans retain all their healthy goodness and are really simple to prepare.

Green Living

McKinley Neal

In my last column, I looked at some of the benefits of organic foods, so now I’m going to look at how to use some of them.
People often ask how to ‘deal with’ dried foods. We all feel more comfortable opening a box or a tin and following the instructions, but by using dried goods, you can feed a family with relative ease at a fraction of the cost while generating far less waste.
Additionally, pre-packed foods are often cooked using extra high temperatures and pressure, and with additives that we wouldn’t use in a home kitchen.

Dry run
I lived for several years in Mexico and learned to cook dried beans to avoid going hungry. I tend to cook soaked beans on a Sunday. I basically just tip a good load of dried beans into a large bowl on the Saturday evening, cover with about 1.5 times the amount of water, and leave them to soak overnight.
The next day, I drain and rinse them, put them into a big pot covered with water, and throw in some peeled garlic cloves and half an onion for flavouring, as well as salt – you use much less salt overall if the beans absorb it during cooking.
Cooking time varies, but is usually takes at least an hour; you will need to taste them to know they’re done. I cool and freeze half the batch to have some on hand, and then we make burrito bowls with black beans, beans on toast with cannellini beans, hummus with chickpeas, stew with kidney beans… endless possibilities!
Lentil love
Lentils generally cook quickly and do not need to be soaked in advance. I do cover them with water while I am chopping onions, carrots, and other veg, and then strain before adding them directly to the pot with stock to simmer for a curry, dal or soup (I prefer red lentils or yellow split peas for these).
You can eat your lentils ‘chunky’ or purée them, and they make a fantastic substitute for meat in some veggie versions of classic meals like shepherd’s pie or spaghetti bolognese (brown lentils are best). They can also be used to add texture to grain bowls or salads (puy or beluga lentils have the right bite in these dishes).

Grain store
Because Western diets are heavy on wheat, it’s great to try out other grains. Barley bulks up soup or can be used as an alternative to rice for risotto.
Buckwheat and millet are popular for alternatives to porridge made with oats, and both add nice crunch to homemade brown bread or muffins.
Buckwheat flour makes delicious pancakes, and is naturally gluten-free, like gram (chickpea) flour. Quinoa is actually a seed that cooks like a grain, and it is high in protein and goes well with beans.

Seed savers
Finally, seeds like pumpkin, sunflower, flax and chia can be sprinkled on porridge or baked into breads and treats for a little boost of goodness. Try combining a few of your favourite nuts, seeds and dried fruits for a custom snack mix. Or try soaking nuts and blending them into salad dressings or spreads – cashews are great for vegan Caesar dressing or ‘cheese’.

McKinley Neal co-runs PAX Whole Foods & Eco Goods, a minimal-waste shop in Westport offering bulk organic foods, reusable goods, household products, eco-friendly personal care items and gifts.