Tuesday, September 6, 2011

Cheap Chili

for the baseball party this weekend, I made a huge pot of vegetarian chili to go with the hot dogs (or to serve as the main course for some of my anti-hot-dog friends. I know, I know. I'm still working on them). The original recipe (found here) serves eight and calls for two cans of beans. Based on the number of RSVP's we received for the party, I planned to quadruple this recipe, which would mean I needed eight cans of beans.
Now, canned beans average about $1 a can, more or less depending on if there is a sale or a coupon to be had, and a one-pound bag of dried beans is also around $1 but in volume is just about equal to four cans of beans. So, eight cans at $8 or two bags at $2? This was a no-brainer for me! Prepping dried beans takes some planning ahead but there is hardly any hands-on work to be done so it really is super easy to make this substitution. Here's what I did:

  • First thing in the morning, I set out two large bowls and poured one bag of beans into each. Sift through the beans and discard any funky looking ones then cover the beans with water according to the directions on the bag of beans (usually 8 cups of water per pound). Set aside for at least six hours (or you could do this the night before and let them sit overnight. I timed my soaking period to be finished during my kids' naptime.)
  • After the soaking period is over, drain the beans and rinse under cold water, then transfer the soaked beans into a large pot. At this point I combined the beans to save dishes (I hate doing dishes) and covered with water by two inches. Bring to a boil on the stovetop then cover and simmer for 90 minutes. Stir every once in a while. 
  • After the 90 minutes, you can start prep from whatever recipe you plan to use (just make sure the proportions are correct since the dried beans yield much more than cans. For the batch I made this weekend, I used four onions, four cans of tomatoes and adjusted the seasoning accordingly as well). When the recipe says to add in the canned beans, just add in your freshly cooked beans instead. Use a slotted spoon or small strainer to transfer the beans from the cooking pot to the chili pot if there is a lot of liquid left. 
This was definitely cheap chili. The bags of beans I actually got on sale for 89 cents each and the tomatoes came from my pantry (but I got them on sale with a coupon too for 50 cents each). Onions were 25 cents each, and how much does a few tablespoons of chili powder cost? When you break it down, I made chili for 32 people for under $5 which comes out to less than 20 cents per serving. 
If you didn't want to make chili for 32 people on your average week, you could either only cook half a bag of dried beans at a time and save the rest for something else, or you could just go ahead and make the monster batch and then stock up your freezer. Guess which one I would do?

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