Kitchen Intuition: A bean, a green and a grain

Authored By aliceodea

I was unexpectedly out of town for several days last week, and I came home to a produce drawer full of greens that really needed to be used up. After three days of spending many hours in the car while eating hotel breakfasts and road food, I was in the mood for something earthy and nutritious that wouldn’t weigh me down. I ended up making something that was all that, and it turned out to be a really cheap, yummy dinner.

Credit for this inspiration goes to J. Kenji López-Alt, food columnist and cookbook author, formerly of America’s Test Kitchen and now managing culinary director at Serious Eats. While I was still pondering the possibilities for dinner, I took a stroll through my bulging email inbox and saw that Quora had recently done a session with Kenji. It was a great read, and one question about cooking meals ahead gave me the idea I needed for dinner. Kenji mentioned the “one bean, one green, one grain” formula and linked to Food52’s “How to Cook Dinner From Your Pantry” (which in turn mentioned that this was first spotted at No Meat Athlete).

I took the idea and ran with it. I had plenty of greens, and just about anything will do here. Some of those with tougher leaves-such as kale or collards-need to be sautéed for a while, but more delicate veggies like spinach or tender chard can be just lightly wilted or stirred into the mix without any cooking. I had lots of kale, and before roughly chopping the leaves, I stripped out the stems, which I then chopped into small bits. I then cooked those tiny pieces in a lightly oiled wok for about 10 minutes so that they could soften before I added the leaves for cooking.

The beans were easy-whenever I make dried beans, I always put in some extra for the freezer. I also keep a few cans around as well, just in case. But since I was already hanging around the house, reading email and getting the post-trip laundry done, I figured I might as well throw on a pot. I brought some navy beans to a boil, turned off the heat and let them soak for a couple of hours, then drained and rinsed them before putting them back on the stove to simmer while I started the rest of the cooking.

I didn’t have any cooked grains ready to go, so I had to cook them on the spot. But fortunately, wheat berries don’t take long to heat and simmer, and I really love their chewiness. If I had been in more of a hurry, though, I could have fallen back on a quicker-cooking grain such as couscous or bulgur. Pasta is also an option, as is rice, quinoa or so many other grains. Just experiment with whatever you have on hand.

After cooking up the greens, I added in a bit of minced garlic and let that cook for a minute or two. Once everything was nice and soft and fragrant, I stirred in the beans and wheat berries, and mixed in a bit of olive oil. I also added some seasoning and sambal oelek at the table. Not only was it a fantastic one-dish meal, it was also incredibly inexpensive and easy enough to make while I was distracted with other things.

Since I was home for the day, it was easy enough for me to attend to the bean and grain pots as they simmered; but if this had been a more typical weeknight, I could have easily thrown a meal together in 20 minutes or less using canned beans and a quick-soaking grain. Greens cook up fast enough, but frozen vegetables would have been another speedy option. If I had any leftovers in the refrigerator, I could have added those to the mix as well. Mine ended up more like a vegan stir-fry, but on another day, I might have added in some pieces of chicken or shrimp; or if I had some broth or stock, my “one bean, one green, one grain” could have turned into a soup.

There are so many options here that this can be in the regular rotation without all that many repeats. Give it a try, and post your hints in the comments!