Variations on a theme.

It's been a while since I've written about my "Pantry Essentials," which is part of my guiding philosophy of this blog. I'm somewhat surprised to see I haven't included the foundations of most of my meals - beans and garlic.

Not all of my meals include beans, of course, but they are a great ingredient to bulk up a vegetarian dish, or convert a meat-based dish to vegetarian. When I first decided to experiment with meatless meals, my initial grocery trip was a little pricey - because I bought a bag of nearly every dried bean carried by Publix. Dried beans are probably the pantry essential for my kitchen. (See my post on pressure-cooking here).

Keeping a well-rounded collection of dried beans is very cost-friendly. The major perk, though, is that they taste better, and you can control the amount of salt in your meals.

Also essential to my pantry is a bulb of elephant garlic. I use garlic in nearly all of my meals, and elephant garlic keeps long enough for it to supply these meals for a decent amount of time. While the cloves may sometimes be too large for one dish, I just cut off a portion and keep the remainder in the fridge until the next meal. Another perk is that elephant garlic is also so much easier to peel than a normal-sized bulb.

This past Tuesday, I came home only with a plan to make some broccoli cheddar bites for my Wednesday book club; then decided I should probably also make some dinner for myself. It was "taco Tuesday," but I was a little tired of my usual black bean fare. I decided to pressure cook some pinto beans and see where they took me.

I ended up making some pretty tasty taco beans, and they were a nice variation to satisfy my taco desires. In addition, I accomplished another of my blog goals: I incorporated some sweet potato leftovers! What were the Pioneer Woman's Sweet Potato Fries got soggy; I chopped them up and threw them in with the beans.

Pinto Taco Beans with Sweet Potato Recipe (ish):
1 tb olive oil
1/2 cup chopped onion
1 tb chopped garlic, or to taste
heaping 1/2 cup dried pinto beans or 1 can pinto beans
1/2 cup or more cooked diced sweet potato
1/4 tsp cumin or more to taste
1/4 tsp chili powder or more to taste
salt and cracked black pepper to taste
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

  1. If using dried beans, pressure cook or spend a super long time soaking and cooking them. Alternately, you can cook them while you're at work in a slow cooker (as tasty as the pressure cooker). Reserve cooking water (about 1/4-1/2 cup).
  2. Heat olive oil in a skillet over medium heat.
  3. Saute onion until soft (3-4 minutes, usually).
  4. Add garlic and cook until fragrant.
  5. Add in cooked beans, sweet potato, seasoning, and a splash of the cooking water to help the spices incorporate. Stir gently; the pinto beans break apart easily. 
  6. Heat through, and stir in cilantro when finished.
  7. Serve your favorite way. I like to use crispy white corn shells, whole-fat greek yogurt in place of sour cream, salsa, cheese, and whatever green I have on hand.

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