Bean bed and make-shift gardening

I thrive on beans of all different sorts!  Since going to a plant-based (vegan) eating plan, beans have become even more important to me than before, even after liking them my whole life of 60 years.

Beans are cheap!  Even so, they are so easy to grow that it seems like it just has to become a part of my gardening plans to grow them myself.  This ensures me that they are grown organically and fresher from soil to fork.

Bed prep

Last weekend, on my backyard garden conversion project, I cleared out an area on my fenceline to start my “bean bed.”  Voila:bean bed

I have some old fence posts already in place from a previous dog run we had.  I will use these posts this weekend to string with some kind of wire mesh so the vine beans can climb.  I need to pull some weeds and plenty of organic matter to the bed to prepare the soil for the babies I sprouted this week.

Sprout prep

Aside from the indoor sprouting method I’ve used for awhile, I decided to sprout some beans in soil, some of which will be used for eating immediately, and others to provide plants for my new bean bed.

I made use of some of the clamshell packaging that many of my “bought” fruits and veggies come in.  I feel really great about saving this for something useful now.  They have built-in drainage, and each clamshell provides you with TWO planting beds by cutting the top off the packaging.  The shallow side (the top) is PERFECT for “no-soil” sprouting, using paper towels to lock in the moisture.

I chose among the beans I have in my pantry: mung, adzuki, and lentil.  Here are some pictures of the sprout preparation:


Since I didn’t have any compost yet, I used a bagged potting soil.

lentil sprouts

Lentils for eating immediately, on wet paper towel. I also covered this with another paper towel and kept these moist throughout the past week. I have sprouts ready for eating this weekend.

lentil sprouts in soil

Lentils, using soil sprouting method. These are sprouting as well, for this weekend. I will use some of these for planting when they get big and strong.


Mung beans, using paper towels, non-soil, method. These sprouted within two days. Tasted some today, and they are much richer tasting than the indoor “Mason jar” method I’ve been using. Delicious!

adzuki sprouts

I love these adzuki beans. These are ready for the plate this weekend, too. (Wet paper towel method)


Kept all covered with wet paper towels, watered twice a day if needed in our 90+ temps this week. Ready to go!

This is the shelf that faces the south side of my house. It gets good sun, but is protected from the wind and hard rains when we get them. This will become my "greenhouse" during the colder months, and I will install some temporary heat lamps and plastic covers to keep the project going.

This is the shelf that faces the south side of my house. It gets good sun, but is protected from the wind and hard rains when we get them. This will become my “greenhouse” during the colder months, and I will install some temporary heat lamps and plastic covers to keep the project going.

I don’t have finished product pictures yet, but will harvest most of the eating sprouts this weekend.  My starter plants are coming along well.  I will transplant them into small containers for a couple of weeks before planting in my new bean bed.

It’s late in the traditional growing season, but, this is Texas, and we don’t have freezing temps, usually, until late October, and they are usually mild until mid-November at the earliest.  I should get some harvest by the time the colder temps come into play.



Pinto beans

Our family loves pinto beans!  My wife and I both learned to eat them at a very young age with cornbread.  We both had fathers who used the leftover cornbread to mix with buttermilk as a nightly treat until it was gone.  It may just be a Southern thing, but I’ve heard of lots of old-timers who did this.

The beans DO need to be soaked overnight for the best results.  Using the method printed on most labels of dry beans, to use the unsoaked beans and boil them rapidly for five minutes before leaving them to simmer for 45 minutes to an hour, does not usually have great results.  They are edible, but you don’t get the benefits of the spices blending well, and you certainly don’t get the darker, soupier liquid that makes these so tasty.

It’s a tradition to put the beans on to soak and announce to my wife, “Hey, we are having pinto beans tomorrow!”  This is met with, “Yippee!” (her favorite expression of delight when it comes to food).

Here is the way I do them.

pinto beansIngredients:

1 lb of pinto beans (I use Bob’s Red Mill pinto beans.)
1 medium red onion, chopped
1 cup fresh carrots, chopped
1/2 cup fresh celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 tbsp black pepper
1 tsp cumin powder


Wash beans thoroughly and then soak them overnight in water.  Empty beans into a colander, rinse them, and place them into a large pan.  Cover the beans with water to twice the depth of the beans.  Add all other ingredients and bring to a boil.  After boiling for a couple of minutes, lower the heat, cover, and simmer until beans are soft.  Usually, they are soft enough to eat within 45 minutes to an hour, but if you have the time, and enjoy the awesome aroma emanating from the kitchen, simmer them for a couple of hours without letting them become dry and sticking to the bottom of the pan.

Fast-cook beans and mixed quinoa

This is a wonderful blend of mixed fast-cook beans and a quinoa blend of black, red, and white grains.  It was perfect for a late supper with a fresh tomato and romaine salad and tomato vinaigrette I made this afternoon.

I saved about half of it for tomorrow’s lunch at my mother’s house where I like to bring my own food so no one has to worry about what to fix for “Todd’s diet.”  Just makes it easier, a non-issue.

Fast-cook bean mix and quinoaIngredients

1/2 cup fast-cook bean mix*, washed and ready to cook
1/3 cup organic mixed quinoa, washed and ready to cook
1 stalk of fresh celery, cut in small bite-size pieces
1/2 red onion, chopped
1 tbsp of fresh Italian parsley, chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 tsp black pepper
1/2 tsp cumin powder
red pepper sauce to add when serving (optional)


Place all ingredients, except the red pepper sauce, in a pot and cover with water.  My rule of thumb is to double the volume in the pot when cooking fast-cook beans.  In other words, if the ingredients are 1″ deep in the pot, add water to 1″ above the ingredients.  This is enough to cook without becoming a soup, or to let the ingredients boil dry.  Bring the ingredients to a boil, and then lower the heat to medium-low and cover.  Cook for about twenty minutes, or until the water line is no longer visible.  Test the beans to see if they are soft enough for you.  Then, serve hot.

Makes about 3 entrée-size servings

I served mine with some assorted raw veggies and slightly blanched white-cap mushrooms.

*This can be done with any fast-cook bean.  I prefer a bean blend that usually consists of green lentils, mung beans, and split-peas.

Eating sprouts, cheap and easy, and super nutritious

Sprouts will provide a big nutritional punch to our diets, and are very easy to grow at home.  And, it’s cheap!

My first adventure with sprouting, about four years ago, was pretty fancy.  I bought a very nice sprouting kit from Amazon that was pretty easy to use, and it worked like a charm, that is, until I lost a couple of the pieces in the dishwasher, finally rendering it unusable.  It wasn’t $30 wasted, but it was still $30!  And, it is just not necessary to be fancy.

Sprouts are surprisingly filling!  This is a picture of my breakfast this morning, a big bowl full of sunflower seed sprouts.  This was taken before I added a sweet oil-free and low sodium homemade salad dressing as a topping, along with a couple of pieces of fruit, on the side, to prepare for the hard day ahead.

sprouts4If you aren’t familiar with the sprouting process, there are tons of great videos on YouTube that can help, but some of them may scare you away from it by making it sound so ominous and time-consuming.  It’s not brain surgery!  The seeds do all the real work!

Sprouts prepThe simple process goes like this:

  1. Select the seeds you want to use.  Remember, beans are seeds!  There are lots of bean varieties that are perfect for sprouting: mung, garbanzos, lentils, adzuki.  But, you can also choose non-bean seeds, like the raw sunflower seed in the breakfast picture above.  Broccoli seeds are fantastic, too.  These can be ordered online through Amazon or from health food specialty sites.  Of course, if you grow your own, just save the seeds and use them.
  2. Wash them thoroughly, and then wash them again!  The biggest complaint (an unfounded fear) is that with all the water that the beans sit in during the sprouting process, they are susceptible to molds.  This is true if you don’t follow the process, but again, it’s not brain surgery!
  3. After washing them, put them in an airtight glass container, fill with water, and put the lid on the jar.  This is only for the first 24 hours.  Set them aside at room temperature, preferably out of the sunlight.  Under a box, like this one (above right), works very well.  One side of the box is lifted in this picture so that you can see the sprout jars, but if the box is deep enough, you should cover them completely.  A towel, or anything that will stay in place that keeps them in the dark, works just fine, too.
  4. Day 1 sproutsAfter 24 hours, remove the sprouts from the soak, pouring them into a colander, or a large sieve.  This picture was taken after these lentils were soaked for about 24 hours.  You can see the sprouts already forming.  Nature is working her magic!
  5. After the first 24 hours, you do not need to soak the seeds again.  Instead of soaking, you will give them “waterings” 2 or 3 times a day, and use a lid that has holes in it, or punch some holes in it yourself.  See the picture above to see the lids I used on these vintage mason jars from Ball (I bought these at Target, 4 for $10).  Just remove the seeds from the jar, and wash them.  This is a watering process, but it also cleans them again and again.  Rinse the jars thoroughly, while the seeds are draining in your sieve or colander.  The seeds will still be wet, but put them in the jar.  There will not be enough water to pool at the bottom of the jar.  These little sprouts drink up a lot of water, and they will dry out if allowed to go too long without washing again.  Remember, you do not want to put them in an airtight container for this washing process over the next few days.  They need air!Day 2 wash
  6. After 3 to 5 days, longer for some seeds, you will have some luscious, extremely healthful, sprouts that you can use for toppings, or as a main feature in your meal.
  7. Once you’ve decided it’s time for them to be eaten, put them back in an airtight container and store in the refrigerator.  You should plan on eating them within 2 to 3 days so they will remain fresh and tasty.

The process is easy, each washing taking about five minutes.  I have four jars going at the same time, so I spend about ten minutes three times a day, usually while I’m waiting for my meal to finish cooking, or just before bedtime after the kitchen is clean and ready for the next day.

There are a variety of methods, and of course, a large variety of favorite sprout seeds.  I would love to hear your ideas and tips on great seeds to use.  Enjoy!

Butternut lentil soup

Fast-cook dry beans

Dry Lentil-Pea MixI keep a jar of fast-cook dry beans handy for impromptu meals.  “Fast-cook” dry beans, like lentils, mung, green split peas, black-eyed peas, are a great start to the day, nutritionally speaking, and they are perfect for the spur of the moment because they do not require a long period of soaking.  After rinsing them thoroughly, you can bring them to a rapid boil, and leave them boiling for about five minutes, then turn the heat to a medium setting and let them cook for about 20 minutes, and they’re ready to eat.

Typically, Saturdays and Sundays, especially at breakfast, lend themselves to breakaway opportunities, when I don’t have to rush out the door to fight the commuter traffic.  And, this is where the “fast-cook” dry beans really become a good thing to have around the kitchen.

This is a soup that is ready to put together at a moment’s notice that takes only 30 or 40 minutes to prepare and cook, enough time to do the other morning routines while you wait.  My dogs need at least that much time just to say hello in the mornings and get all their begging for attention done!

For this recipe, I used some butternut squash from my own garden I had frozen last year, along with a bean mix of lentils and split peas.  Often, I will combine “fast-cook” beans when I’m running low on certain varieties.

Mung bean sproutsButternut lentil soup


1/3 cup of lentil-split pea dry bean mix
1 large clove fresh garlic, sliced thin
1/2 yellow onion, sliced thin
1 cup butternut squash, peeled and sliced
1/4 tsp cumin powder
1 tsp turmeric powder
1/2 tsp black pepper
1/2 cup bean sprouts (mung is what I used) for topping


Place all ingredients, except the bean sprouts, in a pot.  Add enough water to cover the mix and to leave a soup when it’s done.  I usually add enough water to double the depth of the beans (one inch of beans in the pot, add two inches of water).  This will absorb and boil down, so you are left with a hearty soup.  Bring ingredients to a rapid boil for about five minutes, cover, and adjust the setting to medium-low.  Cook for about 20 minutes.  Test the beans for softness, and adjust cooking times to your preference.  Add the bean sprouts, and you’re ready to chow down on a delicious soup for the day.

Makes 20 ounces, so you can share, if you want.

Butternut Lentil Soup

Black beans and brown rice bake

This week, I’m enjoying a baked black bean dish that I made on Sunday afternoon, enough to last the entire week for evening meal times.  It’s very similar to this one (blackeyed peas and barley recipe), but it uses brown rice instead of barley, and I threw in some fresh collard greens to green it up a little more.

I also learned a little from the last one, so there are some slight changes! Hey, if you read my “About” page, you’ll know that this blog is about my trials and errors.  I’m not a pro, just a guy who wants to eat healthy food and live a long time, and who can’t find food like this anywhere else, that is, without salt and oils, but at home in my own kitchen.

As the picture shows, the brown rice is very prominent, so perhaps, I’ll cut back on that next time.  The taste, however, is great!

Here is what I did, but you, being your own chef and all, should do it how you want to:

Black Beans and Rice BakeIngredients:

3 cups dried black beans, cleaned and soaked overnight
3 cups brown rice, (should have only used 2 cups…next time!)
4 large collard green leaves, torn in bite size pieces
24 oz of my Fresh Tomato Sauce (or your own version, if you wish)


In a large pan, bring soaked beans to a rolling boil for 5-10 minutes, then remove from heat. In a large mixing bowl, place the rice, collard greens, and tomato sauce, then stir to mix well.  Rinse the beans, then pour them into the mixing bowl with the other ingredients.  Add 2 cups of water, and stir all ingredients to mix in the beans and water.  In a large covered baking dish, or two if you need them both (I did!), pour in beans and rice, and cover.  Place covered dishes in hot oven (about 385 worked well.).  Bake for 60-75 minutes or until beans are tender.  After 45 minutes, you’ll need to check to make sure the ingredients have not become too dry.  If they appear to be getting dry, and the beans still need more cooking time, add a little more water, and bake another 20-30 minutes.  Let it cool for awhile and serve.  The remaining beans and rice can be stored in a tight container in the fridge and used for several days.

Serves 10-15, which is a guess, but that’s how many meals I’ll get out of it this week.

Note: if you’re asking, “where are all the spices?” be sure to take a look at the Fresh Tomato Sauce recipe.  This is where the spice is.  So, if you’re using your own tomato sauce, or something from a can, keep in mind that you will need to add your favorite spices to keep the dish from being too bland.  My Fresh Tomato Sauce is not bland at all!  It’s very spicy, but with this dish, it comes across as very mild.

Black Beans and Rice Bake

Hot out of the oven

Other resources of interest:
Black bean nutritional value
Black bean nutrition data
Collards nutritional data
Collards benefits
Brown rice nutritional data and health benefits

Lunchtime lentil soup

I enjoy a lot of flexibility in my work place, and I’ve learned to take advantage of it in some healthful ways.

crockA few months ago, I was looking for some things at Bed, Bath, and Beyond and came upon the perfect slow cooker for one serving soups, beans and grains.  I bought it for $9.99, a bargain when compared to Amazon’s price for $19.99!  I use it every day.

Today’s soup was made of green lentils, brown rice, and a handful of brussels sprouts, with spices of garlic, turmeric, and black pepper.  I get to work every morning in plenty of time to prepare my soups,and it only takes about ten minutes.

I keep dry beans and grains in jars in a desk drawer, along with a sharp knife from home that will go through avocado skin easily enough when I bring one.

lentil soupSince I was off from work yesterday, I did not have an opportunity to soak the beans overnight in the slow cooker, so I used about dry lentils because they do not need to be soaked ahead of time.  I used about 1/4 cup of the lentils and the same amount of rice.  I packed fresh brussels sprouts from home this morning in my Snapware container, already spiced and ready to dump into the slow cooker.

It takes a couple of minutes to rinse the beans and rice in a tea strainer I have on hand, and then I put all the items into the cooker, plug it into the socket, and I’m done with it until noon, with plenty of time to spare to get my rooibos tea going.  By the time everyone else is coming in around 8:00, I’m way into my real work already and enjoying my first cup of tea.

At lunch time, I have my salad and homemade dressing I brought from home that morning, a couple of pieces of fruit, and my steaming hot soup.  I even leave myself enough time to take a 20-minute power nap when I’m not needing to work through lunch.


Mung beans

I use several varieties of beans and peas.  Another bean that is perfect for slow cooking without having to soak them overnight is the mung bean.  It’s loaded with protein, as are lentils, and very tasty, with a nutty flavor.  Being from Texas, I have always enjoyed black-eyed peas, and these also do pretty well without having to be soaked overnight.  Larger beans, like pintos and kidney beans, really need to be soaked.  But, that’s also very simple to do if you keep a stash of them at the office.