Tips for scratch cooking
My singular culinary mission in life is the promotion of scratch cooking. Simply-put, that's just the approach that whatever you can cook from scratch ought to be cooked from scratch. Of course, that's within reason. Some things are too complicated or too time-consuming and that's perfectly fine. But you might be surprised how quick, easy, and rewarding it can be to make something from nothing.
First of all, it's almost always healthier. Anything you buy from a store needs to keep for a while on the shelf, meaning that even the best breads, canned foods, or dry goods often get treated with some kind of preserving agent. For example, canned beans typically contain very high levels of salt and at least some preservative. In my experience, this generally holds even of the highest-quality product. The same is true of tomatoes and just about any other product you might find. Granted, it's usually far more trouble than it's worth to make a sauce from fresh tomatoes. I'll confess that I almost always use canned, especially during the winter months. But the point is to look for reasonable opportunities to go from scratch.
For example, cooking dried chick peas is a lot easier than you'd think. It takes about two minutes of work the night before, opening the bag, visually inspecting them for any obviously bad ones, and then covering them with water. The basic rule I use is that, for example, if you have about two inches of chick peas in your bowl, then cover them with at least two inches of water. That is, make sure the water comes at least two inches above the top of the beans. If the beans fill three inches of your bowl, cover by at least three inches of water, and so on. This ensures that you have enough water for them to drink all night. Think about it this way: you need to plan on the beans doubling in volume, so add enough water that they can double and still remain covered by water.
The next day, you just drain, put them in a pot, cover by at least an inch of fresh water (no salt!), bring to a boil, and allow to simmer gently for about an hour, or until they're tender. If you taste them at this point, you'll notice a whole world of flavour you may not have realized chick peas offer, and that's before you've added any salt. They are a beautiful product in their simplest cooked state. From there, the beans will keep for several days in the fridge or for a few weeks in the freezer. You can curry them, make hummus, turn them into veggie burgers, or whatever you like. For about two dollars in dried beans, you have a full meal's worth of food for a whole family, and then some.
Not only will your beans have less salt and no preservatives, but it's a far greener way to cook too. More on that later. For now, let me just make the point that this simple approach allows you to produce something healthier, tastier, and much cheaper. The effort is minimal. It simply involves a little planning. If you plan to have beans on Thursday, start them Tuesday or Wednesday. They only need to take up space in your fridge once they're cooked and the actual cooking of the beans only takes about an hour and requires minimal attention. After that, it's just a matter of flavouring. Once you get into the swing of approaching food like this, you'll not only save money and enjoy tastier, healthier food, but you'll feel proud of what you produce on a much deeper level than ever before. Cooking is a beautiful thing. Going from scratch only makes it better.
By the way, if you add salt when cooking beans, you usually risk toughening them up. This isn't the case with lentils, but it is with chick peas. In fact, with larger beans, adding salt before they're cooked will usually ruin them completely!
More information on chick peas