Thursday, May 15, 2014

Black Bean Pineapple Salsa

We don't eat a lot of meat in our house.  I read The China Study by T. Colin Campbell a few years back, which talks about the connection between nutrition and heart disease, cancer, and diabetes.  More specifically, he emphasizes the importance of a plant-based diet.  At that point, I started playing around with a vegan lifestyle and dramatically cut back on meat and dairy.

When I started thinking about baby #2, I read a lot about Weston A. Price and the benefit of traditional diets ( which contain a lot of animal protein and fat, among other things, because of the huge vitamin supplies they give to the developing fetus.  Since that time, I've started eating more grass-fed meat and lots of pastured eggs from my sweet little egg lady who lives down the street. 

When you read all kinds of different nutrition 'styles', it can be hard to discern what's the real truth, even when choosing between two seemingly very healthy lifestyles which both are based on research and their version of facts.  Do I follow a plant-based diet or do I aim for the huge amounts of vitamin A, D, & K that are in animal proteins?

So, I live a little bit in the middle.  My take on meat is this: I try to avoid factory-farmed meats and dairy products whenever possible.  If you ever read up on factory-farming, you would be truly disgusted to know what you're consuming by eating the boneless skinless chicken breast or the package of ground beef that you got on sale at Meijer.  They are full of steroids (to make the animals grow as fast as possible), antibiotics (because all the animals are penned up so closely together in such unbearable living situations that they are guaranteed to get sick.  So the solution is to preemptively give all of the animals antibiotics regularly, whether they are sick or not), and genetically modified corn and soy (cows, chickens, pigs, etc are not meant to eat corn and soy, yet that's the majority of their diets because it's cheap because of government subsidies to corn and soy farmers).  I'd prefer not to feed my unborn fetus antibiotics and steroids.  To be honest, I don't want that crap either.  So when at all possible, I buy grass-fed organic meat, preferably from local farmers. But when all else fails, I shop in the organic section at Trader Joes, Whole Foods, or Kroger.

Problem is that organic grass-fed meat and dairy is expensive.  So I can pretend that my motives are entirely wholesome and ethical, but to be honest, a big reason why we don't eat a lot of meat is because it's just too darn expensive. 

So how do we get our protein? Beans! Beans are super cheap and full of protein, fiber, vitamins, calcium, magnesium, potassium, antioxidants, and more without all the fat from the animal products. Some easy way to add beans into your diet include:
  • Load up your chili with beans! This is an easy one. When I make chili, I use 3 or 4 different kinds of beans with no meat whatsoever. If you add enough flavor, it's tasty and hearty enough that no one will be the wiser.
  • How about a cheap weeknight spaghetti dinner? I always throw in a cup or two of white beans when I make pasta.  They add such a creaminess to the dish and pack a punch of protein for just pennies.
  • HUMMUS! Or any kind of bean dip (think outside of the box beyond taco dips - the possibilities are endless!). I love making bean-based dips to dunk veggies in for a super healthy and hearty lunch. Plus I always double my batch and freeze some for when I'm feeling lazy later.
  • Try a bean burger (and not one from the freezer section of the store which are filled with all sorts of chemicals and nasty ingredients).  There are a million recipes on the internet for bean burgers of any kind.  Again, as long as you flavor it enough and add enough fixings (avocado anyone?), it still gives you the joy of grilling for a fraction of the cost.
  • I make a pretty scrumptious 'meat' loaf made of lentils and veggies. It's super moist and really flavorful.  Another alternative that I tried just yesterday was meatballs made of lentils and mushrooms.  Baked in the oven to crisp perfection and slathered with tomato basil sauce... they were delicious!
  • Use beans to make tacos instead of beef. Heat them up in the pan, then cook them with seasoning just like you would the taco meat. My husband loves tacos (and he's a meat kind of guy), and he says he's just as happy with our bean tacos as anyone else's meat filled tacos.
  • In fact, any kind of Mexican meal can be made with beans instead of meat.  Quesadillas, taco dips, enchiladas, and nachos are all easy candidates for a bean-based meal.  On that note, check out my recipe for Black Bean Pineapple Salsa below :)
Money Saving Tip:
You thought beans were cheap. I can make them even cheaper.  Dried beans.  They're even cheaper than canned beans, which are more expensive, can contain BPA because anything in aluminum cans do, and unfortunately sometimes have added high fructose corn syrup or other chemicals in it.  I'd rather eat straight, whole beans without any of the extra junk.  And I'm ALWAYS up for saving money. 

But who has time for dried beans? You do.  This is where my secret comes in: Mr. Crockpot! It's sooo easy. Here's what I do:
Charlotte helping to sift through the beans. Hello sensory play!
  1. Dump your beans in the crockpot the night before and sift through for little pebbles (seriously, don't skip this step. It's creepy the amount of rocks I've found in my bags of beans).
  2. Fill the pot with water overnight, covering the beans by at least an inch of water.
  3. The next morning, drain the water and rinse the beans in a colander.
  4. Dump beans back in the crockpot and fill with enough water to cover beans by at least an inch.
  5. Turn on crockpot!
The first time you make the beans will be a learning experiment.  First you need to figure out how many pounds of beans will fit in your crockpot.  My 6 quart crockpot holds 3 pounds of beans, so that's what I always shoot for because I'd rather get the most out of my time.  Plus you will need to be available to check on your beans to see how long it really needs to cook. I've found that cooking 3# of beans on high for 4ish hours tends to do it for me.  But there have been times that I've cooked them too long and they got mushy.  It ended up being fine because I just used those beans for dips instead of a recipe that needed a whole pretty bean.  So it will take a little bit of practice to figure out the cook time just right, especially because different beans need more cooking time.  But once you've figured it out, it will save you a TON of money and lots of time!

After the beans are done cooking, I dump them into a colander and let them sit on the counter for an hour or so until they cool off. Then I put them into bags to freeze.  I store 1 cup of beans in a snack-sized ziplock bag and 2 cups of beans (which is a little more than a can of beans) in a sandwich-sized ziplock bag.   That's it!  Then when I need some beans, I either let it thaw in the fridge the night before I need them or take them out of the bag (don't microwave your plastic bag!!) and zap them in the microwave. Easy peezy.

3 pounds of dried white beans for $4 got me 10 cans worth of beans

So what should you do with your beans this week? How about some Black Bean Pineapple Salsa! I looove homemade salsa in the summer, made with good ol' tomatoes. But when our garden isn't overflowing with tomatoes, it can actually be cheaper to make your salsa with pineapple instead of fresh tomatoes.  It's sweet from the pineapple with a little heat from the pepper. And it's so versatile! On the first day that I made it, we just had chips and salsa for dinner.  I then turned the leftovers into enchiladas, which were equally delicious.  But you could use it for tacos, burritos, quesadillas, or it would even go nicely dolloped on some fish or chicken.  I love its' versatility!

Black Bean Pineapple Salsa
1/2 - 3/4 fresh pineapple, cut into bite-sized chunks
1/2 medium red onion, diced
2 cups (or 1 can) of black beans, rinsed and drained
A large bunch of cilantro, minced
1-2 garlic cloves, minced
Juice of 1 lime
Salt and Pepper to taste
1 jalapeno pepper, seeded (unless you like the heat, then leave the seeds) and chopped (I omitted this because Charlotte isn't a fan)
Combine all together, then taste.  Depending on the size of your pineapple or the juiciness of your lime, you may want more of any particular ingredient.  Just add whatever your taste buds call for!  If you made it last minute, you can certainly eat it right away.  But if you have the time, let it sit in your fridge for a couple hours so all of the yummy flavors can blend together for an even tastier bite.  If you have leftovers, you may need to add extra lime, as that flavor tends to dissipate after a few days.


  1. Have you tried Roasted Plantains as the chips for your salsa? Love them!

    1. I've tried fried plantains once, but not with salsa. Do you make your own or where did you get them??