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We eat beans or legumes nearly every day in our home. I suppose that is one way we feed this growing family of ours real food on a budget. Beans and rice, beans and tortillas, lentils or hummus, and bean soups are not all that glamorous, but they are inexpensive, nourishing fare that can go with a glass of Mabel’s milk and whatever we’re picking from the garden.

This Simple Black Bean Soup is something I’ve been making a couple of times a week as it is made with just a hand full of simple ingredients. Beans, water, garlic, cumin, tomatoes, and cayenne, to be exact. No bone broth, no blending or smashing; just a bowl full of beans in their own broth with plenty of flavor.

We like to top it with onions, avocado, and cilantro… or whatever else is hanging around. One of the most key factors in cooking beans, I have found, is to not add anything acidic to the pot until the beans are completely tender. The acidity seems to prevent them from softening further. So sample a few beans for tenderness before adding the tomatoes and vinegar. It can make all the difference.


A Simple Black Bean Soup


  • 2 lb dried black beans, picked over
  • 6 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 1 Tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground cayenne
  • 1 quart diced tomatoes (or equivalent)
  • 1 Tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • Water, as needed
  • Chopped onion, avocado, cilantro, or sour cream to serve, as desired


Soak the beans overnight in at least two quarts of water. Alternatively, perform a “quick soak” by covering the beans in two quarts of water and bringing to a boil. Turn off the heat and let sit for one hour before proceeding with the recipe.

Drain off the soaking or “quick soaking” water and cover the beans with fresh water to at least three inches above the beans. Add the garlic and cumin and place over high heat. Bring to a boil, cover, and allow to simmer for 1-2 hours or until beans are completely tender, adding more water if needed as the beans soak up moisture.

Once the beans are completely tender, add the cayenne, tomatoes with the juice, vinegar, and salt to taste. If the beans taste flat, be sure to salt them enough.

Serve beans with their broth in bowls with desired toppings.


It is a funny kind of irony that moving to the land and leaving the grid resulted in a break from some of our better eating habits. There were some needed compromises and some not-so-needed and I (and my many excuses and justifications) take full responsibility for this as the kitchen-dweller of the family. We were living in a camper; we were living in a wooden tent; I had a corner for a kitchen; we had no refrigeration; we were both working; I worked in the garden all morning…

Blah, blah, blah.

The truth is I shifted around priorities when things got tough and made some necessary, and some plain-old-wrong, choices along the way. This impacted all of our well-being and it’s just the past couple of years that things seem to be returning to a healthy normal.

We have good raw milk and lovely golden eggs most of the time. The gardens are beginning to supply us with vegetables regularly. I have been fermenting, soaking, sprouting, and souring most of our grains and legumes. We make and eat ferments regularly. The chicken flock is growing towards giving us more and more of that golden broth.

All of these were practices I had – and foods I sourced out – six years ago when it was just us and two little boys. It just happens to be that now we (and often our neighbors) are growing these foods. And somehow saying that out loud kind of helps me make sense of it all.

Another habit that takes just a few minutes but has been a real game-changer is making sauces and dressings regularly again. Honestly, much of the time I just splash some ACV, olive oil, and salt on the greens and call it a day. But then we’ve still got loads of homegrown garlic that we are trying to eat daily and, of course, I am always trying to get more milk kefir into our bellies.

And then Stewart bought me this handy-dandy immersion blender that I can run on our solar panels when the sun is shining. I’ve been blending up all sorts of nourishing stuff, one of them being a super simple mayonnaise that is really indiscernible from the Hellmann’s of my childhood but with a way better ingredient list. Inspired by that, I’ve been whipping up this Better Kefir Ranch which is sort of a hybrid Kefir-Mayo dressing and we have been drizzling it over everything from salads to slaws; salmon burgers to beans; baked potatoes to carrot sticks.


And while it feels really good in the belly, it also just makes everything taste fresh and delicious.

A Better Kefir Ranch

Makes 1 Quart


  • 2 cups cultured milk kefir
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1/4 cup raw apple cider vinegar
  • 1 1/2 cups avocado or extra virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon dried dill or parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper


Combine all ingredients in a quart jar and carefully blend until completely smooth and creamy using an immersion blender. Alternatively, grate the garlic into the jar with the other ingredients, place an airtight lid on the jar, and shake until all ingredients are combined.

Use as a salad dressing, dip, or sauce.

For many more good-for-you milk kefir and yogurt-based sauces, dressings, spreads, and desserts; see the Dairy Chapter in Traditionally Fermented Foods.