January 8, 2014 at 1:00 am

Maureen Tisdale

Let's Talk Food: Frugal legumes, and what are your food-cost and food-quality improvement ideas?

My friend Dawn cooks legumes at least a pound at a time and freezes them in 1-cup servings with a little of the cooking liquid. They take the chill beautifully and thaw quickly, she says. (Dawn Needham / The Detroit News)

I’ve dreamed of cooking beans from scratch and saving enough money to put my son through college, or at least to get lunch out with my friend Dawn more often.

Then I’ve (a) bought plain-old canned beans out of laziness or (b) bought way more expensive proteins out of preference.

My goals often are bigger than my stomach for sacrifice.

My friend Dawn, on the other hand (you remember her from Saturday’s Let’s Talk Food on repurposing leftovers), can go the distance. So once again, I’m going to harness her experience to share a good idea.

In her own words, here’s how she does the frugal legume thing:

Spurred in part by economy and in part by worries about chemicals leaching out of canned goods (it's a thing, I swear, I saw it on the interwebs!), I bought pounds of dried beans and chickpeas and cooked them up myself. Not only is the texture and, I think the flavor, much much better, you can endlessly customize by adding herbs and garlic as you're cooking, or go plain and jazz them up as you use them. It takes time, but it's largely unattended, and even in soups and stews the better texture of your homecooked beans will shine through. And you control the salt — canned goods can sneakily hide a great deal of sodium, and I want to reserve my salt for finishing and other high-impact uses (like sea salt chocolate chip cookies).

I cook at least a pound at a time, even though I'm cooking for one, and freeze them in 1-cup servings with a little of the cooking liquid. They take the chill beautifully and thaw quickly (even if, like me, you snub microwave ownership).

I absolutely believe Dawn’s right about the texture and flavor; it reminds me of my dad saying anything worth doing is worth doing right. Of course, sometimes “better done than perfect” applies too, and if you do need to cut corners, any chickpeas can be a helpful pantry staple, for this time of year especially — cheap, healthful and easy to work with. Check out our recent story on guilt-free but delicious vegetable soup thickened with chick-peas, or another on 5 easy chickpea recipes for ideas for working them into your meals.

Meanwhile, maybe I’ll drum up the willingness to do them from scratch at some point. I really do admire Dawn’s frugal ways, especially as I’m starting to peek between my fingers at the changes this year in health-care costs and more. Oof. (And in other news, don’t you think Dawn should give us her sea salt chocolate chip cookie recipe? Food for future Let’s Talk Food thought...)

What are your ideas for cutting your food costs and improving your food quality in 2014? We’d love to hear about it in the comments below. You need a Facebook account to add comments, but they’re easy to sign up for, and free. Over the next few days, Detroit News Food Editor Maureen Tisdale will respond to comments or questions. You also can follow her on Twitter @reentiz. Join the discussion!