Vegetarian Culinarian

Recipes and resources for food lovers going green, local, and compassionate.

Buying From Bulk Bins

What is buying in bulk?

Buying bulk in the grocery store doesn’t mean buying a lot – it means buying ingredients from large bins – the bulk bins. Each bin has a scoop. Scoop the desired amount into a bag (they are provided or you can bring your own), and write the PLU number (from the bin) onto the provided tag. Tie your bag with the PLU tag. I also write the specific type of rice, flour, or bean on the tag, as well.  The cashier will weigh your bags at checkout. When you get home, store your rice, beans, flour, or spices in airtight containers to ensure they stay dry and clean.

Why buy in bulk?

1. It is an easy way to green your life – no wasteful packaging!

2. Variety – There are so many more types of rice, beans, lentils, flours, nuts, and spices available in the bulk bins. Because there is no packaging, you can buy a small amount of something new to try. If you like it, come back for more. If you don’t, you haven’t wasted any money, and there isn’t a whole package of it slowly spoiling in your cupboards. I was first introduced to many new grains when I discovered 101cookbooks. The beautiful photographs and inspiring, all-natural recipes prompted me to try such grains as millet, quinoa, and wheat berries. I headed straight to the bulk bins, and bought just enough for each recipe.

3. Freshness – Ingredients in bins are usually replenished often. I especially love buying spices from bulk bins. They are SO much fresher than bottled spices. When I first smelled turmeric in a bulk bin, it changed the way I cooked with it. I had no idea what its subtleties really were. Bottled spices are so much flatter, older, dustier.

Where can I buy in bulk?

Not all grocery stores have bulk bin sections. Some bulk bin sections only offer candies and snacks. Whole Foods Market has a great bulk bins section. There are local natural food stores in many areas, as well, like La Montañita Co-Op in Albuquerque, that have great flour, bean, and spice selections.

Where can I find cooking instructions for beans and grains?

The only problem with buying in bulk is that if there is no packaging, there are no cooking instructions. Some grocery stores, like Whole Foods Market, provide free booklets with cooking instructions and grain-to-water ratios for this purpose. Some cookbooks, like Better Homes and Gardens, provide cooking information and instructions for the basic (but not all) types of rice and beans. Don’t let that deter you! I will post information about cooking different types of rice, beans, and grains on this blog. Look for them soon in the Rice, Grain, Bean Info & Cooking Charts category.

Photo Credits: Another beautiful photo from Carlos Porto. Find more of his work at


Beans are a great food for vegetarians and vegans. High in fiber, folic acid, iron, and protein, beans are very inexpensive and store well in the pantry. If you buy your beans in bulk, store them in an airtight container like Tupperware®, and use them within six months.

Three Methods of Cooking

The three basic methods of cooking beans, from fastest to slowest, are using a pressure cooker, boiling on the stovetop, or using a Crock-Pot®. I’ve never used a pressure cooker, but the link above will take you to instructions. The stovetop method requires a soak and then a slow simmer in water on the stove. The Crock-Pot® method requires dumping in one or two cups of beans, filling the Crock-Pot® with water, and turning it on (although if you want to soak beans ahead of time, it will cut cooking time in the Crock-Pot®).


1 cup dry beans yields 2 to 3 cups cooked beans


Soaking helps create evenly-cooked, tender beans. After sorting through your beans and picking out stones, discolored beans, or beans that aren’t smooth and firm, cover beans in cool water, and let soak for four to twelve hours before cooking. Alternately, quick-soak your beans by covering beans with two inches of water and boiling for 2 minutes.

Stovetop Cooking Times by Bean Types

After soaking, rinse beans in a colander. Put beans in a large pot. Add 3 to 4 cups of water for every cup of dry beans you use. Bring the water to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer gently for the recommended cooking times listed below. Keep in mind that cooking times vary widely depending on soaking time, bean type, bean age, and cooking method. The times below are approximate. It is a good idea to start checking for doneness a half hour to an hour before the recommended cooking time is complete. I check for doneness by tasting one of the beans. Also keep in mind that if you are going to use the cooked beans in a recipe that will further cook the beans (as in Iranian Rice with Beans and Dill), it’s best to leave the beans a tad firm to ensure they don’t get mushy by the end. You can access a photo and nutritional info from Something Better Natural Foods by clicking on the links following simmer times.

Adzuki – Simmer 1/2 hour after bringing to a boil. Nutritional Information for Adzuki Beans

Baby Lima Beans – Simmer 1 hour after bringing to a boil. Nutritional Information for Lima Beans

Black Beans – Simmer 1 1/2 hours after bringing to a boil. Nutritional Information for Black Beans

Black-Eyed Peas – Simmer 1 1/2 hours after bringing to a boil. Nutritional Information for Black-Eyed Peas

Cannellini Beans – Simmer 1 1/2 hours after bringing to a boil. Nutritional Information for Cannellini Beans

Chickpeas (Garbanzo Beans) – Simmer 1 1/2 to 2 hours after bringing to a boil. Nutritional Information for Chickpeas

Cranberry Beans – Simmer 1 1/2 to 2 hours after bringing to a boil. Nutritional Information for Cranberry Beans

Fava Beans – Simmer 1 1/2 to 2 hours after bringing to a boil. Nutritional Information for Fava Beans

Great Northern Beans – Simmer 1 hour after bringing to a boil. Nutritional Information for Great Northern Beans

Mung Beans – Simmer 1 1/4 hour after bringing to a boil. Nutritional Information for Mung Beans

Navy Beans – Simmer 2 hours after bringing to a boil. Nutritional Information for Navy Beans

Pinto Beans – Simmer 2 hours after bringing to a boil. Nutritional Information for Pinto Beans

Red Beans – Simmer 2 hours after bringing to a boil. Nutritional Information for Red Beans

Red Kidney Beans – Simmer 1 1/2 hours after bringing to a boil. Nutritional Information for Kidney Beans

Soy Beans – Simmer 3 to 4 hours after bringing to a boil. Nutritional Information for Soy Beans

Sources for Stovetop Cooking Times by Bean Types: Buying In Bulk by Whole Foods, Something Better Natural Foods

Crock-Pot® Method

I usually use a Crock-Pot. You don’t need to soak (although if you do, it will cut cooking time) – just sort through your beans (pick out stones, discolored beans, and beans that aren’t smooth and firm) then rinse your beans in a colander, add the desired amount of beans to the Crock-Pot® (1 cup dried beans yields 2 to 3 cups cooked beans), and fill the Crock-Pot with water. Filling with water will ensure that as the beans absorb the fluid, the Crock-Pot interior doesn’t dry out. I have a small Crock-Pot (1.5 quart – it was about $10 at Target), and I start with 1 1/2 cups of dried pinto, kidney, lima, black, or cannellini beans and end up with about 3 cups cooked beans. Add salt to the water as you would when boiling pasta. This lengthens cooking time a bit, but if you salt after the beans are finished, it won’t be as effective. If you are around to add the salt halfway through cooking time, this is best. Also, if you are following a recipe that calls for adding tomatoes, lemon juice, vinegar, or any other type of acid, don’t add it until the beans are fully cooked. The acid will prevent the beans from softening as they cook. It generally takes 4 to 5 hours on high, or 6 to 7 on low, for beans to cook in a slow cooker without a presoak, but they are done to perfection, and if you put the beans in the Crock-Pot® before leaving for work, they are done when you get home. Alternately, put the beans in the slow cooker in the evening, and they’ll be done when you get up in the morning. So convenient! Keep in mind that actual cooking times for beans vary widely – not just by bean type, but also by bean age. It’s a good idea to start checking for doneness an hour to a half hour before the recommended cooking time is complete. I check for doneness by tasting one of the beans. Also keep in mind that if you are going to use the cooked beans in a recipe that will further cook the beans (as in Iranian Rice with Beans and Dill), it’s best to leave the beans a tad firm to ensure they don’t get mushy by the end.

Recipe Links for Beans:

BLACK BEANS: I absolutely love these Black Bean Brownies. I am an ardent follower of 101cookbooks, and this recipe is one of the reasons why! If you love chocolate, you will love these!

BUTTER BEANS: I grew up in a community with many Persians, and some of my favorite memories are of potluck tables and platters heaped with Persian rice dishes. Even though my best friend is Persian, I have been slow at learning the dishes. Except for this one, which turns out amazing every time: Iranian Rice with Butter Beans and Dill

CHICKPEAS (GARBANZO BEANS): Hummus is a staple at my house, and this recipe for Hummus bi Tahina by Emeril Lagasse is great. Instead of the canned chickpeas, though, cook your own. So much fresher and cheaper that way!

WHITE BEANS: Another great 101cookbooks entry, Carrot, Dill & White Bean Salad is wonderful! Also, check out Bruschetta with White Bean Puree by Michael Chiarello for the Cooking Channel.

ALL BEANS: You will never want to leave this site – check out all of the bean recipes at 101cookbooks. Find a wealth of recipes at Savvy Vegetarian. Find international bean recipes (such as various types of Indian dhal) contributed by members of the International Vegetarian Union. You can find reader recipes organized by bean type at Veg Web.

Photo Credits: Another great one by Carlos Porto

Gluten-Free or Not Gluten-Free: Flours

Flour – Gluten

Amaranth – None

Bran – High

Buckwheat – Low

Cornmeal – None (This is both blue and yellow.)

Gluten – High (Obviously)

Graham – Low

Oat Bran – Low

Rye Flour – Low

Semolina – Low

Soy – None

Spelt – Low

Teff – None

Wheat Germ – High

Whole Wheat  Durum – High

Whole Wheat – High

Whole Wheat Pastry Flour – Medium

Source: Buying In Bulk published by

Photo Credits: Photograph by Suat Eman

Green Your Life With These Green Companies

1. To-Go Ware®

I first discovered To-Go Ware® at a Whole Foods Market in Santa Fe, New Mexico. The light-weight set of bamboo utensils in their cute, snap pouch was not on my list, but immediately solved a long-standing and nagging problem: for my many road-trips, flights, and lunch trips to the local market (La Montañita Co-Op’s pad thai – yum!), I needed utensils that were stronger than plastic but lighter than silverware.  Something I could reuse several times – preferably forever. I hadn’t realized anything existed that fit these exact requirements, and so I’d been making do with a set of baby utensils (reusable, portable yet strong, but obviously small).  So without hesitation, I snagged two sets of To-Go Ware® bamboo utensils (in fuchsia and hunter green pouches) – one for my purse and one for my lunch bag.  Each set was on sale for $9.99 and included a standard-sized spoon, fork, knife, and two chopsticks.

I already knew about the wonders of bamboo firsthand from an enthusiastic tour guide at a chocolate/vanilla/tropical fruit/bamboo farm in Hawaii. Bamboo is a beautiful, strong wood (technically a grass) that doesn’t absorb or retain food odors. It is a fast-growing renewable resource, and its harvesting process doesn’t harm the earth.  Consider that when bamboo is harvested, the roots are left in the earth and the bamboo continues to grow. This prevents soil erosion and deforestation. Plus, the harvesting cycle for bamboo is only two to seven years (depending on the species) compared to twenty to fifty for other woods (or fifty to one hundred for hardwoods). It also requires little, if any, pesticides or fertilizer. Lastly, this stuff is durable. I’ve used and washed my bamboo utensils every day (every single day) for the last six months, and they are still like new.

Beyond all of this, (and I don’t mean to gush like an 8th grader or sound like a door-to-door salesman, but I do get excited when I find innovative companies that are committed to sustainability and social justice…) To-Go Ware® is the epitome of a green company. They are smart green in that they support the Principles of Environmental Justice and the Bali Principles of Climate Justice. They are actively green in everything they do –  from using bio-degradable cleaning products in the workplace to refusing to partner with companies that lobby against environmental conservation. They are committed to human rights, and partner with WEAVE and CONSERVE. (If you don’t know about these empowering organizations yet, click, click, click! You will feel inspired and connected – they will make your day!) We can green our own life and promote sustainable practices in businesses by purchasing from ethical companies like this one. Read more about the To-Go Ware® mission and sustainability practices here.

2. ResnackIt™

According to World Watch Institute, Americans throw away 100 billion polyethylene plastic bags every year. I used to contribute to that number until yet another trip to a Whole Foods Market.  These nylon-lined cotton sandwich bags (again, not on my list) caught my eye immediately, and I’ve been using one for the past four months. It is ultra-convenient. I’ve packed burritos, sandwiches, bagels, almonds, chips, and carrots in it. Not only am I saving money and the environment by not buying plastic bags, but the nylon lining of the bags is lead free, phthalate free, BPA free and PVC (vinyl) free (read: safe to touch your food).  It can be thrown in the dishwasher, washing machine, and dryer, but I’ve never needed to – the interior wipes out easily. I take it out to recess duty (my afternoon snack is usually almonds or pistachios), and all of my students ask where they can get one.  When I’m not using it, it takes up almost no space, which is why it is great for travel. Check out ResnackIts™ at mom-powered Live and Dream Green LLC!

3. Tupperware®

Buy it once, use it your whole life, then send it back for recycling. Yes. You heard me. Tupperware® recycles the products sent back to them. Did you know that? Besides Tupperware’s environmentally friendly manufacturing practices and their worldwide environmental initiatives, Tupperware® products themselves help us green our lives. First off, they are BPA-free (read: safe). Secondly, they help us greenies in our sustainable lifestyle. There are products which are designed to keep fresh produce fresh – which is invaluable to those of use who forage for produce in local farmers’ markets. This means less pre-packaged waste, and less spoiled food being chucked into the compost bin. There are storage products which are designed with air-tight seals for those of us who buy flour, rice, and legumes in bulk. Buying in bulk saves money and reduces packaging waste. I also find a greater variety of flours, sugars, and rice are offered in the bulk section than in the isles of pre-packaged goods in supermarkets. There are products which help us replace disposable items, such as water bottles and coffee mugs. (Did you know that plastic bottles take 1,000 years to break down?) Lastly, Tupperware® products are a traveling vegetarian’s dream. Pack soup for lunch at work, bring your own spill-proof ‘doggie bag’ container along to the restaurant, pack pilaf or tabouli for a picnic or road trip, or bring a few empty containers on a road trip for hummus or olives bought along the way. With Tupperware® I can save money, reduce waste, buy locally and in bulk, and when I’m on a road trip (read: not close to vegetarian-friendly stores and restaurants) I can pack my own healthful, cruelty-free snacks and meals. Find more tips for sustainable living from Tupperware® here.

There you are, three of my currents favorites that help us become agents of change. It’s easy to adopt a disposable lifestyle because of the convenience, but with a little help from green companies like these, we can make sustainable living just as convenient, and more affordable as well.

Photo Credits: Recycle Bag by Kittikun Atsawintarangkul at