Sometimes, more than anything, you need something easy. Easy to make, easy to eat. Maybe it’s because you’re exhausted from holiday traveling, or maybe it’s because you’ve just gotten over a little bout of sickness that has left you a little woozy.

Maybe, as was my case a couple of weeks ago, it’s both.

Was I ever glad to have such an overstuffed (if not exactly well-organized) pantry, fridge and freezer. It meant that when I was tired of road food, then even more tired of eating takeout on the couch as I recovered, and ready to (gently) get back into the kitchen, I had some options that didn’t require a trip to the store or an order from a grocery delivery service.

At the top of my list of thank-goodness-I-have-this ingredients are beans, cooked from dried, and refrigerated or frozen in their cooking liquid. I can’t stress enough to the unconverted how much different these taste from the canned variety, and how happy you’ll be to have them if you’ve planned a little in advance and cooked up a pot. I do it every week or two, and I never regret it.

As it turns out, I had the chance to prove the difference to myself, all over again. A helpful colleague made for me a batch of a potato-bean stew, recipe courtesy of the inimitable Mollie Katzen, using canned (and rinsed and drained) pinto beans. Perfectly satisfying. Then a few days later, I made the same thing, using a few cups of beans I thawed from the freezer, plus the elixir that is almost as good as the beans themselves: the flavor-charged liquid they had cooked in.

This time, it was sublime. And thanks to that overstuffed freezer, it was every bit as easy.

Potato-Bean Stew

6 servings (makes about 12 cups)

Serve with grated fresh, mild white cheese, toasted pepitas (pumpkin seeds), crema and/or minced cilantro.

MAKE AHEAD: The stew can be refrigerated for up to 5 days.

Adapted from Mollie Katzen’s “The Heart of the Plate: Vegetarian Recipes for a New Generation” (Rux Martin/Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, 2013).

2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, chopped (1 1/2 to 2 cups)
2 teaspoons chili powder, preferably chipotle chili powder, plus more as needed
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 large sweet red bell pepper, seeded and cut into small dice
1 to 2 medium poblano chili peppers and/or Anaheim chili peppers, seeded and cut into small dice
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 1/2 teaspoons salt, or more as needed
1 1/2 pounds Yukon Gold potatoes, scrubbed well and cut into 1-inch chunks
1 cup bean-cooking liquid or water, plus more as needed
3 cups drained home-cooked pinto beans or 30 ounces canned, no-salt-added pinto beans, rinsed and drained
15 ounces canned, no-salt-added diced tomatoes and their juices
Freshly ground black pepper
Juice from 1/2 to 1 lime

Heat a Dutch oven or soup pot over medium heat for about 1 minute, then add the oil and swirl to coat. Add the onion, chili powder and cumin; cook for 5 minutes, stirring often.

Add the bell pepper, chili peppers (to taste), garlic and 1 teaspoon of the salt; cook for 5 minutes, stirring a few times. Stir in the potatoes and the remaining 1/2 teaspoon salt. Reduce the heat to low; cover and cook for 5 minutes, stirring once or twice. Add the bean cooking liquid or water, cover and cook for 15 to 30 minutes, or until the potatoes are tender but not mushy. Add more cooking liquid or water if the mixture seems dry.

Gently stir in the beans, along with the tomatoes and their juices. Increase the heat to medium-high and bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to medium-low; cook, uncovered, for 5 minutes.

Taste and season generously with the black pepper, plus additional salt and/or chili powder, and the lime juice (to taste). Serve hot.

Nutrition per serving:
300 calories, 11 g protein, 50 g carbohydrates, 6 g fat, 1 g saturated fat, 0 mg cholesterol, 730 mg sodium, 11 g dietary fiber, 6 g sugar