Wednesday, October 17, 2007

Beans (or jewels?)

I didn't grow up eating a lot of beans. I think my mom thought they were too time-consuming to cook (and so did I having experienced the nightmare of stale Goya beans languishing on the shelf at the local grocery store - slow to cook and mushy in texture once cooked). I've discovered the pleasures of great beans as an adult. I like them best by themselves - as a side dish or as a main dish with rice, simply prepared so you can really taste them.

I was introduced to a terrific little company, Rancho Gordo, from California that concentrates on heirloom beans. They have a constantly evolving menu of dried beans that are as much a delight to the eyes as to the palette. They all look like jewels to me and I find myself selecting them more on the basis of appearance than on the description of their taste (since they're all yummy anyway). The flavor and texture of these beans is unlike any you will find sitting around (endlessly) on the shelf of a conventional supermarket. I ordered a batch last year that I gave out as holiday goodies and recently ordered another batch just for us since the recent change in weather is starting to make it feel like bean-eating season.

Rancho Gordo is slightly off-beat and irreverent. They publish a blog that has recipe suggestions and more commentary on the beans they collect and develop. The descriptions on their site are irresistible. One particularly beautiful black bean is described as: "an oddly beautiful bean that looks as if someone went at it with an airbrush. When cooked, it's a firm, whole brown bean with a slight fudge texture and piney flavor. It's very rich, so prepare simply."

The cooking instructions that arrive with the beans are spot on (see mom, not so hard!).

Rancho Gordo method:
Check beans for small debris and rinse in cool, fresh water. Cover beans with two inches of water and soak for 4-6 hours.

In a large pot sauté finely chopped onion; celery, carrot and garlic (or any combination you prefer) in olive oil until soft. Add beans and water- and make sure beans ore covered by at least one inch of water. Bring to a hard boil for five minutes and then reduce to a gentle simmer. Once soft, add salt. Beans can take from one to three hours to cook. Slow and low is best!

More about beans:
Do not add acids (tomatoes, vinegar) or sugars until the beans ore just tender, as they can toughen the beans. You can replace some of the cooking water with beer or stock. Bay leaves are nice, as well as ham bones or smoked turkey legs. But in general, fresh, heirloom beans need little help.

If you need to add more water as the beans are cooking, only add warm water from a kettle. Cold water can harden the beans, and hot tap water is not good for you or your taste buds.

Some people believe that changing the soaking water will help alleviate the "gas" problem for which beans are famous. Some people believe you throw out some vitamins and goodness when you do this. Epazote, a culinary herb, is said to help. This makes more gastronomic sense than throwing out the soaking water. Research reaches no definitive conclusions. From my experience, the best way to help with the gas is to eat more beans.


My husband, who is a bean fanatic, got very excited when he saw our box arrive in the mail. We're having them for dinner as an accompaniment to fish tomorrow.

P.S. The vegetable in the photo on the left is kohlrabi and has absolutely nothing to do with this post other than the fact that I saw some at the market and thought it would make a nice color-based diptych with my beans. I have absolutely no idea what to do with Kohlrabi - any ideas, please send them my way!


Anonymous said...

I'm really looking forward to having simply prepared but high quality beans tomorrow with fish for dinner! These beans are better than any others I've had ... particularly on a cold and windy night. Check this space for my post-dinner report. MMMMmmmm.

Anonymous said...

Deliciously tender beans are a winner
Especially good for a winter time dinner.
Fibre and iron rich is the old bean
To help keep your body nice and lean.
Your bean recipes sound yummy and good
Your photos are awsome of this wonderful food.

Anonymous said...

The beans are pretty.
I am a fan of limas.
Please make them for me.

A haiku by me.

Anonymous said...

Now that I'm old and my children are successfully grown, I have plenty of time for beans. I will let you know the results post-haste. Mom

Anonymous said...

Love you photos. They reminded me of the day I could not resist the urge to buy a whole heap of these beans, and put them into a glass bowl on the table, just for decoration. They were great.

I love beans. As a vege, they of course are a large part of my diet (with lentils). What was a shock to me when I first began cooking beans and lentils was the HUGE variety that are available when you really look. Give me a moment, and I will count how many are in my pantry right now...... 17 different types of lentils and beans (and not in cans either).

Love your Mom's comment. Thanks for introducing me to Rancho Gordo's site, and look forward to hearing about your experience with the beans.

Anonymous said...

PS: here is another bean recipe for you to try. It is quite delicious. It is scheduled for publication in a week, but maybe you would like a preview. The URL is or click here.

Let me know what you think, and if you try it, how it turns out.

Sabra said...

Oh my - now two people commenting in poem! Vegeyum: I'd love to see your bean recipe but I can't seem to get that link to work - I'll check back in a week. Thanks for the heads up.

Anonymous said...

That's funny. I had no idea that was a picture of kohlrabi. I thought it was a kind of colorful lettuce thing! It looks like a pretty turnip. Wonder what it tastes like.

Anonymous said...

Looks delicious.
Does it get salty to the taste?
Sign me up for a reservation 12/5/07

a very proud father

Anonymous said...

Wondered whether you ever managed to see my bean post that I incorrectly linked to. here it is, I hope it works now.

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