Beans, Beans, the Truly Magical Fruit


I’ve always had a cholesterol problem, but thanks to some great pharmaceutical interventions, I’m able to eat a fairly unhealthy diet — red meat, eggs, cream in my coffee. But as we teach our children, just because we can do something, doesn’t mean we should. Thus, my beef, pork and lamb consumption is really limited to once or twice a week. I’m really into boneless chicken thighs from the local Whole Foods, but I don’t have those more than once a week. Of course, seafood is a primary component of my diet when I’m looking for more protein.

But the one item I’ve added to my regular meal rotation that gets me excited the most is — drum roll, please — beans. Yup, beans. But not just any ol’ beans. I’m not talking about cans of pintos or kidneys or cannelini from the Harris Teeter. I also couldn’t settle on bags of dried beans off the grocery shelves, either. No, my beans are Rancho Gordo heirloom beans from the Sacramento River Delta of California. Now I know we’re supposed to be buying local products, but I just haven’t found that Johnston County dried bean farmer yet. So, I’m going to stick with the beans from Rancho Gordo and its owner, Steve Sando. With varieties such as Santa Maria Pinquito, Good Mother Stallard, or Yellow Indian Woman beans, there’s no shortage of interesting colors and flavors here. Yes, folks, I must admit — I have become a bean snob, and I’ll never be able to thoroughly enjoy a regular grocery store legume again. Damn you, Sando! However, I really can’t say enough good things about these legumes, as they are the freshest, best tasting beans I’ve ever tried. No, they’re not cheap at 5 bucks for a one pound bag, but that bag will feed 6 people when you cook some rice, too. Plus, the shipping cost is a flat $8, no matter how many bags you order.

What makes these beans even better is the recent discovery of an extremely simple and fool-proof cooking method. You do not soak the beans — that doesn’t affect the flavor nor does it minimize the gastric side effects (food writer Russ Parsons has debunked these old myths). You do not have to cook them all day long. This is as fool-proof as it gets, and to call it a recipe is a bit much — it’s really just a matter of throwing a few ingredients in a pot and waiting for nature (and heat) to run their courses. It was Russ Parson himself who first promoted this cooking method, but I learned about it on the eG Forums of the eGullet Society. I’ve “perfected” the technique for Raleigh’s water system.

You simply sweat some onion, garlic and carrot in your choice of oil (of course, duck fat is ideal, which is as healthy as olive oil, but the olive oil will work for vegetarian meals), add your beans to coat with the oil, and then add about three times as much water. Add a half teaspoon or so of salt (another myth: salt does not harm the beans). Bring to a boil, cover, and throw the pot into a 275°F oven. After 60 minutes, stir, add a bit of water if needed, and re-cover. After another hour, stir one more time, put the lid back on, and then turn off the oven. Allow to cool in the oven (I often leave the pot in the oven overnight, although if you’re more concerned about micro-critters growing in there than I am, you’ll want to let it sit only an hour or two more). Your beans will be done — plump, tender, and completely intact. These won’t be mushy beans, they’ll be nirvana. If you want tomatoes or other acids in your beans, don’t add those until the last half hour of cooking (you may want to pre-cook the tomatoes), as the acidity will prevent the beans from softening. Now if your water has a high mineral content or has a fairly low pH (i.e., somewhat acidic), it may take your beans longer to cook. You can solve the problem somewhat by using filtered water.

Even my 11-year old, soccer-playing, hyper-picky eating daughter loves these beans and has started to make them her pre-practice snack. Protein, fiber, and some carbs — with lots of flavor and little fat. Sounds like a great snack to me.

Give these beans and this cooking method a try. You’ll soon be converted, too.


32 Responses to Beans, Beans, the Truly Magical Fruit

  1. detlef says:

    You might want to check out Phipps Bean Ranch. I used to buy from them when I had a restaurant down the road from them in Santa Cruz. I recall coming up with a special planning to use their beans. Due to complications, I was unable to make it to their store the day before the new menu, so I subbed some beans I had on hand. The next day, I managed to make it out there and picked some up. After I cooked them off, I could not, in good faith, serve the one’s I’d made before. The difference was simply too big. My poor staff was stuck with those beans for staff meal for days.

  2. Varmint says:

    Wow, thanks for the tip, Charlie. Those beans cost less than Rancho Gordo’s, so I’ll give them a try. Do you have any plans for these styles of beans at Dos Perros? As you’ve seen, just like me, the stuff we can get from local suppliers is god-awful when compared to these.

  3. detlefchef says:

    In a word…yes.

  4. Varmint says:

    I did notice that the shipping costs are a lot more with Phipps Bean Ranch. For their beans that cost 4 bucks a pound, the Rancho Gordo option may be cheaper.

    Anyhow, I’m stoked that you’ll be using top-grade beans. No surprise, however.

  5. Varmint says:

    Rancho Gordo is mentioned in the December issue of Gourmet, calling the beans “delicious bites of history” and praising them for their “wild colors and velvety texture.”

    These beans really, truly rock. Get some today!

  6. detlef says:

    So, loyalty won out and I’ve been using Phipps (though there’s really no reason not to try out your boys at Rancho Gordo especially if I can save a buck or two…). Thanks, BTW, for the thread that reminded me about great beans. At any rate, we got our first shipment a few weeks ago and they’re as good as I remembered. Amazing, actually. We’ve been making our own version of Cassoulet with them. Chinese sausage, five-spice duck confit, etc. Served along side a batch of Asian greens.

    The varieties we’ve gotten are the huge white beans (Gigantes), Yellow-eyed Stubens, Painted Pony, and Autumn Bounty. All really pretty and tender as a mothers love.

  7. Varmint says:

    Beans are the poor forgotten stepchild of the culinary world. This topic has had as little traffic as any since I started this blog, and I just want to stand on a mountain top and yell, “People!!! Wake up! Don’t you understand that beans can be really delicious and a main part of your diet?”

    Whether they’re from Rancho Gordo or Phipps makes no difference to me, but beans rock my world.

    I made a pasta e fagioli for Thanksgiving using Rancho Gordo flageolet. Awesome flavor, without any use of pork products.

    I think I’ll order a bunch more right now!!

  8. durhamfood says:

    Beans are great! I’m thinking of making this tonight for potluck:

    We got some speckled beans a week ago from Brinkley, and this sounds yummy.

  9. Varmint says:

    I just ordered the following:

    Yellow Indian Woman Bean
    Vallarta Bean
    Santa Maria Pinquito Bean
    Mayacoba Bean
    Flageolet Bean
    Nightfall (Red) Bean
    Yellow Eye Beans
    Cranberry Bean- Cargamanto
    Florida Butter Bean


  10. Varmint says:

    Just to let everyone know that we here at VarmintBites are truly on the culinary cutting edge, Rancho Gordo beans were just included in the Saveur 100, THE list of all that is cool and hip in the food world. 🙂 In fact, they were listed as the #2 item, not that the list is in any particular order.

    OK, smug smile is now gone.

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