Fresh Summer Cassoulet w/ Gluten-Free Bread

More than a year ago I wrote this post, in which I talked about a vegan cassoulet I had at 29 Palms, in Joshua Tree. The chef gave me directions, which I documented with every intention of giving it a shot. But then life intervened. First I had to move. Then the summer was insanely hot, so that the very last thing I wanted to do last summer was spend time in the kitchen. Finally, I was me eating cassouletalways rehearsing.

All of that seems like it happened far more than a year ago. Wow. So much has changed. For example, I cut off my hair. See, there I am, last night, just about to dip a piece of gluten-free bread into the cassoulet. With really short hair. And not yet knowing whether the food had turned out as planned or was going to bomb. Nervous. Hopeful. Happy to be with people I love. But I’m getting ahead of myself. Cassoulet. Bread.

Until a couple of weeks ago my plan of recreating that delicious vegan cassoulet had fallen completely out of my mind. But I remembered it I was trying to figure out what to make for a dinner party I was co-hosting with friends who live in Evanston. Since Evanston is a bit of a hike from my place, I wanted to make something with ingredients that would be easy to carry. Also, affordability is always a consideration these days. Plus I have this new gluten-free thing. And, we were having the dinner party in honor of a friend who was visiting from California and is someone who really appreciates delicious food. (If you like to cook as much as I do, that’s an important quality in friends.) So I was super excited when I remembered the cassoulet. The only trick was coming up with a decent gluten-free bread. Which has been much more difficult than anticipated.

Indeed, during my relative silence of the past few months, I’ve actually been cooking a lot. But in addition to my generalized lack of creative energy (apparently I’m one of those people whose creativity is fueled by angst. Now that I’m no longer so unhappy, I’m not feeling the need to create. It is sad. But I like being happy.), I also haven’t been writing about it because there have been a lot of failed attempts. Specifically, with gluten-free bread.

I know, I know. Gluten-free bread does not involve beans. But, as I’ve mentioned before, bread is an essential component of a bean-based diet. Not only is it good for dipping into delicious sauces, bread adds an important textural variation. Here, it is necessary for both reasons. So, breath held and fingers crossed, I tried out yet another recipe promising delicious gluten-free bread so good that even people who can eat gluten will love it. And lo and behold, this recipe delivered! gluten free breadMaybe not the most beautiful loaf ever, but definitely, recognizably, bread. (The weird shapes happened because my dough was a lot more runny than it was supposed to be, so as it settled into the parchment paper, it took on the crinkles in the paper instead of being strong enough to straighten them out.)

This bread is a bit more dense and moist than regular bread, but totally and completely delicious. Indeed, last night a friend who habitually reached for the baguette wound up deciding that she preferred the gluten-free bread. Finally!

This version, which I think is the fourth recipe I’ve tried, was adapted from Gluten-free Girl and the Chef: A Love Story with 100 Tempting Recipes, by Daniel and Shauna Ahern. I love this cookbook. I love them. And I love this bread. Here’s my version. The cassoulet recipe follows.


  • 1-1/4 c. tapioca starch (The original recipe calls for potato starch. I subbed because I didn’t have any on hand and it was pouring out. Given what happened with my version, you should probably use potato starch.)
  • 1-1/4 c. almond flour
  • 2/3 c. oat flour (certified gluten-free)
  • 1/2 c. millet flour
  • 1 T. active dry yeast
  • 3 t. psyllium husks
  • 1-1/2 t. coarse sea salt
  • 1-1/3 c. warm water
  • 2 large eggs, room temperature
  • 1/6 c. olive oil
  • 1 T. honey
  • 1 T. olive oil for the bowl

Combine the flours in the bowl of a standing mixer, if you have one. If not, just combine them in a large bowl. Whisk to combine. Then add the yeast, psyllium husks, and salt. Whisk again. Pour the warm water, eggs, oil, and honey over the dry ingredients and mix with the paddle attachment (or a spoon) until the ingredients are thoroughly combined. At this point, the original recipe tells you that it will be soft and will slump off the paddle/spoon. But my mixture was a very runny, slightly grainy batter. Whatever you wind up with, oil a large bowl and scrape (or pour) in your dough/batter. Cover with a clean cloth and let it rise until doubled and bubbly. For me, that took about three hours. The original recipe says two.

sliced breadAt the end of your rising time, preheat the oven to 500 and put a covered cast-iron Dutch oven in to come to heat. (The original recipe suggests either a Dutch oven or a pizza stone. My dough would never have worked for a pizza stone, as it was far too runny. But maybe you will have better luck. I hope so!) After the Dutch oven has been heating for thirty minutes, remove it from the oven and place a large piece of parchment paper on top, using an oven mitt or kitchen towel to push it into the container. Drop in the dough. If you like, top with a swig of olive oil and some sea salt. Then fold the parchment paper over, put on the lid, and return the pot to the oven. Bake for thirty minutes. Remove from the oven and cool on a rack for at least thirty minutes.




The original directions for this cassoulet are as follows: Heat some olive oil in a large skillet over fairly high heat. Saute garlic and shallots. Add fresh greens, whatever is in season (the chef used Swiss chard), halved cherry tomatoes, basil, oregano, marjoram, and a healthy amount of salt. Saute, stirring, for a few minutes, until everything is carmelized. Then add cooked white beans and about two cups of white wine. Cook for about ten minutes, until the liquid is reduced by half. Serve with toasted bread.

As you can see, the only ingredient with a specified amount was the wine. So what I wound up with last night was complete guess work, which I did not measure or document except in this photograph.cassoulet, uncooked Also, I used two separate skillets in order to feed 8. Therefore, what follows is my best guesstimate for what I did in a single batch. Which I may do differently next time. And which, if you try this out, I hope you make your own. This recipe lends itself to that sort of cooking. I hope you try.

  • 1-1/2 T. chopped garlic
  • 3 T. halved, thinly sliced shallots
  • 1/4 c. olive oil
  • 1-1/2 c. halved cherry tomatoes
  • 2 c. sliced Swiss chard
  • 4 c. cooked cannellini beans
  • 2 c. white wine
  • 1/2 c. fresh basil, oregano, and marjoram, minced
  • sea salt and freshly ground pepper, to taste

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over fairly high heat. Add the garlic and shallots and saute for a couple of minutes, stirring, until richly fragrant. Add the tomatoes and salt. Cook for another minute or two of five. Then add the chard and herbs then cook, stirring a little, until carmelized. Add the beans and wine. Continue to cook for about ten minutes, until the liquid has reduced a bit and it smells so good you have to eat right now. Serve with toasted bread. Enjoy!


Roxanne’s Magic Bean Stew, courtesy of Michael Ruhlman

Hello! I feel like I’ve been away forever. And I’m not sure why. I think it’s because my food life has been taken over by trying to become gluten free. Which has been interesting, if difficult. Also, I had house guests for a few days. Plus there’s work. Yoga. My garden. Book clubs. Plays. Music. Friends.

Let’s face it: this effort I’ve been making over the past couple of years to rebuild my life after my marriage ended? It’s worked. My life is rich and full. The downside is that I find myself less and less interested in writing about what I’m doing. But, thankfully, this isn’t true for everyone. For example, Michael Ruhlman, who posted this inspiring entry about a conversation he had with Cleveland Clinic Preventative Medicine Physician Roxanne Sukol.  (I got my computer fixed and now the link feature works again!) They talked about food and nutrition and, at the end, he shared the following recipe. Which I’m planning to make for dinner tonight. I’ll let you know how it goes. If you try it, please do the same.

Roxanne’s Magic Bean Stew
(adapted for Michael Ruhlman’s kitchen and then again, for my style and the contents of my pantry)

1 cup of your favorite beans (I’m using Mother Stallard, from Rancho Gordo)
1 quart/liter water
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 onion, chopped
1 Bay leaf
1″ piece of kombu
Pink Himalayan (or Kosher or any other) salt and freshly ground pepper

Combine everything except the salt and pepper in the insert of your slow cooker.  Cover and cook on low in a slow cooker for 7-8 hours. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Slow cooker chuck roast with Mortgage Lifter beans from Adobe Milling Company

pot roastThis is so much better than you’d think it would be. Honestly, I added the beans just because I wanted to find some way to use them and thought this might be good. I had no idea it would elevate the dish into something so spectacular. I mean, true, it’s just pot roast. Not something you’d expect from a real chef at a fancy restaurant. But for an at home dinner on a Monday night, a dinner that mostly cooked itself while you’re at work? Can’t beat it. Plus, on a whim, I decided to add turmeric, something I’ve been trying to incorporate into my diet. Because it’s supposed to be really, really good for you. Here, it was not only delicious, it also imparted a wonderful golden hue to the broth. The end result knocked my socks off. And it was super easy. Here’s what I did.

First, I cooked the beans. I used Mortgage Lifter beans, an heirloom Indimortgage lifter beansan (Native American) bean that I picked up at Adobe Milling Company, in Colorado. ( The woman at the store recommended pre-soaking these enormous beans. I soaked one package (2 cups) overnight, rinsed, and then cooked them in a slow cooker covered with about 1″ of water and a thumb-sized piece of kombu (a sea vegetable that helps with digestion). It took about 4 hours. When the beans were tender, I added about a teaspoon of salt, turned off the heat, and let them cool in their broth. The salt penetrates the bean during the cooling process, seasoning them through. When they were cool, I refrigerated the beans overnight. Although you can add more if you like (handy to stretch the dish to feed more people), you will only need about two cups of cooked beans for this recipe. I froze the rest to use later. If you go that route, just make sure the beans are fully submerged in their cooking liquid.

Second, this morning, I made the roast. The recipe for that is slightly more involved, but not much.

1 3-lb. chuck roast
2 onions, sliced medium
6 carrots, cut into chunks
2 T. cold water
1 T. kuzu (another kind of seaweed) or cornstarch, for thickening
1-1/2 t. salt
1 t. freshly ground pepper
2 cups cooked mortgage lifter or cannellini beans, homemade or canned (if canned, drain and rinse)

Combine the water and kuzu (or cornstarch) in the insert of your slow cooker. Add the onions, carrots, and turmeric. Stir to combine. Wash and dry the roast, then rub the salt and pepper into both sides. Place the roast on top of the vegetables. Cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours. About an hour or two before you’re ready to eat, use tongs to turn the roast and add about 2 cups of cooked, drained beans. Just ladle them around the sides. When you’re ready to eat, taste for seasonings. And that’s it! Super simple.  Surprisingly delicious. And a nice way to sneak some healthy beans and turmeric into your diet.

Dryland bean farming and five national parks

Amazing as it is, in Dove Creek, Colorado, the “self-proclaimed Pinto Bean Capital of the Wophoto 9rld,” there are bean farmers who practice “dryland” farming, which means that they don’t use any form of irrigation. Despite the fact that they are farming in the desert. This blows my mind. In a good way.

I stopped in Dove Creek during my whirlwind National Park tour, on the way from Moab, Utah, to Cortez, Colorado. The quote is from a magazine article, The Ballad of the Drylander, which I picked up at the Adobe Milling Company. (

The Adobe Mphoto 3illing Company processes and sells beans grown by the very same dryland bean farmers who are featured in the article. I wasn’t able to talk to any farmers. But, from what I gathered in a brief conversation with a couple of people who work at the Adobe Milling Company, the farmers put the bean pods into a silo. The beans then go through some additional process to separate the seeds (edible part of the bean) from the pod. Finally, the beans pass through a chute and are packaged for sale.

From the looks of things, the bulk of Adobe Milling Company’s business is mail order. But they alsphoto 13o have a store. Where they sell many varieties of beans. Also many varieties of hot sauce, which I heard are delicious. But, since I had to fly home, I limited myself to beans. Many beans. Specifically, Anasazi, Colorado River, Mortgage Lifter, Pink Eye, Pinto, and Zuni beans. Of course pinto beans are readily available without being imported from Colorado, but I couldn’t come home from the Pinto Bean Capital of the World without some pinto beans. Right? That would have been crazy. At least if you’re me. No. For me, the only sane move was to bring home as many beans as I could fit in my suitcase. Which turned out to be a lot.

So far, I’ve cooked just one variety, the Colorado River beans. Great as they were, the folks at Adobe Milling Company didn’t have any advice beyond telling me that none of the beans I bought (except the Mortgage Lifters) needed to be soaked prior to cooking. These beans are fresh, you see. But I found some useful information at this site (, where I learned that Colorado River beans are also known as “Mayflower” beans. Apparently they’re very good for baked beans. However, I decided to use them for vegetarian chili. (

I’m delighted to report that the experiment was a total success. Acting on the advice of the woman who sold them to me, I did not soak the smallish beans, yet they held their shape perfectly after 10 hours of slow cooking.

Eager as I am to start cooking the rest of the beans, it may be a while before I get around to it. Between work, trying to settle into my new apartment, finalizing the upcoming program on prison reform, and trying to generate material with my improv ensemble, I haven’t had any creative inspiration for beans lately. And I’m trying to be okay with that. Trying to trust that it will come when the time is right. Breathe.

The funny thing is that most of the time I know everything will work out as it should. Yet, there are those moments when I fall back into old patterns, fretting and fuming, spinning myself into a mass of anxiety and nerves, so worried about what I’m not doing that I can’t do anything.

For example, pretty much every day since I returned from my vacation I intended to write this post. I wanted to write about Dove Creek, and dryland farming. But I also wanted to write about what a wonderful time I had on vacation, spending time with my best friend and seeing what I believe may be the most beautiful part of our country. Now that I’ve gotten the first bit down, I’ll tell you about the rest of the trip, even though it isn’t about beans. Because I can’t imagine that you wouldn’t want to hear about a trip to five national parks. They’re stunning.

Mesa Arch, CanyonlandsWe started at Canyonlands National Park, near Moab, Utah. ( This is one of Beth’s photos, of (and through) Mesa Arch.

The next day, we went to Arches National Park (, where Beth and I embarked on our first real hike of the trip, a three-mile walk to Delicate Arch. Delicate Arch 2The hike wasn’t difficult, but it was hot–91 degrees! So worth it, though.  And we befriended a very nice man, a retired professor from Germany. He was in excellent physical condition. Nonetheless, the fact that we kept pace with him is probably telling.

After the hike to Delicate, we drove to Colorado, for the visit to Bean Country and to visit Mesa Verde National Park. ( Palace Here’s a shot of the largest of the cliff dwellings, Cliff Palace. Apparently the ancestral Puebloans built and then abandoned this city within three generations. There’s plenty of speculation about why they left (probably drought, although Beth and I hypothesized that it was just too damn cold down there), but no one really knows. It’s a  great mystery. Cliff Palace 1

While we didn’t get to spend as much time in Mesa Verde as I would have liked, this may have been my favorite of the parks we visited. Our original goal was to spend some time in the park that afternoon and then return in the morning. Unfortunately, however, the park closes at 5. So we didn’t get to see as much as we’d hoped. But I will go back to Mesa Verde one day when I have more time. It is a special place.

The next stop, and the place we spent the most time, was Zion National Park. ( This is Beth’s favorite place, which she was eager to share with me. And I can see why. It’s absolutely breathtaking.

Angel's LandingThe plan for our first full day in Zion was to hike Angel’s Landing, which Beth and her husband climbed earlier this year. Here’s a shot she got on this trip. Gorgeous. Yes? And terrifying. After reading about the hike in one of their guidebooks, I was nervous. “Not recommended for those afraid of heights,” the book said. It sounded scary. But I’m not afraid of heights. Not really. And I didn’t want to miss out on something so spectacular. So we went.

If possible, the reality was even more remarkably awe-inspiring than the photos. Yet, sadly, my anxiety was justified. As it turns out, I am afraid of heights. At least this kind. In the beginning I was fine. Beth going up to Angel's LandingBut when we reached this point, I was literally shaking, with sweaty hands. It was awful. Truly. Can you imagine trying to hold onto a metal chain with sweaty hands, trying to stay grounded while your entire body is trembling? I’m absolutely certain that if I’d known what it would feel like, I wouldn’t have gone. Not that it’s over, though, Ichains‘m so, so glad that I did.

At one point, when we reached the first plateau after the chains, I wanted to turn back. Or at least part of me did. We stopped and sat down while I worked it out. It is perhaps an understatement to say that Beth isn’t always the most patient person in the world. At that moment, though, mid-way through this climb, when it mattered, she waited patiently, without judgment, emanating unconditional love and support, while I worked through my terror.

At first I was just breathing. Then, next thing you know, I was sobbing. Fear manifested as tears. This lasted maybe 5 full minutes. After which I was still afraid but ready to go on. view from the top of Angel's Landing

Here’s a view from the top, where I sat next to this very brave tree and peered over the edge. I still can’t quite believe how beautiful it is. That said, to me, the accomplishment was not getting to the top in order to take this photo.

The accomplishment was the fact that I kept going, that I overcBeth going down from Angel's Landingame my fear and kept going. One step at a time. Because I knew that if I turned back, I would regret it. Always. And because Beth was there, believing that I would be okay. So we finished.

My reward was that contrary to my fears, the way down was much easier. It doesn’t look it, though, does it? Just seeing the photo right now makes me a little nervous

The next day, our last full day, was pure pleasure. We hiked The Narrowsthe Narrows, a slot canyon where you hike in the river. It’s hard, as you are walking on boulders through fast-running, ice-cold water.

Beth in the narrows 2But it’s quite remarkably beautiful. And so much fun!!! At least, as long as you have the right gear. Some people were hiking in shorts and tennis shoes. But we rented boots, pants, sticks, and a drypack from Zion Adventure Company. ( The boots and pants made lifemore hoodoos at Bryce comfortable. And the stick is essential. On the final day of our trip, as we headed home, we  drove to Bryce Canyon. It was cold and kind’ve rainy. So we didn’t do any hiking. Instead, it was a classic American tour of observation points. You can see a lot of hoodoos from the side of the road!! They’re amazing. As was everything. I still can’t quite believe this stuff exists, that you can simply get in your car and drive to these places, that we humans got it together enough to preserve such wonder for ourselves and future generations. It restores my faith in us, at least temporarily. Indeed, being immersed in such splendor makes me almost believe in the notion of God. At the same time, though, I find myself even less tolerant of the notion of religion. With all of this to worship, what need have we of churches?

This morning, back in Chicago, when I was lying in my bed, I finally felt ready to write this post. It was raining. Which sparked a connection between my life right now and the idea of dryland farming. Because yesterday I finally planted some seeds in my garden plot. ( Now, because it’s raining, while I may go by the garden today, I don’t have to. Nature is watering for me. Unlike the farmers in Dove Creek, I am not dependent upon the rain for my water. At least not in the same immediate sense. But I feel the connection. It is good.

Cherokee beans

Cherokee beansI got these beans a while back, when I was in Madison, Wisconsin for a hog butchering class. (If you missed it, here’s the blog post I wrote about that, photos and all. (

The beans have been sitting around so long because, honestly, I didn’t know what to do with them. Indeed, I didn’t even know what they were. It was obviously a mix of beans, but what kind? I had no idea. I trusted that they would be delicious, though. Because I’m pretty sure that everything the Underground Food Collective touches is delicious. They are magicians with food. (

I wanted to do something special, something to honor the source as well as whatever it is about these beans that made the vendor decide to label them Cherokee. After all, who doesn’t associate the idea of anything Cherokee with everything awesome in this world? Including the Cat Power song by the same name, which I still haven’t tired of despite listening to it (and the rest of Sun) more than one morning a week while getting ready for work. Yeah, I probably need to get some new music. But it’s so good! If you don’t believe me, see here. (

But back to beans. I thought, with time, I would become inspired. That something would leap out one day and shout that this was it, this was exactly the right recipe. That happens sometimes, especially with food. And writing. A moment of creativity in which everything makes sense without any effort. A fully-formed idea comes into your mind and you know that it’s exactly right. But not this time.

Finally, this past week, I decided to stop waiting around for inspiration. After all, there was no one I needed to impress. So I would cook the beans simply. With a little bit of bacon. Which also came from Underground Meats and has been in my freezer, waiting. For this super simple pot o’ beans. Which turned out to be completely delicious. And included a moment of inspiration in the spice department, when I realized I was out of ground cumin and didn’t feel like cleaning out the coffee grinder…

2 cups of mixed small beans
2 thick slices of smoked English bacon
1 sm. onion, diced
1/2 t. cumin seeds
1/2 t. coriander seeds
1 T. whole coffee beans
1 thumb-sized piece kombu
freshly ground black pepper
1 dried red chili pepper, crumbled
water to cover by 2 inches

1. Slice the bacon, cross-wise. Place in an unheated cast-iron skillet. Turn the heat to medium-high and fry until crisp. Add the onion and cook, stirring, for another 2-3 minutes, until the onion is soft. Season generously with freshly ground black pepper and remove from heat.

2. Rinse the beans and pick out any pebbles or bits of chaff. Transfer the rinsed beans to a pot or the insert of a slow cooker. Grind the cumin, coriander, and coffee in a coffee grinder. Add the spices to the beans, together with the kombu, chili pepper, and onion mixture. Add water to cover by 2 inches. If you’re cooking on the stove top, bring to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook, uncovered, for 2-3 hours, or until the beans are tender. Check the water level occasionally to make sure the beans are submerged. If you’re using a slow cooker, cover and cook on low for 8-10 hours. When the beans are tender, salt generously (about 1-1/2 t) and allow the beans to cool in the liquid.

I ate these beans with tortillas and sliced avocado. But you could also serve them over rice, for a gluten-free meal. They would probably also be good without the bacon, for all you non-meat eaters out there. The bacon is really good though. And I love that it takes so little to make such big flavor. The longer I stretch it, the fewer pigs die for my pleasure. Thank you, pig. I am grateful.


Ribollita, a vegetable soup made with beans and thickened with stale bread, is classic Italian peasant food, nourishing, practical, and delicious. I discovered it years ago, during a semester that I was lucky enough to spend studying in Florence. My student housing was a hotel, the Hotel Globus, which provided a light breakfast (thinly sliced cheese and prosciutto on a roll) but left us on our own for all other meals. So as soon as I discovered ribollita at a trattoria around the corner from my hotel, I had it for lunch at least twice a week. Because this nourishing soup was inexpensive, delicious food that sustained me, body and soul.

Despite my love, for some reason I’ve never made this deliciousness at home before today. Indeed, until last week, I don’t think I’ve eaten ribollita even once since I left the Hotel Globus. So last week, when I ate lunch at Publican Quality Meats (, there wasn’t much trouble deciding what to order. Full of gigantic runner beans, hearty greens, thick slices of meat, and cubes of toasty bread, my first non-Italian ribollita was soul-satisfying good.

Even so, a couple of days after that lunch, thinking about the soup, I found myself craving the taste of my memory. Because while the rich, meaty ribollita at Publican’s deli was absolutely delicious,  it wasn’t the simple peasant fare I remembered from Italy. I was somehow left wanting more. And therefore decided it was finally time to make my own.

I started, as I always do, by looking for and reading recipes, all of which were pretty similar.ribollita In the end, I made a version inspired by two recipes: the brilliant Skye Gyngell’s recipe in My Favorite Ingredients (, and a recipe from Food52 ( The result maybe didn’t match my memory, because, well, that would have been impossible. But it was really good. Here’s what I did.

2 c. dried cranberry beans, soaked overnight
1 thumb-sized piece of kombu (for digestion)
3 quarts cold water
3 T. olive oil
2 onions, peeled and diced
2 dried red chili peppers
2 ribs celery, diced
2 carrots, diced
3 cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 t. dried sage
1 potato, peeled and diced
1 28-oz can plum tomatoes, chopped
1 bunch of lacinato kale, stemmed and chopped
4-6 slices of Tuscan bread, torn into pieces
Salt and pepper

1. Drain the beans. Place them in a deep, heavy pot with the kombu and one of the chili peppers, crumbled, then add water to cover by one inch. Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, and simmer for 1-1/2 hours or until tender. Add 1 t. salt and allow to cool in cooking liquid.

2. In a separate pot, heat the olive oil over low heat. Add the onions, the other chili pepper, and about 1 t. salt. Cook for 2-3 minutes, stirring on occasion. Add the garlic. Cook for another minute then add the carrot and  celery and cook for another 10 minutes. Finally, add the potato and tomatoes, turn the heat to medium low, cover, and cook for 20 minutes longer.

2. Drain the cooked beans, remove the kombu, and add them to the vegetables along with the kale and one quart of cold water. Cover, reduce the heat to low, and cook for an hour or so, until the vegetables are very tender. Remove from the heat and allow the soup to stand for a couple of hours in order for the flavors to meld. Reheat before serving and taste for seasoning. Add salt if necessary

To serve, divide the bread among the serving bowls. Ladle the soup over the bread, drizzle with olive oil, and top with freshly grated Parmesan cheese and black pepper. This will still be pretty good without the cheese if you want to make it vegan.  If you’re gluten-free, try substituting a grain. Gyngell’s recipe calls for farro, which does contain gluten, but buckwheat might be nice. As a side note, here is an interesting discussion about gluten-free grains. (

Ayocote Negro (Black Runner) Beans in Rick Bayless’s Brick-Red Mole

Mmmmm. Mole sauce. Good. Before moving to Chicago, I don’t believe I’d ever heard of, much less tasted, mole sauce. And when I tasted mole, good mole, I didn’t imagine being able to make it. Such a deep, complex flavor seemed impossible to recreate at home. Because I knew it wasn’t really just chocolate. Then I found Rick Bayless’s Mexican Kitchen. (

I’m not sure whether I would love this cookbook quite as much if I didn’t livechilies 3 in Chicago, where all of the ingredients, including these beautiful ancho and guajillo chilies, are available down the street, at least in all the neighborhoods I’ve lived in. The recipes are time-consuming and call for about a million ingredients. But man–I’ve never been disappointed by the results, including what I made today.

This time-consuming dish is traditionally reserved for special occasions. In the past, back when I was partnered up, I made mole for a few dinner parties and once as holiday gifts. But today? There’s no special occasion. Not really. It’s just me, at home, cooking for myself. Yet I had the day off, to celebrate presidents. And I feel celebratory. Filled with gratitude. Because here I am, working every day to build a meaningful life on my own, in a way that brings me joy. Which is really cool. Plus I love all-day cooking projects. Lots of dancing in kitchen. So what the hell. I decided to make my own special occasion by making mole sauce, celebrating myself, in my new life, with some of my fancy heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo. (

black runner beans2Rick Bayless’s original recipe for this particular mole sauce calls for scarlet runner beans, which I didn’t have. But I had two bags of Ayocote Negro, or black runner beans, which, according to Rancho Gordo’s Steve Sando, is supposed to be “the perfect salad bean.” This is because they’re quite starchy, I think. But it also makes sense because they’re absolutely gorgeous. So I’ll definitely save the other bag for a salad some warmish day. However, since Steve Sando tells me that all of the different varieties of runner beans can be used interchangeably, it worked out perfectly to use one bag for this dish.

Tonight, I served the mole over rice with cauliflower steaks and sauteed kale.  mole(Here’s a bad photo, which perfectly demonstrates why one should not include photos of food unless they’re good. But I digress.) Bayless suggests “a good cheese, hot tortillas and a salad.” He also says that the beans in mole make a good taco filling if you simmer the sauce longer, until it is thick. I think next time I’ll take this advice, as honestly, the kale and cauliflower weren’t perfect matches. You could also skip the beans entirely and use the mole as a sauce for enchiladas, tamales, grilled chicken, braised pork loin, etc. But whatever variation you choose, if any, read the recipe through a couple of times first. It’s not difficult. And it’s really very satisfying. But there are several steps. Including the sneaky non-step step of stemming and seed the chilies beforehand, which is only noted in the ingredient list yet takes some amount of time. So you’ll need to plan accordingly.

12 ounces (about 2 cups) scarlet or black runner beans
2-1/2 t. salt
6 medium dried ancho chilies, stemmed and seeded
3 medium dried guajillo chilies, stemmed and seeded
1 med-small round or 3 small plum tomatoes
4 garlic cloves, unpeeled
2 T. sesame seeds
1/2 t. cinnamon, preferably freshly ground Mexican canela (I didn’t bother)
1 generous t. dried oregano, preferably Mexican
Scant 1/2 t. black pepper, preferably freshly ground
3 T. (about 3/4 oz.) coarsely chopped Mexican chocolate
3 to 3-1/2 c. chicken broth
1-1/2 T. olive oil or lard
1 T. honey (original recipe calls for 2-1/2 t. sugar)

1. Rinse the beans, transfer into a large pot or slow cooker. Add 1-1/2 qt. cold water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to medium low and simmer gently for 2-3 hours. Alternatively, cook in the slow cooker on high for about 5 hours or until tender. Check the water level and add more water as necessary to keep the liquid a generous 1/2 inch above the beans. Season with about 1 t. salt.

2. Make the mole while the beans are cooking. Heat a heavy skillet or griddle over medium heat. Toast the chilies a few at a time by laying them flat and pressing down with a metal spatula for a few seconds, until there is a crackle or perhaps a thin wisp of smoke. Turn and toast the other side. Transfer the toasted chilies to a medium bowl, cover with hot water, and allow the chilies to rehydrate for about a half hour. Drain and discard the water.

3. While the chilies are soaking, toast the sesame seeds for about two minutes, being careful not to burn. Transfer the seeds to a plate to cool. Toast the garlic and tomato in the skillet or griddle, turning, for 10-15 minutes, until soft and blackened in spots. Cool slightly, peel off the skins, and transfer to a blender (ideal) or food processor (adequate but won’t grind up the sesame very well). Add the sesame seeds, chilies, cinnamon, oregano, pepper, chocolate, and 1-1/2 cups of broth. Process  until smooth. The original recipe says to strain the sauce in a medium-mesh strainer. I didn’t strain the sauce today, because I don’t have a medium-mesh strainer and I don’t really care about perfectly smooth sauce. But you may. Mine definitely had texture, mostly sesame seeds.

4. Heat the oil or lard in a heavy, medium-sized saucepan over medium-high. Once the oil is hot enough to make a drop of the puree sizzle, add the puree all at once and stir for 3-4 minutes, until it’s thickened a bit. Add the rest of the broth, stir, partially cover, and simmer for about an hour, stirring occasionally. Taste and season with salt, usually about 1-1/2 teaspoons, and honey or sugar.

5. Stir the drained beans into the mole. Simmer for about 20 minutes, for the beans to absorb the flavors, adding more broth if necessary.  Taste for salt and serve.