Vallarta bean puree with short ribs and bitter greens

vallarta beans with short ribs and greens3I’m finally realizing that I don’t need a light box to take photos. Just a bit more imagination. In the meantime, thank goodness for friends, who come to dinner with a fresh perspective. Here is my friend’s shot of last night’s dinner: short ribs and turnip greens over a Vallarta bean puree. OMG. So good. So, so good.

Vallarta beans are alleged to be the favorite of celebrity chef Thomas Keller, of French Laundry. ( But in The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Grower’s Guide, Steve Sando is less than enthusiastic, confessing, “When I first cooked it, I was underwhelmed and in fact didn’t really like the super-thick, almost peanut butter texture of the bean.” However, he did fall in love with the beans when their richness was cut by bitter greens.

I, not being a fool (at least when it comes to food), took this advice to heart. But I wasn’t quite sure what else to serve. Until inspiration struck in the form of my visiting friend’s dietary requirements, which, atypically, include lots and lots of red meat. To make more blood. Weird, right? But fascinating. I sometimes forget that all of our bodies have different needs, which can be diametrically opposed. Fun challenge to cook with another person’s body type in mind!

My other challenge in coming up with a menu was timing, as life outside of dreamland has been busier than usual. What could I make in the slow cooker that would showcase this rich, super-thick bean? I considered pot roast, but that didn’t seem right. Meatloaf, meatballs, beef stew, braciole. No, no, no, no. None of these sounded like a good foil or showcase for extra-special Vallarta bean. Then I remembered short ribs.

Several years ago, at the tail end of my dinner party hey day, short ribs were a bit of a fad. I made them just once. They were delicious but super fatty and not a lot of bang for the buck. These days I’m less flush with cash and also, because of my much healthier diet, do not easily digest fatty meats. But I kept coming back to the idea. Short ribs sounded perfect. And I couldn’t think of any other make-ahead, red meat option that sounded good. So I decided to go for it. And I’m so glad I did.

Because I’m a slow cooker junkie, I have two, one fancy new model, and another, straight from the 70s in its avocado green and curly brown font, that I picked up at a garage sale. The older version is small and round, perfect for cooking beans. But I typically use my newer model because the older one does not have a timer. Yesterday, however, I got to use both, the older one for the beans, and the newer version for the meat. You cannot imagine how happy this made me all day, to know that not just one, but two separate dishes were simmering away, at home, while I was out in the world.

Vallarta BeansVallarta beans

Before being introduced to Rancho Gordo, I had my own style of bean cookery, which is incredibly basic: beans, water, and kombu in a slow cooker, seasoned with salt at the end. I like adding aromatics as per the Rancho Gordo way. But after being warned about the richness of Vallarta beans, I decided to go with my own approach, to meet the bean on its own, without any distraction.

I put the unsoaked beans (2 cups) into the slow cooker, covered with 2″ of cold water, added a thumb-sized piece of kombu, and cooked, covered, on low for about 9 hours. When I got home the beans were perfectly tender and just covered by a rich, thick broth. I added salt and let them cool in the salted broth, to infuse beans with salt. The presalted taste didn’t wow me, but, after tasting the seasoned bean I’m definitely in Thomas Keller’s camp. Vallarta beans are delicious. Rich and creamy, similar to baby lima beans but without being overly sweet. To puree, just pluck out the kombu and use an immersion blender to combine the beans with their pot liquor. The result is a perfect companion to the heady short ribs. But I also think it would be wonderful as a bed for roasted Brussels sprouts, which I will likely try tomorrow. And, honestly? The puree on its own was so good that I literally (if carefully) licked the immersion blender. Which is embarrassing. But true.

 Short Ribs

For the short ribs, I adapted a recipe from Cook’s Illustrated, which I found here ( My version is pretty similar. But I used fewer ribs, because there were just going to be two of us, and I did not bother with separating meat from bones. I also used just one onion and subbed arrowroot powder for the original recipe’s flour, to make the recipe gluten free. Oh, and, as always, I used olive oil instead of vegetable oil. Just ’cause.

Review? I was happy with the end result except it was really fatty. I skimmed a lot of fat off the top before serving. But, in future, I will try to make the dish one day ahead in order to chill overnight. Refrigerated fat is much easier to remove. Okay. Now for the recipe.

3 lbs. beef short ribs
salt & pepper
1 T. olive oil
1 onion, chopped medium
1 carrot, peeled and chopped medium
1 celery rib, chopped medium
1 T. tomato paste
1 t. dried thyme
3 T. arrowroot powder
2 c. dry red wine
2 T. balsamic vinegar
2 c. low sodium chicken broth
2 bay leaves

1. Wash and dry the short ribs. Season generously with salt and pepper, rubbing the seasoning into all sides. Heat the oil in a large cast-iron skillet over medium-high heat until just smoking. Brown the ribs on all sides, about 1 minutes. Transfer to the slow cooker.

2. Add onions, carrot, celery, tomato paste, and thyme to the skillet. Saute over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes, until the onions are softened and lightly browned. Stir in the arrowroot powder and cook for another minute. Then slowly whisk (or stir) in the red wine and vinegar. Simmer for another 5 minutes or so and transfer to the slow cooker.

3. Stir the broth and bay leaves into the slow cooker. Cover and cook on low for 9-11 hours, until the beef is tender. Mine was perfect at 10 hours.

4. Transfer short ribs to a serving platter and tent loosely with aluminum foil. Let the braising liquid settle for 5 minutes, then remove fat from the surface using a large spoon. Serve on top of the bean puree or mashed potatoes or riced cauliflower. If you want a smooth sauce, strain the liquid, discarding the solids, and season to taste with salt and pepper. Or, for a more rustic dish, top the finished plate with a spoonful of solids, as I did.

Greensturnip greens sauteed with garlic

For the greens, you want something bitter to cut the richness of the Vallarta beans, especially if you’re adding extra richness of meat. I decided to go with turnip greens for three reasons. First, they were the best looking option at the market. Second, they were the most affordable option at the market. Third, I love them. I’m a big fan of slow cooked Southern-style greens. But for this dish I went a different route, following a recipe I read the other day in the gorgeous, gorgeous cookbook, Coming Home to Sicily, by Fabrizia Lanza. ( I’ve adapted the original only by the type of greens (she calls for wild greens and recommends subbing Swiss chard, kale, broccoli rabe, mustard greens, dandelion, spinach, arugula, and/or escarole) and reducing the oil from 1/4 cup to 3 T.

Whatever greens  you choose, wash, trim, and boil in well-salted water for about 10 minutes. Drain, cool, and chop. Heat about 4 T. olive oil in a large skillet over medium-high heat. Add a peeled clove of garlic and cook for about 5 minutes, being careful not to let the garlic get too brown. Then add the greens and cook for another 10 minutes. Arrange the greens on top of the bean puree, around the ribs or roasted vegetables or, if you’re a purist, just around. Enjoy!

slow cooker Sloppy Joes, traditional and an experiment with Brown Tepary beans

Sloppy Joes aren’t supposed to be tricky, I don’t think. Surely a large part of the appeal is that they’re easy? Also, of course, once you get away from the revolting Manwich-style Sloppy Joe of my childhood, they’re pretty damn good.

I actually only recently discovered that Sloppy Joes were good, when I first tried the recipe in Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufmann’s Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook. ( No goopy manwich, this. Just completely addictive deliciousness. So, when I came up with the idea of a bean cookbook, I wanted to create a version using beans. And without refined sugar.

The sugar issue wasn’t a big deal. I just subbed honey in for the brown sugar called for by the original recipe, which is included at the end of this post in case you’re curious. But the beans are a completely different story. This is my third attempt and, while they’re alright, I’m still not there.

One thing that did work this time is the bean. Which is huge progress. I’ll outline the history so you’ll understand.

For my first try, I used navy beans. I thought they would work well because of the size, which was large enough to be meaty but small enough to keep the sandwich feeling. Wrong. The flavor was good by the beans themselves were overwhelmingly dense and heavy. It also took forever to cook. Literally 24 hours.

For the second try, I used lentils. Again, the flavor was fine. And the lentils were fully cooked in a normal time (10 hours on low). The problem was the texture, which was unpleasantly sharp, like eating little shards of cooked clay. Well, maybe that’s a little harsh. But not as much as you might think.

This time, with the Brown Tepary bean, I was confident that I’d finally found the perfect bean. Brown Tepary beansAs described by Steve Sando in The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Grower’s Guide, Brown Teparies, are small, meaty beans that “are higher in protein and fiber than other beans,” drought-resistant and will grow almost anywhere. Good for the environment? Small? Meaty? Plus extra nutritional superpowers? Perfect!

Not so fast, Goldilocks. The size and texture of the Brown Tepary were indeed perfect. But the beans took far too long to cook and the final result had too liquid. Which means I’m not done yet. That said, this version is edible. But there’s no photo. I made a light box, I did! It just doesn’t work. Yet. So I’ll try again. Later.

For now, here’s the recipe, which is true to what I did today. It would be vegan  except the Worcestershire sauce is made with anchovies. If you’re feeling courageous and decide to try for yourself, I recommend using only 2 cups of water and adding the tomato sauce at the beginning. That’s my plan for next time.

2 c. Brown Tepary beans, brined overnight
2 ribs celery, diced
1 sm. red bell pepper, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1-1/2 tsp. dried mustard
1-3/4 tsp. paprika
1-3/4 tsp. chili powder
1 dried red chili, crumbled
1/2 tsp. freshly ground pepper
1 Tb. Worcestershire sauce
3 Tb. olive oil
3 Tb. honey
1 28-oz. can tomato puree
1/2 c. apple cider vinegar

1. Add everything except the tomato puree and apple cider vinegar to the insert of your slow cooker. Add water to cover, put the top on the pot, and cook on high for 4 hours.

2. Add the tomato puree and vinegar. Stir and continue cooking for another 2 hours or until the beans are tender and the liquid has reduced (this took another several hours).

Serve on buns or as a topping for baked potatoes. If, like me, you have a lot of leftovers, they freeze really well. Dinner and lunches for later! Now, if you’re curious, here’s the recipe that made me realize why people eat Sloppy Joes.

Original recipe from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook
1 pound lean ground beef
1 medium-size onion, finely chopped
1/2 large red bell pepper, seeded and finely chopped
1 large rib celery, finely chopped1 clove garlic, ninced
One 6-oz can tomato paste
2 Tb. apple cider vinegar, or more as needed
2 Tb. brown sugar (I use honey)
1 tsp. paprika
1/2 tsp. dry mustard
3/4 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. chili powder, or to taste
1/4 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 tsp. Worscestershire sauce
Dash of hot sauce, such as Tobasco
Dash of cayenne pepper

Hamburger buns or other soft sandwich rolls (or baked potatoes) for serving

1. Cook the beef and vegetables in a large skillet over medium high-heat, stirring, until the meat is cooked through. Transfer to the slow cooker. Add the remaining ingredients, cover, and cook on low for 6 or 7 hours. (I usually cook for 8 hours. It’s fine.)

2. Taste and add more vinegar or sugar, if desired. Serve the meat mixture spooned into the buns.

slow cooker vegetarian chili, adapted from “The Gourmet Vegetarian Slow Cooker,” by Lynn Alley

Growing up, I didn’t like chili. My father made a version with ground beef and chunks of tomato, which, as a child, I abhored. (Now I like it just fine, Dad!) Then, later, when I was a young adult, my brother introduced me to his favorite chili, a more sophisticated version that included Italian sausage and chunks of beef with a smoothly textured, complexly flavored sauce. It was good. Yet I still didn’t quite get what all the chili fuss was about. Until I moved to Chicago. And learned about winter.

chiliSince moving to Chicago I’ve fallen in love with several chili recipes, most but not all vegetarian. This recipe, which Lynn Alley titled “My Favorite Chili,” is my current favorite. At first it seems a bit intimidating, because it calls for whole spices. But don’t be scared off. It’s easy enough to grind your own spices. I just let my coffee grinder do double duty with a thorough wash before and after. Here’s my version of Lynn Alley’s favorite chili.

2 cups dried beans (I usually make this with cranberry or pinto beans, but you could probably use any kind. This time I used Lila, from It turned out fine but I prefer cranberry beans.)
6 cups water
6 allspice berries
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 t. dried Mexican oregano
1/2 t. cumin seeds
1/4 t. aniseed
1/2 T. coriander seeds
2-5 dried chilies
1 thumb-sized piece kombu
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 – 2 T. chili powder
1/2 c. diced red bell pepper
1/2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels
pepper jack cheese, cilantro, and Greek yogurt, for garnishes

1. Wash the beans and put them in the insert of your slow cooker with the water. Grind the spices and add to the beans along with the kombu and the dried chilies, either whole or, if you want some extra heat, crumbled. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or until the beans are tender. (If you are going to be away all day, add the ingredients listed in step 2 and cook for 8-10 hours. It will be fine.)

2. Add the diced onion, garlic, tomatoes, cocoa powder, and chili powder. Continue cooking for another 2 hours.

3. About 1/2 hour before you’re ready to serve, add the red pepper and corn kernels .

This chili tastes best if you make it a day ahead. It also freezes well. Indeed, this makes an enormous amount of chili, so I generally freeze the majority for later use. Because I feel somehow safer knowing I have chili in the freezer. But it’s perfectly delicious the same day, especially when you come home to it after a long day at work. Speaking of which, if I know I’m going to be gone all day (which I usually am), I brine the beans overnight (, and then add all of the ingredients except the red bell pepper and corn at start. Then I cook on low for 10 hours. Brining prevents the beans from toughening, which can happen if you add tomatoes or other acids early in the cooking process.

Quesadillas with Great Mother Stallard beans, sauteed cauliflower, and roasted butternut squash

Yes, I know. This post begs for a photo. I feel terrible not posting one. But I fell down on duty last weekend, abandoned ship, did not build light box. And it was dark last night. So, even though this dish turned out beautifully, the image I captured made it look like something (as my father would say when I was growing up) that I wouldn’t even feed the dog. In reality, I’d feed these quesadillas to anyone. They’re gorgeous AND delicious. Which means this is a perfect example of when no photo is better than a bad photo.Because a bad photo might make you decide against trying this recipe. Which you should.

I can also justify no photos here because I know I will make some version of this again soon, by which time I will have a light box. Because in addition to the fact that quesadillas make a super quick lunch or supper, they’re also a great vehicle for reinventing leftover ingredients into something completely new. I did have to cook the cauliflower last night, but the beans and squash were leftover from Saturday. Which made this come together super fast.

I’m a little obsessed with this cauliflower preparation, which I learned about in one of Alice Waters’ cookbooks. Seriously. I make it almost every week, so that I always have some in the fridge. It’s super easy and delicious, essential qualities, but I think the real reason I love it so much is its versatility as an ingredient for other dishes. I’ve made up so many crazy delicious things because of this cauliflower always being there. And I bet you will too. Here’s what you do.

Heat a large cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Then trim out the core of the cauliflower, wash, and slice it horizontally into pieces that are about 1/2″ thick. Although the edges will fall apart, the centers will look like cauliflower “steaks.”

Pour 1-2 T. of olive oil into the skillet. Add a single layer of cauliflower, arranging the steaks in the center, where the heat is probably concentrated, and placing the smaller pieces around the edge. Leave enough space to prevent steaming the vegetables and sprinkle generously (although maybe not quite as liberally as I always do) with salt. If you have a spatter guard, you’ll probably want to use it now.

After about 4-6 minutes, when you start to smell the cauliflower carmelizing, use tongs or a spatula to turn the pieces. Cook for another 3-6 minutes, until the other side is browned. I usually have to rearrange a bit to account for hot spots. And sometimes the process takes more or less time. Use your eyes and your nose. The point is that you want the cauliflower to be well browned but not burnt.

I love to serve (and eat!) this cauliflower as part of a composed plate, usually with kale and maybe a lentil salad. But it’s also a wonderful ingredient in frittata. And, obviously, quesadillas.

4 flour tortillas
1/4 cup shredded pepper jack cheese
2 T. cooked beans
2 T. diced, roasted butternut squash
2 T. diced, sauteed cauliflower

Heat a cast iron or nonstick skillet over medium high heat. Add a tortilla. Sprinkle half of the cheese over the top and then evenly distribute half of the beans, squash, and cauliflower. Cover with another tortilla. Cook for 1-2 minutes, spinning once or twice. Turn carefully with a spatula and cook for another 1-2 minutes on the other side. Repeat with the remaining tortillas.

If you like, you can serve this with guacamole, salsa, and Greek yogurt or sour cream. Mango salsa might also be nice. But I thought this particular variation, with the sweetness of the squash and cauliflower against the spicy cheese and earthy beans, was very good plain. Again, I apologize for not having a photo. Fingers crossed that I’ll get it together to build a light box next weekend.

Great Mother Stallard beans on a bed of wheatberries with roasted celeriac, turnips, and brussels sprouts

These are the Great Mother Stallard beans from Rancho Gordo. As you can see, they’re gorgeous. I mean, even a person who doesn’t like beans would have to at least appreciate their beauty. Yes? Or maybe no. Although they didn’t blow me away like their friend Rio Zape, they’re pretty good. But those non-bean lovers are weird. And I’m no crusader. Not really. Not anymore.

When I first got all obsessed with beans, I sang their praises to every unfortunate soul I met. I had a missionary complex, was convinced that the lives of everyone I met would be much better if only they started eating more beans. When I encountered resistance, I insisted that no, they just hadn’t yet tried the right beans, prepared the right way. MY way, of course. And this is before I discovered heirloom beans. Oy.

It really was obnoxious. Which, sadly, I realized only when a dear friend, someone who is witty and hilarious and also probably the most considerate person I’ve ever met, finally, exhausted, explained his deep and abiding hatred of beans. It was the texture, he said. He really tried to avoid telling me, to spare my feelings. Which meant that when he finally did explain, the obvious effort and discomfort he felt at hurting my feelings somehow enabled me to finally learn that regardless of what I believed, he was entitled to his feelings.

Of course this is an obvious truth. Yet for me it was, and remains, a difficult lesson. Indeed, it’s one I seem to be learning over and over again lately. Not so much with food, but with relationships. I think maybe I’m going to be stuck in this track for the near future. Life lesson 2,000,022. Or something like that. I lost count long ago. As far as beans go, though, I think I’ve got it. Not everyone likes them. It doesn’t matter if I cook the most beautiful, best-tasting beans the world has ever seen. They still won’t like them. And that’s okay.

It’s okay because I still know plenty of people who do like beans. Thank goodness. Because I would be a sad little bunny if I couldn’t feed the people I love. And these days I want to feed them beans. Therefore I’ve been completely geeked all week because I had a date to cook dinner at my place for a bean-loving friend. Fun!

I spent the past couple of days daydreaming about menu ideas, trying to come up with a beautiful, satisfying, well-rounded vegan meal. (Although she’s not actually a vegan, she’s trying.) Since I had the entire day, I wanted to do something more complicated, maybe with multiple courses. But today, while I cooked and cleaned and listened to music after too little sleep last night and an intense Forrest class far too early this morning, I gradually pared down the plan and decided to keep it simple. I would just layer several uncomplicated individual components together to create a complex flavor without expending a lot of effort.

So this isn’t really a recipe as much as a collection. It takes a while to make everything. However, much of that time is not hands on, which leaves you free to do other things. You could also save time by using fewer, or easier, vegetables.

The next time I make this I will likely cook frizzled kale instead of brussels sprouts and maybe sweet potato instead of butternut squash. That would save time because the kale cooks on the stove top and sweet potato will cook more quickly than butternut squash. It’s a versatile dish. But whatever you change up, leave the turnip. It was really good. For now, here’s the “recipe” for the version I made tonight. Sorry there’s no photo. Hopefully I’ll get the light box done tomorrow.

Great Mother Stallard beans
1 lb. beans, soaked 4-6 hours if desired
1 sm. onion, diced
1 clove garlic, minced
1 T. olive oil
1 thumb-sized piece kombu
1 – 2 t. salt

Heat the oil in a 4- to 6-quart pot over medium-high heat. Saute the onions for about 3 minutes, then add the garlic and saute for an additional minute. Add the beans and the kombu, with water to cover by about an inch. Bring the beans to a boil. After 5 minutes or so, reduce the heat to a simmer. Cook until tender, adding salt after about an hour, when the beans have started to soften. The beans I cooked today, which soaked for 4 hours, took about 2-1/2 hours.

1 med. celeriac, trimmed and cut into 3/4-1″ cubes
20 Brussels sprouts, trimmed and whole (or however many you want — they will be good leftover)
1 med. turnip, trimmed and cut into 3/4″ wedges
1 sm. butternut squash, peeled, trimmed, and cut into 3/4″ cubes
olive oil to coat

Preheat the oven to 400. Toss the vegetables in olive oil, separately. Season with salt. Cook in batches, one or two types at a time (I did the celeriac and turnips together, but gave the Brussels sprouts and squash their own turns), making sure the individual pieces have plenty of space. The celeriac and turnips took about 40 minutes, turning every 15 minutes or so. Although I left the Brussels sprouts in for 30 minutes, they were probably perfect after 25. And the squash took about an hour. You want everything to brown and get a little crispy. If you crowd them together everything will just steam. Which isn’t as good. Once everything is finished, transfer to a platter or baking sheet and keep in the oven at a low temperature until you’re ready to serve.

1-1/2 c. wheatberries, rinsed and soaked for 1 hour
pinch of salt
3 T. sherry vinegar
1 T. walnut oil

Drain and rinse. Put the wheatberries in a medium saucepan, add a pinch of salt, and cover with about an inch of water. Bring to a boil then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook until tender, about an 1-1/2 hours. Keep an eye on the water level and add more as necessary to make sure the top doesn’t dry out. At the end of the cooking time, switch off the heat, cover, and let sit for about 20 or 30 minutes. Sprinkle the vinegar and oil over the wheatberries and stir gently to combine.

When you’re ready to serve, scoop some wheatberries onto a plate. Spread them out, top with a ladle of beans, and then arrange veggies across the top. This makes a lot of food, probably enough for 8. If, like me, you’re feeding only 1 or 2, you will have leftovers. I’m thinking that for lunch tomorrow I will toss a cup of beans with pasta and veggies. The beans and wheatberries will probably also make a nice cold salad. As for the squash, I may use that to revisit the kale salad I made a few days ago. It’s addictive.

menu planning around a hill of beans

I always have a lot of beans lying around. But somehow these beans, in their fancy individual packages, seem more, almost overwhelming.

hill of Rancho Gordo beans

Not quite, though. Just on the edge, all the way to the end of anticipation, so that it’s taken me this long, almost two weeks, to digest the reality of all these new kinds of beans, only my beloved cranberry a variety with which I’m familiar.

Of these new beans, I’ve tried just one so far: the Rio Zape. It won me over. I’m now a believer in the whole concept of heirloom beans. When you think about it this makes sense. After all, beans are vegetables. Why wouldn’t an heirloom bean be to a regular grocery store bean as an heirloom tomato is to a regular grocery store tomato? It seems obvious now. Mostly. I still want to do a taste test with the cranberry beans. But that will be the subject of another post.

Now that I’ve been turned on to this larger world of heirloom beans, I’m eager to branch out from Rancho Gordo and try other farms, other sources, like Double Helix Farms ( and Purcell Mountain Farms ( First, however, I need to cook my way through all the varieties that I have. Which is very, very exciting. And a bit daunting.

You may have noticed that I’m cooking a little less these days. I’m gradually learning to cook for one. Also, I’m still eating my way through the freezer. But the stock is getting low. Which means that my menu plan for the coming week needs to include at least one freezeable. So. Menu.

I love love love planning menus. It makes me happy. In addition to the joy I derive from thinking about food generally, I also get off on thinking about how to transform ingredients so that one dinner turns into the next. I suppose it’s the Protestant work ethic, or some secular variation on that general theme. Whatever the source, I’m grateful, as it permits me to live quite well within my means. At least when I stick to the plan. Here’s what I’m thinking for the next few days.

Great Mother Stallard beans with root vegetable hash and “cream” of broccoli soup

quesadillas with Great Mother Stallard beans and sauteed cauliflower

frittata w/ sauteed cauliflower and kale

Vegetarian chili w/ Lila beans from Rancho Gordo (this is the freezeable)

black bean burgers (from the freezer) w/ (fresh) mango salsa (

I have no idea right now whether all of this will happen. But for now it seems like a good plan. I’ll keep you posted. (hee hee!) With recipes.

pot of Rio Zape beans, Rancho Gordo style

My first heirloom beans. And, yes, my first photo! It’s a big day here in dreamland.


I haven’t posted photos before because I firmly believe that you’re better off with no photo than a bad photo, at least when it comes to food. But these beans are so beautiful it would be pretty hard to make them look bad. Plus the lighting this morning was perfect, if depressing: overcast winter sun that basically transformed my living room windows into a string of light boxes.

I don’t have a shot of the final product, because by the time the beans were finished the sun was gone. And I have no light box. Yet. But it doesn’t matter.

What matters is something no amount of perfect light or mad skill could capture: the taste. Indeed, I wish we had the Jetsons-style technology we were supposed to have by now, the year 2013. Then you could just punch a button and order them right through your screen. You wouldn’t have to take my word for it. You would know the rich, creamy, kinda smoky flavor these beans hold when cooked with nothing but water, a tiny bit of olive oil, and a few aromatics. You would know that these bean totally lived up to the hype. Thank goodness. Because I have a whole lotta Rancho Gordo beans.

You’re going to hear a lot more about Rancho Gordo beans in the weeks, probably months, to come. And I expect I’ll start buying heirloom beans from other sources. I’m hooked. They really are better than the supermarket beans I’m accustomed to. For now, though, here’s the story on this bean, the Rio Zape.

As described by Steve Sando in The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Grower’s Guide, it “is very similar to a classic pinto bean, but it’s more dense and exudes a deep, rich pot liquor.” Sando also warns that the Rio Zapes don’t “work well in a lot of recipes because they’re so rich and distinct.” Instead, he says, they’re best as a pot bean.

Later, one day, I might try to prove him wrong. But for this first batch I took Mr. Sando at his word. I prepared the beans Rancho Gordo style. Here’s the original ( and my breakdown of the directions/recipe.

1 lb. Rio Zape beans
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 stalk of celery, diced
1/2 small onion, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 thumb-sized piece of kombu

1. Pick over the beans, remove any debris, and rinse. Cover the beans with an inch or two of cold water. Soak for 3-4 hours.

2. After the beans have soaked, heat the oil in a large pot over medium-high heat. Saute the vegetables for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until they’re soft and fragrant. Add the kombu and the beans, together with the soaking water, plus additional water as needed to cover by an inch or so. Or, if you don’t want to use the soaking water, drain and rinse the beans then add fresh cold water to cover by an inch.

3. Bring the beans to a boil for 5 minutes. Reduce the heat and simmer for 1-3 hours, adding salt when the beans start to become tender. Today I added 2 tsp. salt after 45 minutes. Next time I’ll probably try 1 tsp. to start, as these were a little salty. The beans cooked a total of 1-1/4 hours.

I really wanted to see what these tasted like, so my dinner tonight was a (large) bowl of beans. And it was great. I feel nourished, healthy, well cared for, and totally satisfied. Which is awesome. I love beans.