The humble bean. According to historical culinary research, the bean is a legume that’s been relied on to nourish and satisfy families since about 7,000 B.C. In fact, lentils go back at least another thousand years. Naturally low in fat and high in protein, these complex carbohydrates can squelch hunger in its tracks and satisfy even the most discerning palate.
Steve Sando is a Napa-based artisan and native Californian who understands the heritage of these nutritious super-foods. As the founder of Rancho Gordo New World Specialty Food, he is a tireless culinary crusader and cultivator who has dedicated his career to preserving the legacy of flavors in heirloom beans. As he reveals in his book Heirloom Beans, “Instead of inventing new traditions or attempting to copy Europe’s verbatim, I’m more interested in looking at the ones we have, which perhaps we’ve neglected or ignored. What are the foods that have been cultivated here since long before Columbus arrived?” He goes on to say, “Some of us are spending our lives growing, harvesting, eating and marketing the heirloom varieties that are so attractive in every sense.”
Steve is absolutely right. Heirloom beans are indeed beautiful, with rich, earthy colors and intricate veining. But their flavors truly captivate. “Each variety of heirloom has its own unique flavor or texture, or both, and needs only a few aromatic vegetables or herbs to flavor the pot,” Steve explains. “Some are creamy and soft, some are meaty, some are dense, and some are as light as the wings of a butterfly.”
A proponent for nurturing Northern California agriculture, Steve is always tinkering with new seeds from around the world in his trial gardens and sharing seeds with others through Seed Savers Exchange. About three quarters of the heirloom beans and grains are grown on nutrient rich Napa and Fresno soil, while the remainder are grown to Steve’s specifications in Mexico and Central America. Rancho Gordo is known for varieties like black calypso, Christmas lima, red nightfall, yellow eye, borlotti and flageolet. But tonight to go with the pork ribs on my smoker, I’m cooking the Good Mother Stallard beans with speck and aromatic vegetables. Here’s how:
Slow-Cooked Good Mother Stallard Beans
1 pound dried Good Mother Stallard beans
3 Tablespoons olive oil
1/2 cup carrots, diced
1 onion, diced
5 cloves roasted garlic (optional)
1 cup smoked pork, bacon, ham or other meat (optional)
2 cups vegetable or chicken broth
1 Tablespoon salt
cracked black pepper
- Rinse beans in cold water and sort by hand for any specks of plant remnants.
- Now this next step is up to your culinary judgement. I suggest placing cleaned beans in large bowl and covering with cold water. Soak for at least two hours. The longer you soak the beans, the less cooking time you’ll need to produce a tender result. It is also perfectly okay to soak the beans overnight. But as Steve explains in his book, “You will hear that changing the soaking water cuts down on the flatulence factor of beans. For every person that tells you this, there is another, normally a food scientist, who will declare it to be false, or the results negligible.” He also points out that in Mexico, beans are never soaked. Steve soaks his beans two to six hours. I soak mine the same. So . . . soak, or don’t soak. This step is entirely your call.
- At cooking time, heat olive oil in stockpot. Saute carrots, onion and garlic. If using meat, add to aromatic vegetables and saute until tender, about five minutes.
- Add beans and soaking water to pot, ensuring at least one inch of water over level of the beans. Stir to blend flavors.
- Cover loosely and cook on low simmer for a minimum of four hours. As the beans cook, they will naturally swell. Stir the beans every half hour or so to ensure even cooking. If liquid in pot is absorbed too quickly, add broth to keep mixture moist.
- In last half hour of cooking, season with salt and pepper. You can also add your favorite dried or fresh herbs at this point. Enjoy!
To experiment with more recipes, consider Heirloom Beans: Recipes from Rancho Gordo, co-written by Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington and published by Chronicle Books. It’s a gorgeous book that I refer to often.
Take note. You can enjoy the wonders of Rancho Gordo beans at home, delivered right to your kitchen from the company website. Their products are also available across the country in select gourmet shops. I suggest trying a few varieties until you find your personal favorite.
When you support Rancho Gordo, you are also supporting the efforts of growers in other farming communities. I was intrigued and impressed by Steve’s passion for the Rancho Gordo- Xoxoc Project, a cooperative growing venture between Steve’s team and small farmers in rural Mexico. Dedicated to preserving culinary history, this admirable project ensures the longevity of rare beans. To that I say, bravo!
Steve sums up his passion perfectly. “Heirloom beans are romantic, beautiful and actually good for the soil and your body. What’s not to like?”
Heirloom beans are available in Atlanta at Star Provisions, 1198 Howell Mill Road, Atlanta, GA 30318