A happy place for bean people

A selection of the contents of my first Rancho Gordo Bean Club box.

Well, hello there. Long time no see! I remembered that I had a food blog and thought it might actually be fun to come back and start writing here again. Partly this is because I finally caved and joined the Rancho Gordo Bean Club, and am now in the throes of experimentation with a vast quantity of fabulous heirloom beans. I’ve had a few hits and a few misses already, and I really should be writing this stuff down.

A photo from Rancho Gordo’s farmer’s market stall in San Francisco, in 2010.

For those unfamiliar with Rancho Gordo, it’s a Napa-based company that specializes in fresh heirloom dried beans, plus a few other items like spelt, hominy, Mexican chocolate, Mexican oregano, and fancy vinegars. I heard of them through the blogosphere many years ago, and had been taking advantage of our trips through California to stop at their stall at the Ferry Building in San Francisco to stock up on beans (once I filled a suitcase with them.) Then they closed their SF shop and I was bereft, until I heard about the Bean Club where every three months you get a box of 1-pound bags of beans, different ones every time. Perfect! Of course, that coincided with a New Yorker article on Steve Sando, the owner of RG, which of course meant that the club, which had just been reopened to new members, filled up instantly, but I got on the wait list and am now a proud member. Which means that after two quarterly shipments I now have far more beans than we normally eat. Whoops.

So far I have made a salad of tiny black lentils with lemon juice, yogurt and tons of herbs, several pots of white chili and one of red, a very boring version of Smitten Kitchen’s pizza beans (not Deb’s fault, I was lazy and simplified the recipe too much), a really tasty white bean and farro salad, and the best pork chili verde I’ve ever eaten. Definitely time to start taking notes. And if you have a favorite bean recipe that you think I should try, lay it on me!

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welcome to 2013

first sunrise of the year

Here’s to a bright and better new year! As we often do, we stayed in and had all the Traditional Foods of the season.

dip

First, on New Year’s Eve, there was the chips and dip course. This year I made a variation of the America’s Test Kitchen caramelized onion dip, and it was pretty good, although still a bit too sweet. We ate more vegetables with it than usual, since I ended up with vast quantities of crudites after a catered event last weekend.

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Tender

Tender (plus beet)

After a bit of a dry spell, we bought ourselves a new cookbook: Tender, by Nigel Slater. Nigel is one of those people that could write a shopping list and I’d buy it. When it’s a discussion of fresh vegetables and home gardening and things to cook in season, there’s definitely no question. I brought it home and immediately read it cover to cover.

The way I envision using this book is the all-too-frequent case where I have a vegetable languishing in the fridge and I can’t think what to do with it. I might not follow one of Nigel’s recipes – much of what he does is very similar to what I do when I’m winging it – but having all the possibilities laid out at once is tremendously helpful, and his tone is deeply encouraging. In this case, I had some beets.

beet

We ate the greens off the beets a couple of weeks ago, and it was about time to use up the roots. Nigel’s recipe for beet tzatziki actually only used one beet, but it reminded me of their existence and I made borsch with the remainder a few days later.

beet tzatziki

Beet tzatziki is pretty darn simple: just yogurt seasoned with garlic, fresh mint, and grated raw beet, in pretty much any proportion. The trick seems to be finding any middle ground between the moment you start stirring it together and the moment (very soon afterwards) when it suddenly looks like thickened Pepto Bismol. Or raspberry ice cream. Something very, very pink. In any case, it tastes good. It makes your dinner plate look kind of awful, though.

beet tzatziki

about to process

The chickpea fritters that Nigel suggests to go with the tzatziki were a lot of fun. I’ve made falafel many times from a mix, and read recipes for making it with soaked, ground chickpeas, but it never really occurred to me that I could just puree cooked chickpeas with herbs and an egg and fry it. It might not be a true falafel but they were extremely good. They’re very soft-textured, though, so I think they’re best eaten with a fork rather than stuffed into a pita, which would just mush them into hummus. Not that that wouldn’t be tasty, too.

falafel ingredients

falafel

falafel

Chickpea Fritters

adapted from Tender: A Cook and His Vegetable Patch by Nigel Slater

  • one can chickpeas, drained
  • 2 cloves garlic
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 tsp ground coriander
  • 1/2 tsp paprika
  • 1 egg
  • bunch of parsley
  • handful of mint
  • salt and pepper

Roughly chop the parsley and mint leaves and the garlic. Put everything into a food processor and whirl it around until it’s mixed but still just a touch chunky. Let it sit for ten minutes (apparently this is important, although I didn’t notice much difference).

Heat a film of olive oil in a nonstick pan (or two, if you don’t have a pan big enough for all of the fritters at once). Add the chickpea mixture in dollops – it will be very soft. Smooth out the dollops with the back of the spoon, then leave them the heck alone until they begin to brown on the underside. Don’t poke at them, they’ll fall apart! When they seem to be getting a good crust, flip them over quickly with a thin spatula and cook the other side.

Serve with tzatziki (beet or otherwise) and a green salad.

smoky stew

stew

Directions: in August (approximately six months before serving), barbecue some pork ribs. Make sure they’re good and charred and salty. Eat them, then make stock out of the bones and freeze it. In April, take the stock out and thaw it. Cook some beans. Blanch collard greens and chop them. Sear chunks of country-style boneless pork ribs in oil and remove them from the pan. Saute a lot of garlic in the remaining oil, then add back the pork and pour in the smoky, salty stock. Simmer, covered, until the meat is tender, maybe an hour. Add the beans and greens. Eat voraciously, and wish you had thought to make cornbread.

Monday soup

hot soup

I often make soup on Mondays, a holdover from when I worked late shift and we needed a quick re-heat sort of dinner. I like the tradition, though – if I make the soup in the morning it gives me a chance to putter around the house doing laundry and paying bills and the like, occasionally wandering through the kitchen to give things a stir. And most soups, especially bean soups, are better if they’re made ahead and given a chance to sit and meld in the fridge.

soup

This soup, a variation of my favorite pasta fazool, was intended to celebrate the very last of the season’s fresh cannellini beans from Dunbar Gardens. I love fresh shelling beans with a passion, and never get to eat quite as many as I’d like before the season is past, so I was glad to get one final bag. And while we were at the farmstand I also picked up a bunch of curly endive – I thought it was escarole but I was wrong – to toss into the soup.

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tuna & beans

black-eyed pea salad with tuna

Last week there were rather a lot of things I was frantically trying to get done. One of them was to take some pictures to enter in the Leite’s Culinaria food photography contest, which involved making a recipe from their website and taking a photo of the finished dish. I am very bad at following recipes closely, so it was a little hard for me to find one that I thought I could remain mostly faithful to. I ended up choosing a salad of canned tuna and black-eyed peas, a traditional Portuguese dish with many possible variations.

The recipe is incredibly simple, just cooked black-eyed peas tossed with tuna, onion, garlic, olive oil and vinegar, with some parsley stirred in. I was a little dubious at the initial smell of the black-eyed peas (which I had never cooked before) – they seemed unpleasantly grassy and stunk up the house remarkably. But when I had mixed in the other ingredients and let the salad sit for a little while, it took on a whole new level of flavor that was compellingly good. We ate it plain for dinner the first night, then stuffed into pitas with lettuce for two more lunches. Delicious.

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another great combo

chimichurri

I’m not feeling very verbose today, but I want to get this post up while I’m thinking about it. What am I thinking about? Pot beans with chimichurri. I’m not sure why I stumbled across this combination, but it was wonderful and we’ve eaten all the leftovers and now I’m going to have to make it again very soon.

vaquero beans

I used speckled Vaquero beans from Rancho Gordo, soaked in salt water, then rinsed and cooked with onions and garlic fried in bacon fat. The beans had a soft texture and nice flavor, and kept their pretty spots much better than I expected. They were good by themselves, but with a drizzle of chimichurri on top – woof! It was incredible. I ate a whole bowl of just beans and sauce for lunch yesterday, with a piece of good sourdough bread.

The chimichurri I made this time was a bit different than the one I described back in February. I used a recipe from Francis Mallmann’s amazing book Seven Fires: Grilling the Argentine Way, which goes like this:

Chimichurri Sauce

  • 1 cup water
  • 1 Tbsp kosher salt
  • 1 cup fresh parsley
  • 1 cup fresh oregano
  • 2 tsp red pepper flakes
  • 1 head garlic, broken apart and peeled
  • 1/4 cup red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil Continue reading

lima beans

Christmas limas

I’ve been eager to get to work with some of the beans I picked up at the Rancho Gordo booth in San Francisco, and I finally got my chance this week. I decided to start with the ones I was most curious about: the Christmas limas, which the packaging claims taste of chestnuts. Plus they’re all kinds of pretty.

Rancho Gordo beans

I picked a recipe out of my newly acquired copy of Heirloom Beans, for Christmas limas with cabbage and pork chops. I did my new favorite brine soak, but otherwise followed the recipe fairly closely. The beans cook in an aromatic broth of bacon, garlic, bay and ancho chile, and Savoy cabbage is wilted in with them at the last moment. The pork chops are very straightforwardly seared, then finished in the oven (we thought about hauling out the grill but ran out of time that day).

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cool beans

pasta fazool

I recently invented this soup, and its become one of our favorites – as it turns out, really just a version of pasta e fagioli (Italian for noodles and beans, also known as pasta fazool). It also happens to be one of the easiest soups I’ve ever made, with the exception of the kind that involve opening a can or two. The first time I made it with freshly shelled borlotti beans from Colony Creek Farm (which were incredible), and the second time I used some locally grown, cupboard-aged Calypso beans (like little Yin-Yangs) that had taken up embarrassing residence in my pantry. Good thing dried beans don’t go bad very quickly.

borlotti beans

Calypso bean

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red bean khachapuri

red bean khachapuri

Like the regular, cheese-filled khachapuri that I usually make, this bean-filled variation is from the book Flatbreads & Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid (I’ve only recently discovered Naomi’s evocative personal blog – check it out, it’s wonderful).

well loved cookbook

I’ve raved about this cookbook repeatedly on this blog (do you have a copy yet? If not, why not?) The only thing I wish is that the first edition had been bound more effectively, because my copy is completely shot. You can tell it’s been well-loved. It’s the only place I’ve found recipes for Georgian food, which is a wonderful savory cuisine full of walnuts, cheese, pomegranates and herbs.

well loved cookbook

I love cheese-filled khachapuri so much that it was hard to make myself try something new, but I’m glad I made the effort. What I really like about the bean filling is that it really highlights the flavor of the bread, which is very tender and tart. Full of protein from both beans and yogurt, it makes a great vegetarian meal. I made a quick pureed spinach soup to dip the breads in, but a sharp green salad would also be good alongside.

red bean khachapuri

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