“I was determined to know beans.”
Henry David Thoreau
A couple of weekends ago, I stopped by the “Rancho Gordo” stall at the San Francisco Ferry Building Farmers Market. I’ve heard good things about them in the past and I also heard that they were moving inside to open a permanent storefront, so I wanted to see what all the fuss was about. Up to that point, I really didn’t know “beans” about beans! My first impression was surprise at all the different varieties, many of which (OK, most of which) I have never seen or heard of before. The truth is I was never fond of beans as a kid. They were one of those things my mother could never get me to eat much of. I am sure if she had had some of these she would have had much better luck. Like many of us, I grew up with the narrow selection of common canned and dried beans we are used to seeing on the grocery shelf. These common beans are mostly grown for their high yields and profitability. As it turns out, there are many varieties to explore that vary wildly in flavor, color and texture. Fortunately for us, most of this exploration has been done for us.
“Ilsa, I’m no good at being noble, but it doesn’t take
much to see that the problems of three little people
don’t amount to a hill of beans in this crazy world.
Someday you’ll understand that. Now, now.
Here’s looking at you, kid.”
Humphrey Bogart “Casablanca”
The man behind this hill of beans is Steve Sando. One day back in August of 2000, he set out to find a good tomato but came home empty handed. Finding a good tomato in Napa in August should be easy, but it wasn’t so he decided to grow his own. This eventually led him to growing his own beans. Now Steve’s company, “Ranch Gordo”, sells over 25 varieties of heirloom beans. Steve has searched all over Mexico and Central America to discover and share with us this amazing variety of indigenous ‘New World’ staples. Many of these varieties had fallen into such obscurity that in all likelihood they might as well have disappeared altogether. If you are at the Ferry Building Farmers Market on a Saturday, be sure to look for their stall and get ready to be impressed! Their enthusiasm is contagious, not to mention they are extremely knowledgeable and helpful. They will have you on your way and you will be full of beans in no time.
“Some people are fat, some people are lean
But I want you to show me the person
Who doesn’t like butterbeans? Yay! “
Beans, as we know, are good for you. They are essential for a healthy and balanced diet. Just consider the following:
- Protein: There are approximately 7-10 grams per half a cup of cooked beans.
- Fiber: 1/2 cup of cooked beans contains about 25-30% of the daily value of fiber. Beans are a source of soluble fiber that reduces blood cholesterol. Beans also release glucose slowly which helps control metabolism, a contributing factor in weight loss.
- Vitamins: They are great sources of B complex vitamins including B1, B2, B3, B5, B12, folic acid and biotin. Awesome for the liver, skin, hair and eyes (to name a few).
- Minerals: No slouch here! Iron, magnesium, phosphate, manganese, calcium, copper, zinc and potassium are in the house!
- Lipids: Polyunsaturated fat and no cholesterol are why beans are an excellent dietary choice. Lipids create stored energy (mostly linoleic acid in beans) and the chemical structure is low fat.
- Calories: There are only about 100-120 in a half a cup of unadorned beans (but for everyone’s sake, adorn your beans!).
- Dry beans also have the added advantage of being sodium free, as opposed to canned beans which are often loaded with sodium.
“I came to love my rows, my beans, though so many
more than I wanted. They attached me to the earth,
and so I got strength like Antæus. But why should I raise them?
Only Heaven knows.”
Henry David Thoreau
Back to the Rancho
Every beautiful bag of Ranch Gordo beans comes with a description and a serving suggestion. There are also some great recipes on the website that you can find here. I have been craving some beans on crostini (which I haven’t made in a long time) and it looked like the “Black Calypso” beans would be great choice for that. Cannellini beans are the traditional choice for this dish, but I was attracted to the beautiful color (even though I knew they would be much less dramatic after cooking). The bag described them as ‘mildly potato-flavored’ and ‘ideal served with a little sage and pancetta or bacon’. I only needed half the bag for the crostini so I am planning on using their suggestion for the other half of the bag. We used ‘Acme’ Herb Slab for the crostini, which we brushed with some garlic olive oil from “The Oilerie” that we got from Paul’s sister Katie for Christmas. This recipe is definitely one that you can play with and use or add whatever you might have on hand into the mix. We also enjoyed it left over the next day (so nice to know that you can make it well ahead of time). You can also serve it ‘Chunky Style’, which I prefer, or mash it up if you are mixing it for more of a ‘spread’ consistency.
- 8 ounces of Ranch Gordo 'Black Calypso' beans
- 1 shallot, peeled and chopped
- ½ cup marinated artichoke hearts, chopped
- ½ cup pitted kalamata olives, chopped
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 teaspoon salt
- ½ teaspoon black pepper
- 1-2 cloves garlic, chopped
- 2 tablespoons lemon juice
- 1-2 tablespoons of oil packed sun dried tomatoes, chopped
- 1 tablespoon Italian parsley, chopped
- A couple dashes of red pepper flakes
- Bread for crostini
- Olive oil, for brushing on the crostini
- Chopped chives for garnish
- Rinse and sort the beans and place in a pot with the chopped shallot and cover them with a couple inches of water. Bring to a boil, and let it go for about 10 minutes.
- Reduce heat, cover, and put on the lowest simmer you can muster and cook until they are tender. The beans will soak up a lot of water as they cook; you may need to add more water (from the kettle, not the tap). My beans were cooked in 1½ hours, but that can vary.
- When they are tender, drain them and place in a large mixing bowl.
- Add all the rest of the ingredients and mix, tasting and adjusting as you go.
- When you are done, set the bean mixture aside and make your crostini. There are a few ways to make crostini. I like to brush it with olive oil and grill, but you can also toast it in the oven. Spread the beans over the toasted crostini and serve.
Oy! Oy, alright! Cool the beans. Rambo.
Donna Noble, “Dr. Who”
Get the book!
I almost forgot to mention the cookbook: “Heirloom Beans” by Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington. It contains awesome photography and great recipes from top chefs such as Thomas Keller and David Kinch. You can get it from the Rancho Gordo website, independent bookstores (yes!) or Amazon.
But it’s all right now, in fact, it’s a gas!
“The Rolling Stones”
One More Thing…
Did you really think I was going to write an article about beans without mentioning gas? Some people actually avoid eating bean because of this issue…this is madness! You can enjoy beans without gas. Making your own beans and avoiding canned beans helps. So does soaking your beans and discarding the water. Make sure you are using the freshest dried beans you can find…another reason to get some Rancho Gordo beans. Check out this article on treehugger.com for some more great information on this topic.