When we decided that we would eat as much locally grown food as possible, we started using mostly dried beans. There are sources for some dried beans (mostly black beans) in the Willamette Valley, but that will hopefully be increasing with the Southern Willamette Valley Bean and Grain Project that is focused on converting grass seed farmland into bean and grain production. A larger variety of dried beans can be purchased from Azure Standard, which sources most of their beans from the Northwest.
Imagine my delight when I ran across Rancho Gordo at the Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market in San Francisco a few years ago. Rancho Gordo sells dozens of varieties of heirloom dried beans. Since they aren’t local for us, I only pick them up on trips to San Francisco. (They do have a mail order option.) On our unexpected stop in San Francisco this past weekend, we picked up 5 lbs. of beans, including 1 lb of Red Nightfall, which we used in this recipe. Although pretty expensive at $5/lb, they are very high quality making the extra cost worth it. They have an almost cult-like following in the Bay Area. On the airplane, our rowmate noticed our stash of beans which prompted a discussion about our favorite bean recipes. Who would have thought people could be so passionate about beans?
Other recipes and posts on beans on this site:
I adapted their Pot Beans recipe out of their new cookbook, Heirloom Beans for our pot o’ beans. In addition to some great recipes, they include a section on different cooking and soaking methods that was alone almost worth the price of the book. I am particularly excited about cooking some in a clay pot. We served these beans with carnitas and a green salad.
The key to great tasting beans is freshness. Grocery store beans are typically old and have lost a lot of flavor sitting in storage. If you are buying from the grocery store, the bulk section is your best bet. Soaking overnight in salted water does improve texture, but I often skip that step with beans that I know are fresh.
Pot Beans, adapted from Heirloom Beans by Steve Sando and Vanessa Barrington
1-2 Tbsp olive oil
1/2 medium onion (I used a yellow one), diced small
3-4 garlic cloves, crushed
1 lb dried beans (pinto, adzuki, or anasazi would work great)
1/2 bottle of beer (optional)
Juice of 1 lime
Heat olive oil in a stockpot over medium heat. Add onion and garlic. Cook until soft. Add beans and cover with water by at least one inch. Bring to boil, reduce heat to bring to a simmer, add some salt (about 1-2 tsp), and cook partially covered for 1-2 hours. Add beer towards the end of cooking time. Cooking time will depend on the type of bean you choose and whether you soaked them. Add lime juice when beans are done. Serve plain or with your choice of cheddar cheese, minced onion, cilantro, sour cream, tortilla chips, salsa.