My parents took a trip to California back in May and asked if I wanted any souvenirs, probably hoping that I’d ask for like a key chain or a fridge magnet or something. Instead I took this opportunity to send them on a little mission to find me some Rancho Gordo beans. I’ve been reading all about about these tasty little guys on all of the American blogs that I follow, but unfortunately it’s a little tricky to ship food to Canada from the states, so I had yet to taste them in person. We have our own heirloom bean varieties in Ontario, but I wanted a little Rancho Gordo stash of my own anyway.
So what is it that makes heirloom beans special? Though the true definition of “heirloom” is debated, it is usually used to describe ancient varieties of seeds that have been passed down many generations. It also usually means that planting the seeds will result in a plant that is almost identical to the parent, which seems like common sense, but most fruit and veggies that we buy in the store are actually hybrid varieties, and the seeds sterile. It’s kind of cool if you think about it, but what does it mean for the taste quality? Hybrid varieties of fruit and veggies are often created to withstand certain pests and diseases, and produce a larger yield and larger fruit. It would make sense that they would make hybrid varieties also taste better, and I bet they try, but maybe genuine flavour is just one of those things that you can’t fake. Heirlooms seeds produce a lower yield and pickier plants, but they definitely win in the variety and taste departments. Rancho Gordo beans are no exception. Rancho Gordo peeps travel the world in search of unique bean varieties, participate in seed exchanges, and are constantly experimenting to find new types that are suitable for production. They’re also pretty awesome at giving cooking tips and tasting notes for each bean variety that they sell on their website, and posting recipes on their blog. They make sure that all of the beans sold are fresh, which does matter even if the beans are dried. I’m already looking forward to tasking my next California visiting victim with bringing me back some of their other products.
My parents brought me five bags of these colourful beauties, mission accomplished! I wanted to cook them all right away, but was also afraid to waste them on screwing up – which is why it’s taken me 3 months to actually blog about them. I’ve now officially sampled every bag, but mostly stuck to just cooking them in a pot of water flavoured with herbs and spices, tasting each variety unadorned. With these past few weeks filled with my parents’ garden tomatoes and sweet sweet corn, I’ve finally put together a little something worth sharing. This bean salad recipe uses Cargamanto Cranberry Beans – not for any particular reason other than they were the last variety I had yet to sample. Black beans seem more conventional, but feel free to experiment with different types.
- 1/2 cup dried cranberry beans (~1 cup cooked)
- 2 cobs of sweet corn
- a knob of butter or coconut oil
- 2 medium tomatoes, seeded and diced
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- 1/4 red onion, thinly sliced
- thinly sliced chilies, to taste
- 1 lime
- extra-virgin olive oil and salt, to taste
- Cook the beans based on package directions, or check out the Rancho Gordo primer (I omitted the veggies, just added salt). Let them cool.
- Rub corn with butter or oil and grill on high heat until parts of the corn are a little charred. If you don’t have a grill, you can boil it, microwave it, or use it raw – but the BBQ char bits do add some nice summery flavour.
- Once cool, remove the corn kernels from the cob, slicing down the cob length with a sharp knife.
- Arrange the beans, corn kernels, diced tomatoes, sliced onions, chopped cilantro, and chilies on a plate.
- Dress with fresh lime juice, salt, and plenty of olive oil and toss before serving.