The people at Rancho Gordo talk about their beans the way oenophiles talk about wine. They can explain the subtle variances in flavor among Black Calypso Beans and Black Valentine Beans, and stock heirloom varieties with crazy names such as “Goat’s Eye,” “Christmas Lima” and of course don’t forget to call dear old “Good Mother Stallard.” They’re not quite as cheap as buying from the bulk bin at the grocery store, but since it’s beans we’re talking about, they’re still not a bad buy. You can do as I do and always order in bulk to save on shipping. Dried beans are a pantry staple, after all. And since it’s gardening season, it’s worth mentioning that these beans are so fresh you can plant them and grow your own. They are so fresh they sprout almost immediately.
As much variety as there is, most beans have a more well-known counterpart (i.e. don’t be put off by the fancy names if you can’t find the one you’re looking for). Rio Zapes are similar to pintos, Yellow Eye Beans can stand in for cannelinis. But it’s fun to try the recipes that have been crafted specifically for each variety, and Rancho Gordo has plenty on their website and more in their book, Heirloom Beans–even though Rancho Gordo provides recipes almost reluctantly, emphasizing that their beans are so flavorful that little elaboration is warranted. Nevertheless, I’ve been coveting this book for a while, every since I gave it to my father-in-law two years ago for Christmas. (I figured it would be bad form to pretend it accidentally ended up with my stack of gifts so I resisted the urge to “borrow” it). I guess virtue or patience or something like that eventually pays off as I got my hands on a copy recently.
No news that I love my sweet potatoes–I’m still happily eating them, even if by early spring I should theoretically be sick of them. Adding beans in to make this salad makes them a meal and not just a side dish–and since I left out the salad greens (since my kitchen is always understocked), it turned out to be one of those great salads that just gets better as it sits in your fridge.
This salad is pretty simple to make, especially if you are lazy like me and skip the adornments: toasted pine nuts and fried fresh sage leaves. This is a pity, I admit, because pine nuts are easy to toast (and given their price, it’s worth the effort) and my sage plants are roaring to life in the garden. But no point hiding it. I am sometimes lazy and wont to skip the glorious finishing touches–and this salad was delicious enough, bare-bones style. I did pluck a few sage leaves for the garnish in my photos though, and I do provide the instructions if you are a bit more ambitious than I. That redeems it somewhat right?
Sweet Potato and Rio Zape Bean Salad adapted from Rancho Gordo’s Heirloom Beans
Notes: Rancho Gordo suggests serving on top of a bed of watercress. i used dried chervil and marjoram–having dried chervil is hard enough, let alone finding it fresh, so you can always leave it out–some suggest parsley or tarragon as substitutes, but I haven’t tried this.
- 2 sweet potatoes
- 1T extra virgin olive oil
- 1/2t salt
- 2T pine nuts
- 1c well-drained Rio Zape (or other pinto beans)
fried sage leaves
- 1/4c grapeseed or safflower oil
- 20 fresh sage leaves
- 1 small shallot
- 1t grainy mustard
- 2T cider vinegar
- 1/4c olive oil
- 1T chopped parsley
- 1t fresh chopped chervil (1/2t dried)
- 1/2t chopped fresh marjoram (1/4t dried)