Heirlooms are now highly sought-after and on the Rancho Gordo online store, there is a WAITLIST for them. A waitlist, people. For beans. I wouldn’t even have known about heirloom beans, what with being a third world child, if it were not for one rainy, Taipei afternoon, when a good friend messaged me:
Do you cook with beans? My boss is leaving Taiwan and has a variety of beans from the US. Do you want them?
I replied with an expletive I can’t repeat here. Suffice to say, the beans are securely stored in my larder in such a position that I can walk by and admire them every so often. Knowledge of the fact that The French Laundry is a consistent customer of Rancho Gordo heirloom beans made me unbearably haughty as I emptied a cup of their famed Alubia Blanca beans into a bowl of water to soak overnight.
What, you may ask, is an heirloom bean? Simply put, a bean that hasn’t been mass produced. It retains its purity, and represents a wider and long-forgotten biodiversity in farming. They are 4 times more expensive than mass-produced supermarket beans, but their availability ensures that small farmers can continue to grow their indigenous crops and maintain their family legacies.
Alubia Blanca beans are described on the Rancho site as: A small, versatile Spanish-style white bean. It has a creamy texture and holds its shape even with long, slow cooking.
Inspired by their suggestion for Alubia Blanca bean recipes on the Gordo site, I decided to cook them as a simple stew with carrots, bell peppers and tomatoes, adding my own witchy touches of garam masala and raw vinegar. If you don’t have access to heirloom beans, (you poor urchins) then substitute with navy beans, great northerns, cannellini or white kidney beans. They would also make a fair substitute for the rare Zolfini beans from Tuscany, as suggested by the site.
Let’s get cracking.
Treasured Heirloom “Alubia Blanca” Bean Stew
- 4–5 cloves garlic
- 1 tbsp onion powder
- 1–2 tsp cumin powder
- 1 tsp chili powder
- 3–4 tbsp garam masala
- 2 cups cherry tomato
- 1/4 cup grapeseed oil
- 1 small to medium carrot
- 1 bell pepper
- 2 cups mushroom broth
- 1 tbsp rice flour
- 3 tbsp water
- 4 cups water
- 2 tbsp oil
- 1 tsp salt
- 1/2 tsp thyme
- 1 cup instant polenta
- 1.5 tbsp per serving nut parmesan
- 1 tbsp per serving raw apple cider vinegar
Beans (you have two options)
1. Soak two cups of beans overnight.
2. Don’t soak but when you cook them, boil for a full 10 minutes before returning to simmer again (I read this on the Rancho site).
3. Cook on medium to low heat with 1.5 tsp salt until al dente, drain and set aside.
1. Smash and finely chop garlic.
2. Chop the tomato, bell pepper and carrot into small cubes.
3. Add oil to a pot then sauté the garlic.
4. Add the spices, stir for a minute.
5. Add the chopped veggies and stir those in well.
6. Pour the mushroom broth in, put the lid on and let simmer until veggies are 3/4 of the way cooked.
7. Next, add the salted, al dente beans and let simmer for a further 10 minutes. I did not need to add extra salt since the beans have so much flavour and they are already salted.
8. Once the stew is cooked, you can pour the roux in to thicken it. To make the roux, add water to the flour, stir then pour it over the stew and mix in well. It should thicken the stew.
Polenta (do this step right at the time of serving)
Polenta gets thick and cakey real fast so you only want to cook it once you are serving—if you are using instant polenta, that is.
1. Add the water to a pot and set to medium heat.
2. Add oil.
3. Once it starts bubbling, add salt and thyme.
4. Turn the heat off, add the polenta. Mix well then put the lid back on.
5. It will be ready in about 2 minutes.
1. Scoop some polenta into a serving bowl.
2. Make a well in the centre to collect and hold the stew sauce.
3. Sprinkle parmesan over. If you don’t have parmesan, then just sprinkle nutritional yeast.
4. Spoon some stew over that.
5. Add a spoon of raw apple cider vinegar, drizzling evenly.
6. Garnish with fresh leaves
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Photo & Video: Prashantha Lachanna