I'm having a very bean-y summer. It's not unusual for me to move away from eating heavy meat when it's hot out, but I generally consider beans a hearty and warming food, too, so it's odd that beans are where I keep finding myself right now. The textures of beans - both fresh and dried - are constantly calling to me. I ignore common sense and let a pot bubble on my stove for hours when it's 95 degrees out.
It is hard not to want beans all the time when the beans are as gorgeous as the ones from Rancho Gordo. Steve Sando has made the humble bean a sexy ingredient by growing and selling dozens of heirloom breeds that most of us had never seen or heard of before. Each type of bean is beautiful and unique, all sizes and colors, stripes and spots, flavors and textures.
One of my favorites varieties - and the one that Sando claims started this whole business when he first took a bite - is Rio Zape. A gorgeous mauve-colored bean with dark purple stripes and little white eye, Rio Zapes are similar to Pinto beans, but are denser and richer in flavor. The best way to start using heirloom beans if you want to understand why they are so amazing is to go simple simple simple. A bit of bacon, some aromatics, maybe a nice dark beer, finish it off with some tomatoes for acid and a fresh cilantro relish for bite. Simple and hearty, really taste the bean. Recipe after the jump:
BEER AND BACON BEANS WITH CILANTRO RELISH
For the beans:
1 pound Rancho Gordo Rio Zape Beans (use can substitute pintos or any beans you like)
2 tbsp olive oil
1/4 lb smokey bacon, diced
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3 cloves of garlic, minced
1 jalapeno pepper, minced
6 fresh sage leaves
1 sprig fresh rosemary
1 bottle stout or other dark beer
1 15-oz can diced tomatoes
juice of 1/2 lemon (use the 1/2 lemon left over from making the relish)
salt and pepper to taste
For the relish:
1 large bunch cilantro
1 medium shallot
1 clove garlic
zest of 1 lemon
juice of 1/2 lemon
To make the beans:
Cover the dried beans with cold water allowing at least two inches of water covering the surface of the beans. Soak for at least 6 hours or overnight. Do not discard the soaking liquid.
In a large heavy pot, heat the olive oil. Add the diced bacon and saute, rendering out the fat and crisping the bacon. When it is brown and crispy, remove the bacon with a slotted spoon and set aside to drain on paper towels. You will use this bacon to finish the beans.
Remove all but 2-3 tablespoons of fat from the pot. Saute the onion and garlic until fragrant. Add the sage, rosemary and minced jalapeno and saute until fragrant. Add the beans with their soaking liquid, plus the bottle of beer. If necessary, add additional water to cover the beans. Bring to a boil, then lower to a very slow simmer until the beans are tender. This will take anywhere from 1-2 hours depending on how long they soaked and how firm you like your beans. I tend to like my beans with a bite. When the beans are tender, add the tomatoes, lemon juice, and bacon, and season well with salt and pepper. Cook a few minutes more to incorporate the acids and the bacon. Remove the sage leaves and rosemary before serving. Serve on rice or with crusty bread, topped with a dollop of the cilantro relish and the crispy bacon bits.
For the cilantro relish:
Mince the cilantro, shallot, and garlic very finely, you can use a mini-prep if you like. Add the lemon zest, juice and salt to taste. Add enough olive oil to make a thick pesto-like sauce. Serve alongside the beans.