One highlight of my trip to San Francisco was visiting the Ferry Building, which I did twice in two days. It’s a foodie paradise filled with restaurants and small shops that have extreme specialities like caviar and mushrooms. There’s also a specialty grocery store called Village Market where I discovered a product I’ve been trying to track down for years: Rancho Gordo dried beans.
I visited New Orleans for a conference in 2008 and sat in on a great session about food blogging. This was right after I’d started my blog and it turned out to be one of the most valuable conference sessions I’ve attended. Like a good bean, I soaked up all the information I could about food blogging and at the same time learned about heirloom beans from one of the panelists, SteveSando of Rancho Gordo.
Although it is possible to order beans through the company’s website, I never quite got around to it, but I also never forgot about this curious product. I’ve always been perfectly content using canned beans. I think they’re a good product that saves a few steps and a lot of time. Nonetheless, when I spotted the Rancho Gordo beans at Village Market I knew they were coming home with me.
There were quite a few varieties to choose from but I was drawn to a curious looking yet adorable black-and-white speckled bean called vaquero (yes, I just called a bean “adorable” and I’m standing by that statement). The package describes them as: “A cousin to the more famous anasazi bean, vaqueros are just as versatile and perhaps bit lighter. Great for soups, stews, chilis or on their own.”
However they’re eaten, vaqueros are delicious. They’re creamy, rich and savory, not to mention incredibly nutritious.
I cooked the vaqueros according to the basic instructions on the Rancho Gordo website (there’s a video there, too) and have since enjoyed them on their own and as part of a meal, something I like to call “casado reinvented.”
Casado is a common Costa Rican dish and one I ate every day I was there last May. Essentially, it consists of black beans, rice, fried plantains and some type of protein (chicken, beef or fish). My “reinvented” version uses vaqueros instead of black beans, basmati rice, crispy roast chicken, and winter squash that I roasted with the chicken for the last 20 minutes. The winter squash was a great substitute for hard to find plantains because, like plantains, they’re starchy and a little sweet.
Here’s how to cook vaquero beans:
Cooked Vaquero Beans
1 pound dried vaquero beans
1 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 white onion, diced
1 carrot, peeled and diced
1 large celery stalk, diced
1 garlic clove, minced
1 1/2 to 2 teaspoons salt
1 teaspoon sherry vinegar or red wine vinegar
Rinse the beans well under cold running water. Check for any small stones and discard. Pour the beans into a bowl and cover with water by 1 to 2 inches. Let the beans soak at room temperature for 6 hours. Add more water as necessary to make sure the beans remain submerged.
Heat the olive oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onion, carrot, celery and garlic and sweat until soft, about 5 minutes, stirring often. Pour in the beans AND soaking liquid (it contains nutrients and flavor from the beans), plus 1 cup water.
Increase the heat to high and bring the water to a boil. Boil for 5 minutes then decrease the heat to low and simmer uncovered for 1 1/4 hours. Add more water as needed and stir every so often so the beans don’t stick to the bottom of the pot.
After 1 hour and 15 minutes stir in 1 1/2 teaspoons salt and continue to simmer the beans for 15 minutes, or until they reach the desired consistency. I prefer the vaqueros to be soft but still hold their shape and have a small bite to them. Add more salt if necessary and stir in the vinegar.
Serve the beans warm on their own, with rice, or as part of a meal like casado.