Monday, August 20, 2007

Beans, Beans, Good for the Heart...

I'm pretty sure I've mentioned Rancho Gordo on here before, suppliers of the best beans money can buy. I've missed them ever since moving back to Austin, where beans aren't so locally grown in so many varieties.

Some ingredients aren't worth worrying as much about. I've never had, say, a red onion that really jumped out at me as being wildly better than any other reasonably fresh red onion. Some things aren't really worth the time and money involved in procuring at their zenith.

Lest there be any doubt, beans are a food where the quality is critical. I made the Chocolate Turtle Beans from Heidi's latest cookbook and used a mix of Black Turtle beans and Appaloosa beans that I had sitting around from the Whole Foods bulk bins.

Disaster.

I soaked the beans for a day and a half just to be on the safe side, to where starch had risen to the surface of the water. I eagerly sweated the onions and garlic in my stock pot, added the tantalizing spice blend (I used the rest of my smoked serrano powder from Tierra and my Ceylon cinnamon with the allspice and cumin) and cooked the beans with that, their soaking liquid, and a bottle of thick English stout.

Two hours later, the black beans were still tough, nearly crunchy. Another hour later it became clear they weren't going to get much softer. I kept simmering just to reduce the liquid, mixed in the chocolate, and ate them with fried eggs in soft, fresh whole wheat tortillas. It was supposed to be bliss! That meal was going to be transcendental. Instead, every time the stout-chocolate-smoked serrano sauce started to pull me off to dreamland with its rich, mole-like complexities, I'd bite into a black bean with a crunch like uncooked potato and grimace a little bit.

Beans from Whole Foods are maybe $3/lb. or so for the interesting ones. All of Rancho Gordo's are $5/lb., less than double the price. And the difference is, Rancho Gordo's make for delicious, highly edible dishes, where Whole Foods' are unpalatable, cook poorly, and just aren't worth eating.

I went ahead and ordered a pound each of six different bean varieties from Rancho Gordo. I just got the shipment notification, and should be getting them in a few days.

Really, $38 for six pounds of beans and shipping is just not that much money in the grand scheme of things. Six pounds of beans? If I ate nothing else for dinner, that would probably feed me heartily for an entire month. Using them for side dishes, stews, chilies, and the occasional entree, I'll be set for much longer than that.

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