My experience is that beans scare most Americans. Anything beyond baked beans, and maybe Mexican black or pinto beans as a side dish, and you’re in foreign territory. Too bad, really, because beans are absolutely packed with nutrition, are diet as well as budget friendly, and, as Steve Sando so aptly shares in his new book, Supper at Rancho Gordo, amazingly versatile.

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According to the Bean Institute, beans are, indeed, “the magical fruit:” “They are packed with protein, carbohydrates, vitamins and minerals, and are low in fat. One half cup of cooked dry beans contains approximately 115 calories and provides 8 grams of protein. In addition to macronutrients, vitamins and minerals, dry beans contain several types of phytochemicals. They are rich in lignans, which may play a role in preventing osteoporosis, heart disease, and certain cancers. The flavonoids in beans may help reduce heart disease and cancer risk. The plant stanol esters, or phytosterols, contained in dry beans may help reduce blood cholesterol levels. The reduced glycemic index of dry beans helps reduce the glycemic load of the diet when served in a mixed meal.  The properties of the carbohydrates found in dry beans, along with their fiber content, make them ideal foods for the management of abnormalities associated with insulin resistance, diabetes and hyperlipidemia.  The soluble fiber in beans […] helps to lower blood levels of LDL cholesterol, especially if LDL cholesterol levels were high to begin with, without compromising the level of protective HDL cholesterol”. Wow!

4631088290_8fc9478728_zFirst, for those of you concerned about the rest of that rhyme that begins with “the magical fruit”, here’s a tip from Mexico. Adding the herb epazote (see photo just above)  to your beans as you cook helps eliminate the “toot”. But so does eating them more frequently, which brings me back to Steve’s book.

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Stunning photography punctuates home-cook friendly recipes for such tempting dishes as Caribbean Baked Beans and no less than four different Cassoulet recipes, a chapter on Wonderful One-Pot Stews travels the globe, from Indian-Spiced Beans to Creole Red Beans to Free Mexican Air Force Chile and there are plenty of Salad[s] for Supper and Soups for All Seasons as well. The book’s preface introduces the uninitiated to Rancho Gordo’s New World Kitchen, explaining what White Corn Posole / Prepared Hominy is and the difference between Mexican, European and Oregano Indio. What is even more convenient is that all of the ingredients in the “Pantry” are available on-line, on Rancho Gordo’s website or at either the San Francisco store at the Ferry Building Market or the store in Napa. A Basics chapter initiates the cook who might be less familiar with cooking any number of pantry items, from dried beans and quinoa to popcorn and chiles.

Steve Sando’s beans are magical in more than one way. “The products featured as part of the Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc ProjectScreen shot 2014-11-05 at 6.29.07 PM

are the results of our two companies working together to help small farmers continue to grow their indigenous crops in Mexico, despite international trade policies that seem to discourage genetic diversity and local food traditions. And some interesting products result, like Salty Xoxonostle Strips (see photo just below). Screen shot 2014-11-05 at 6.29.36 PM

Most of us know that prickly pear cactus yield sweet, delicious fruits that taste oddly tropical, despite their preference for a desert climate. A close cousin to the common prickly pear is the xoconostle. Its fruits looks similar to a prickly pear but their taste is muy sour and muy appealing. You find them in salsas and dishes throughout central Mexico. Xoxoc takes their xoconostle and dries them naturally and in this case, salts them. The result is an addictive chewy snack for hot weather, but where they really shine is with premium tequilas and mezcal.

The salt and sour sensation replaces the traditional salt and lime! Take a sip, take a bite and then you’ll understand why we declare these little flavor bombs essential to tequila time. And they’re a lot handier than messy limes and salt cellars.

If you have a tequila fanatic in your life, congratulations. You’re lucky. Now you have the perfect gift!

Rather than just collect seeds and conduct bean trials […] in Napa”, says Sando, “it dawned on me it would be great to buy the beans directly from the farmers in Mexico who were growing heirloom varieties. On our own, it seemed next to impossible.” Teaming up with Xoxoc, a company already importing Mexican comestibles into the US, the project is a win-win.  “The amazing thing about this project has been that everybody seems to be thriving. The farmers have pre-sold their harvest and don’t have the risk of taking their crops to market. Instead of growing bland, hybrid crops for international markets, they can continue growing the varieties they know best, often varieties that have been grown for generations. Rancho Gordo customers now have access to many completely obscure and wonderful beans that would be almost impossible to try otherwise. By consuming these products, we’re creating a market that actually encourages people to preserve their local traditions”.
Supper at Rancho Gordo is available on-line at RanchoGordo.com, where you can order a copy signed by the author,  as well as at Rancho Gordo retail stores and on Amazon.

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