Customer Review

114 of 115 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Great book on cooking beans, October 1, 2008
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This review is from: Heirloom Beans: Great Recipes for Dips and Spreads, Soups and Stews, Salads and Salsas, and Much More from Rancho Gordo (Paperback)
I first discovered Rancho Gordo a couple of years ago at the San Francisco Ferry Terminal Market. I'd gotten bored with vendor after vendor selling heirloom tomatoes, tree-ripened fruit, and wild greens. I love all those things, but I needed a source of protein. And then I spotted the Rancho Gordo booth. Rancho Gordo's booth had dozens of varieties of beans: black midnight beans, anasazi beans, eye of the goat, and many more. I took a chance on a few pounds of heirloom beans. The beans were delicious, but I couldn't figure out what to do with them except cooking them with a bay leaf and a little mirepoix. This works really well for black beans, but doesn't seem to be the best choice for chestnut limas. And that's what excited me about this book.

Heirloom Beans is a pretty, well produced cookbook about beans. It contains basic information about dozens of varieties of beans (though it omits a few popular varieties of heirlooms like pebble beans), and has many recipes that show off the properties of each variety. Most (I would guess three quarters) of the recipes in this book are Mexican, Southwestern, or South American. The remainder are Italian, French, and Spanish.

Most of the recipes appear to be clearly written and straightforward, and don't use too many unusual ingredients. My local Whole Foods has several varieties of heirloom beans (from different producers), and I've seen some others at Italian or Mexican specialty stores; I assume that most readers will be able to find some of the beans mentioned in this book. In my experience, it is worth seeking out good quality beans. Plain black beans from the supermarket (even organic ones) can be a little dull and flat, and better beans can make a big difference in a recipe. (Even the fanciest beans are still one of the cheapest sources of protein that you can find.) Most of the recipes in this book also appear straightforward; almost all of them just involve chopping a few vegetables and simmering some beans.

(The one problem I have with the directions in this book is that bean cooking requires a little practice, and each variety cooks a little differently. Some beans are finished in a couple hours, while others need a lot more time. The book tells you this, but it doesn't tell you that it's a good idea to taste beans when you think they're done to make sure that they're really cooked through.)

Interestingly, this cookbook was published by Chronicle Books, and suffers from some of the same problems as other titles from this publisher. (For example, The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market Cookbook: A Comprehensive Guide to Impeccable Produce Plus Seasonal Recipes or Simply Organic: A Cookbook for Sustainable, Seasonal, and Local Ingredients.) The book is very pretty: it is nicely laid out and has beautifully printed photographs. Unfortunately, it's a slightly impractical cookbook. The typeface is a little small (and I'm a 35 year old with good eyesight!), the pages are made of coated paper (so you can't easily write down notes in pencil), and the book is paperback (so it won't stand up to heavy use.)

I'm excited about this book, and am looking forward to trying a few of the recipes. I will update this review after I've had a chance to test the recipes in this book. (You can't fairly review a cookbook until you know if the recipes work.) I'd recommend it to anyone who likes beans and is looking for more ways to add them to their diet.

[Update on 11/3/2008. I've now had this book for a few weeks, and have had the chance to make a few recipes. I made the Mayacoba Bean, Fennel, and Raddichio salad, the Boston Baked Beans, and the Good Mother Stallard Chicken Pot Pie. I'm glad to say that the recipes work. Everything I made was fairly easy and came out as advertised.

By the way, there is no reason that you have to use the exact types of beans specified in this book. If you can't find a Good Mother Stallard bean, for example, just use another bean with a similar texture. I actually made the baked beans recipe with Pebble Beans (which aren't even mentioned in the book), instead of Navy beans. For some recipes, it's better to pick a bean with a similar consistency or size, but don't be afraid to experiment.

Additionally, Amazon sells some of the beans mentioned in this book: Gourmet Valley Heirloom Beans Runner Canellini Beans, 12-Ounce Pouches (Pack of 6), Gourmet Valley Heirloom Beans Red Calypso Beans, 12-Ounce Pouches (Pack of 6), and Gourmet Valley Heirloom Beans Es Eye Of The Goat, 12-Ounce Pouch (Pack of 6).]
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Showing 1-3 of 3 posts in this discussion
Initial post: Oct 17, 2009 3:03:57 PM PDT
R. L. Maiden says:
Hi Joseph,
Regarding Christmas beans: If you can find them fresh (not dried), I think they are at their best, even if not as pretty. A simple recipe for them is made this way, using amounts of your choice:

a quart or so of cleaned fresh (green) christmas beans,
water enough to cover beans
several peppers of various kinds, cut into flat pieces for frying (I usually use an assortment from my garden--bell peppers of two or three colors, an anaheim or two, an ancho, italian frying peppers--whatever is abundant at the moment)
2-4 T. of good olive oil
a bulb or so of garlic, peeled and chopped

Place beans with water in saucepan; turn heat up 'til it boils, turn down to a simmer. Cook for 20-45 minutes until tender (how long depends upon the state of maturity of the bean--the bigger the bean, the longer it takes). While the beans are cooking, place 2 T. of olive oil in heated frying pan (cast iron is my preference here) over med-med high heat. Fry peppers carefully, in batches, until cooked almost brown on the outside--don't worry if it starts to blacken a bit, it adds to the flavor, just don't burn them; add more olive oil as needed. When all peppers are cooked, turn heat down a bit , just below medium, add the garlic to the pan and stir, cooking for 2 minutes or so. Chop the peppers and return them to the pan, too. Mix, cook until the garlic is just soft. Drain beans. Add the pepper mixture to them. Enjoy.

I made this recipe up one summer when I had an abundance of both peppers and Christmas beans (they're really easy to grow, but TALL and productive). This is one of the most requested dishes at town potlucks--and I can make it in a solar oven, too!--Ronnie

Posted on Jan 16, 2011 1:28:04 PM PST
I. King says:
Joseph - Beautifully detailed review! I really appreciate the time and thought that went into writing about it. Thanks so much! I'm soaking a blend of heritage beans even as we speak, and will be purchasing this book since I'm able to find a lot of these rarities locally.

Posted on Nov 15, 2012 1:38:36 PM PST
Norma says:
Thank you for your helpful, thoughtful comment!
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Joseph Adler
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Location: Mountain View, CA

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