I find that there’s something very comforting about cooking a pot of beans: the meditative process of sorting through the dried legumes, the slow cooking process with plenty of time to infuse in flavors, and the pleasure of producing a plentiful supply of meals from a few handfuls of seeds. When I’ve cooked a pot of beans over the weekend, the week’s menu easily falls into place, featuring beans as the main dish one night with an assortment of toppings and salads, and as a side to fish tacos, grilled chicken, or roasted pepper quesadillas subsequent nights. Over the years I’ve experimented with toasting and grinding spices, and then with toasting dried chiles and blending these into pastes to be fried for more complex flavors. This past year I joined a local heirloom bean CSA and it’s been a revelation to discover the diversity of flavors, textures, and cooking properties of different dried beans.
This recipe, the culmination of many years of experimentation, is one I created for an heirloom variety call Rio Zape, which are a gorgeous purple and black speckled legume. One could also substitute black beans. My family has become fans of this recipe. My daughter, who is a quite particular eater, has developed a real taste for them and likes to help me adjust their flavoring as they cook. My mother asked me to cook up a pot when I was home last, so that she could freeze servings to enjoy until my next visit. I cook these in a slow cooker, which allows the beans to plump up gently without any presoaking, but one could also cook them on the stovetop, which would require less time and more liquid. For the chili sauce you can use different combinations of dried chiles, depending on your preference for spiciness, but I recommend including negros for their rich flavor. This dish would also work well with anasazi beans. - Fairmount_market —Fairmount_market
Test Kitchen Notes
The Rio Zape, a beautiful bean, will make any cook feel like an artist before they start cooking. The beans in this recipe are prepared with a toasted chili sauce that includes cinnamon and chocolate, bringing the basic character of a mole. The beans and sauce are of a deep mahogany color once finished, and what this takes away from the appearance of these unique beans it makes up for with an intriguing, complex taste profile. As we start to dream about BBQs to be in nicer weather, this is a good bean side dish to keep in mind. Note: I made a second batch and added about 2 tablespoons of brown sugar to add some sweetness. I served this second batch at a party with pickled onions, and it was a hit. - foodfighter —foodfighter
dried Rio Zape beans rinsed, or substitute black or anasazi beans
dried chiles (for mild spiciness use 2 anchos and 3 negros, for a little more heat, substitute in some guajillos)
Heat a skillet and toast the chiles about one minute on each side until they puff up and become fragrant. Also heat the garlic cloves until they start to blacken. Meanwhile remove the stems and seeds from the chiles and immerse them in 2 cups hot water, along with the sun dried tomatoes. When the garlic cloves are done, peel them and put them in a blender. Toast the cumin and fennel seeds in the skillet for about one minute and add these to the blender, along with the cinnamon and cocoa powder. Spoon in the softened chiles and tomatoes. Add one cup of the soaking liquid, strained. Blend until you have a smooth paste.
Heat oil in a pan and add the chile paste. Cook, stirring for about 5 minutes until it has darkened in color and become very fragrant. Rinse the blender jar with the remaining soaking liquid and add to pan. If using, transfer to your slow cooker. Add the beans and 3 more cups of water. Cook on high for 4 to 6 hours (the cooking time will depend on the dryness of the beans and the slow cooker model). When the beans are soft, add salt to taste.
Serve with a dollop of sour cream and sprigs of cilantro.
I'm a biology professor and mother of two, and in my (limited) free time I love to cook, which is much more forgiving than laboratory science. Last year I helped start a farmers market in my neighborhood, and to promote it, I created a food blog: fairmountmarket.blogspot.com. I enjoy the challenge of coming up with recipes for local, seasonal ingredients and finding fun ways to cook with my children.