Make Ahead

Rio Zape Beans with Toasted Chile Sauce

February 18, 2011
1 Ratings
  • Serves 6-8
Author Notes

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

What You'll Need
  • 1 pound dried Rio Zape beans rinsed, or substitute black or anasazi beans
  • 5 dried chiles (for mild spiciness use 2 anchos and 3 negros, for a little more heat, substitute in some guajillos)
  • 6 sun dried tomato halves (not in oil)
  • 5 cloves garlic
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds
  • 1/2 teaspoon fennel seeds
  • 1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 3 tablespoons neutral oil such as grape seed
  • 5 cups water
  • sour cream for serving
  • cilantro for serving
  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. Serve with a dollop of sour cream and sprigs of cilantro.

See what other Food52ers are saying.

  • Anna Flynn
    Anna Flynn
  • luvcookbooks
  • gingerroot
  • Fairmount_market
  • Blissful Baker
    Blissful Baker
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: I enjoy the challenge of coming up with recipes for local, seasonal ingredients and finding fun ways to cook with my children.

13 Reviews

Anna F. June 11, 2018
Just got my first ever bag of Rio Zapes from the Rancho Gordo Bean Club. Cooked this recipe to go with pulled pork. Everyone loved the beans and the recipe. Be sure to taste the soaking liquid first. It can be very bitter to the point of unusable. I was able to balance the liquid with brown sugar, lime juice, and a little milk. A friend said if the liquid is too bitter she will dump it and do a second soak.
luvcookbooks January 31, 2012
Made the chile paste from here and used it in the Sunday Chicago Chile recipe. Liked it better than the one I entered, though it is a little more of a weekend recipe! Renewed my intention to roast my own chiles and love the blackened smoky garlic flavor. Fennel, cinnamon and cocoa powder are also new chile ingredients compared to my usual. Thank you!
Fairmount_market February 1, 2012
I'm so glad you liked these flavors.
Hellecoox September 18, 2011
Sounds good, I'm hoping to make this tonight.

I'm puzzled, though, why the photo shows a different bean (Jacob's Cattle?), not "Rio Zape, which are a gorgeous purple and black speckled legume" quoted from above.
dymnyno September 18, 2011
The second pic is the Rio Zape.
Fairmount_market September 24, 2011
The first picture was shot for the Whole Foods sister website to food52. I think they took a picture of anasazi beans (which would also work well with this dish, and I believe is a dried bean that Whole Foods sells, unlike Rio Zape). I am partial to the Rio Zapes because they are so gorgeous uncooked, and I think they have a slight chocolate hint to them when cooked (of course accentuated in this recipe).
gingerroot May 3, 2011
This sounds really wonderful, Fairmount_market! Ever since growing Christmas limas in my raised bed, I have become a fan of heirloom beans and can't wait to try this.
Fairmount_market May 5, 2011
I haven't tried Christmas limas before, but they look delicious, and I'd love to try your lima bean dip sometime. Are they easy to grow?
gingerroot May 5, 2011
Yes! They were the first bean I tried in my first raised bed and they did really well. They are the climbing vines in my profile picture. They have a wonderfully nutty flavor!
Fairmount_market April 2, 2011
Thanks foodfighter for your thoughtful notes on this recipe. I like the idea of adding a bit of brown sugar and serving with pickled onions.
foodfighter April 4, 2011
Thanks for the recipe.
Blissful B. February 18, 2011
What a beautiful bean! I'm so grateful for the return of heirloom vegetables via farmer's markets like your own.
Fairmount_market March 7, 2011
The New York Times had a nice article today featuring the farmers Kasey and Jeff from Lonesome Whistle Farm in Eugene, OR, who grow these beautiful heirloom beans: