Thursday, February 18, 2016

Black Orca? Calypso? Vaquero? It's a bean.

Black Orca, Calypso, Vaquero, Yin Yang; these are all names for this attractive black and white speckled heirloom bean which is a member of the Phaseolus vulgaris family.  In recent years many varieties of heirloom beans have become widely available and are prized for their beauty, smooth texture and subtle flavor.

Humans have cultivated beans since the advent of agriculture millennia ago. For many cultures they are the primary source of protein and other essential nutrients and are eaten at almost every meal. In subsistence farming communities, beans are cooked daily under very rudimentary conditions, often over an open fire. To create richly flavorful beans, all that is needed is a pot with a lid, a source of heat and a few simple ingredients.

Home Cooked Heirloom Beans:
Soaking time: Overnight or 6-8 hours.
Assembly time: Less than five minutes.
Cooking time: About one hour.


2 cups dried heirloom beans, soaked and rinsed
5 cups fresh water
2 bay leaves
3 cloves garlic
1 medium onion
1/2 teaspoon sea salt (or to taste).


Sort through beans and remove any foreign matter.  Place beans in a heavy bottomed pot and add enough water to cover. While soaking they will absorb some of the liquid so there should at least one inch of water above the level of the beans.  Soak overnight or for 6-8 hours. (You can skip the soaking and plan on extra simmering time.)

Drain beans and add fresh water. Cover and bring to a boil. Lower heat, add bay leaves, garlic cloves and onion. (The garlic and onion can be peeled before or after cooking.) Simmer gently until the beans are tender but not mushy.  Stir occasionally and make sure beans are not sticking and are mostly covered in liquid; add a little water if necessary. Cooking time is roughly one hour depending on the freshness of the beans.

When beans are tender, turn off heat. Remove bay leaves and garlic cloves. Mash garlic cloves in a bowl with some beans and their broth, mix well and stir back into the pot. Add sea salt, taste and adjust seasoning. Serve warm beans in their savory broth, garnished with freshly cracked black pepper. Any steamed or braised leafy green will compliment this dish.