Time was, most of our beans came from cans. Then a few years ago, daughter Lydia gifted us a few bags of Rancho Gordo beans for Christmas. Since then, we’ve never been tempted to use any other beans, certainly not from a can.

Rancho Gordo specializes in heirloom varieties of legumes, including lentils and peas, but mostly they’re about the beans: exotic varieties (like buckeye, mayocoba, and King City Pink beans) as well as more familiar ones (like black, pinto, and garbanzo beans).  They offer thirty kinds of beans, all from small farms in Mexico and the West Coast. These might be the best beans you’ve ever tasted.

When I tried the Rancho Gordo garbanzo beans, I realized just how good garbanzos could be. Unlike the canned beans we used to buy, the flavors of the Rancho Gordo beans were so much deeper, more nuanced, with more tooth – and they look beautiful, coming in many shades and combinations of purple, yellow, beige, black and red.

About a year or so ago, we became members of the Rancho Gordo Bean Club: every quarter, they send some pounds of beans (including ones with a very limited growing season or yield). Of course, these beans –   sold dry, in one-pound bags – are more expensive than the canned or regular grocery store dried versions. The garbanzos, for instance, are $6.25 for a pound of dried beans…but I can pretty much guarantee, they will be the best garbanzos – and maybe the best beans –you’ve ever put on a plate.

Royal Corona beans, photo David Hammond

Rancho Gordo shipments include suggested recipes for the beans, but we like experimenting. After a friend posted a picture of a particularly beautiful soup/stew using a Lima-like Royal Corona bean, Carolyn made a pot (photo), and it was knockout: lots of veggies in a tomato-based broth, and the Royal Corona beans kept their shape while staying lush and creamy, just fabulous, much like the fasolias gigantes from Papaspiros that I wrote about years ago.

We like meat, but we know we should be cutting back, both for reasons of personal and planetary health. Beans are highly nutritious: the Harvard School of Public Health has written that “Legumes, which include beans, peas and lentils, are an inexpensive, healthy source of protein, potassium, and complex carbohydrates, including dietary fiber. On average, legumes contain about 20-25% protein.” 

Beans also, of course, are delicious and extraordinarily versatile: they can be incorporated into soups and stews, but many varieties take quite well to mashing and eating as a hummus or dip.

Just as my daughter bought us beans for Christmas, you might consider buying a few bags of Ranch Gordo beans for friends and relatives on your holiday gift list. It’s unlikely they’ve ever before received the gift of beans for Christmas, but the likelihood is high that these precious Rancho Gordo legumes will make them very happy.

You can order straight from Rancho Gordo,  and locally, you’ll find bags of Rancho Gordo beans at Oak Park’s Carnivore

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David Hammond

David Hammond, a corporate communications consultant and food journalist living in Oak Park, Illinois, is a founder and moderator of LTHForum.com, the 8,500 member Chicago-based culinary chat site. David...