In the past, beans were considered a humble food, a source of protein for the common folk before it became affordable to eat meat daily. Today, beans are generally seen as a side dish (barbecued beans)–or the province of vegetarians. People tend to think of them as bland and boring, and cooks often add meat or, at the very least, herbs and spices to give them flavor. Because of beans’ unpretentious reputation, you may be a little surprised to learn that there are gourmet beans, beans grown in small crops from heirloom seed with price tags befitting luxury legumes. The biggest name in this small crop endeavor is Rancho Gordo, a California company that currently offers over 35 different types of naturally GMO-free beans. (The specific varieties change often due to availability.)
I first tried Rancho Gordo beans about a year ago, when I found Yellow Eye beans in one of the “fancy food” chain grocery stores. I didn’t have high expectations, so I was pleasantly surprised to find that there really was a difference in flavor from “regular” dried beans. Just as noticeable as their delicate flavor was their texture, which was creamy yet firm. I hoped to experiment more with Rancho Gordo beans, but the local store stopped carrying them. After looking for them around town, I finally gave up last month and ordered 10 pounds of beans from the company’s website:
Rancho Gordo has a flat shipping rate, the same whether you buy one pound or ten or twenty. In order to get my money’s worth, I decided to buy their Desert Island Sampler (bottom row), Xoxoc Project Sampler (middle row), and one package of Yellow Indian Woman beans (because I’d heard good things about them). As I was cutting open the box, I accidentally sliced into the bag of Santa Maria Pinquitos and decided that slip of the knife was as good a way as any to decide which legume to cook first.
Pinquitos are tiny beans, some the size of fat lentils and others the size of adzukis, about the same color as pinto beans. They’re so small that you’d think they’d cook quickly, but they take about twice as long as black beans and almost as long as chickpeas to pressure cook. I soaked them for 6 hours, cooked them under high pressure for 12 minutes, and then allowed them to continue cooking in the residual heat of the pressure cooker for 15 minutes.
When I opened my electric pressure cooker, they were perfect, unbroken and intact but soft all the way through. I had cooked them with a little onion and garlic but no extra seasonings just to get a sense of the beans’ true flavor, and they had a light smokiness that I didn’t expect. Steve Sando, the founder of Rancho Gordo, often recommends that the beans be eaten plain or lightly seasoned so that you can really taste their flavor, and even though I’m naturally inclined to add a lot of spice to my food, I could imagine eating pinquitos unadorned.
I thought that the natural smokiness of pinquitos would be perfect in a taco filling, so I cooked some quinoa, seasoning it with chili powder and cumin, and added some of the cooked beans and frozen corn. The bean and quinoa combination was perfect as a filling for tacos and burritos and atop taco salad. But don’t feel like you have to use pinquitos in this recipe; use any pink or red bean you like, and add a little extra chipotle powder or some smoked paprika to replace the smokiness of the pinquitos.
Because the flavor of the filling is dependent on the type of chili powder you use, please try to avoid cheap supermarket brands and go for the good stuff. I ran out of Spice House regular chili powder after making my first batch of taco filling and had to use a can of generic in my second batch. Big mistake. The taste was off and the filling didn’t seem as flavorful no matter how much chili powder I added. Chili powder is a mixture of seasonings and varies from brand to brand, so be sure you use one you like and adjust the amounts to taste.
- 1 medium red onion, chopped fine (about 1 cup)
- 1 medium bell pepper, any color, chopped (about 1 cup)
- 2 cloves garlic, minced
- 1/2 cup quinoa, rinsed well
- 1 cup water
- 2-3 teaspoons high-quality mild chili powder, more to taste
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin, more to taste
- 1/2 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/4 teaspoon chipotle chile powder (or to taste)
- 2 cups cooked small beans, such as pinquitos, pink beans, pinto beans, black beans, or azuki, well-drained
- 1 cup frozen corn kernels
- hot sauce to taste
- Heat a 3-quart non-stick sauté or sauce pan over medium-high heat. Add the onion, and cook until it begins to soften, adding water by the tablespoon if needed to prevent sticking. Add the bell pepper and cook for another 2 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for another minute.
- Add the quinoa, water, and seasonings. Stir well, bring to a boil, reduce heat, cover and cook for 15 minutes. After 15 minutes, turn off heat and allow quinoa to stand until all liquid is absorbed, about 10 minutes.
- Add the beans and corn to the quinoa. If it seems dry, add a little of the bean broth, but not enough to make it soggy. Add hot sauce and additional chili powder, cumin, or chipotle powder to taste. Cook over medium heat until warmed through.
Check the beans carefully and remove any debris or damaged beans. Rinse well. Cover with water at least 2 inches above the beans and soak at least 6 hours.
Drain the soaking water and rinse. Place the beans in the pressure cooker and add 4 cups of water (enough to barely cover the beans). Cook at high pressure for 12 minutes. Turn off or remove from heat and let stand for 15 minutes. If necessary, release pressure manually. Check to make sure beans are all tender. If not, simmer uncovered until soft. One pound of dried beans will make about 6 cups of cooked beans.
Makes enough for at least 2 large tacos or burritos per person.
I have no affiliation with Rancho Gordo or The Spice House. No one pays me to mention their products–I just like them. But this post does contain at least one Amazon affiliate link. When you buy something through my Amazon links, I receive a commission that makes it possible for me to keep sharing my recipes. Thanks for your purchase!