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Articles / The Moment I Realized I'd Become a Bean Snob

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The Moment I Realized I'd Become a Bean Snob

Published January 26, 2023

Or, how miso paste changed my life

All photos: Holly Haines

One of my goals over the past few years has been to understand where my food comes from and how it’s made, so back in 2021 when West Coast Koji announced they were holding a miso paste-making class, I signed up immediately.

It’s funny to look back at the moments that changed the trajectory of your life. 

I hate small talk and do not warm up easily to strangers, so when I walked into the class I found the furthest corner of the room, away from everyone. Of course, that ended up being next to the two friendliest, most talkative people in the class—Mike Reeske, who owns Rio Del Rey Farms, which provided the anazape beans we used to make the miso paste, and Thomas Guy, who is Mike’s apprentice. As much as I loathe the “getting to know you” part of things and being asked questions about myself, the three of us compared notes, shared miso-tasting thoughts: We connected. What was an awkward start, attempting to avoid conversations with strangers, ended with my asking Mike a question: Can I visit your farm?

Three weeks later, I was pulling ears of organic glass gem corn off of their stalks, fully unprepared, with no gloves, wearing all white trying to be cute, sandals on my feet. I learned quickly about wearing long-sleeved shirts in the summer, along with large-brimmed hats and boots. I learned how to fix holes in irrigation lines and set gopher traps (don’t ask me to empty a gopher trap, I will not do it, ask Thomas). I used to run away from bees, now I purposefully grow pollinators just for them; and even that’s for selfish reasons—so I can sit in the middle of those flowers and listen to the buzz around me. 

I learned that I like tomatoes. For pretty much my entire life, I thought I hated tomatoes. I’d rip them off of sandwiches immediately and avoid all tomato-based soups. Then I had a Chef’s Choice tomato; it was bright orange, perfectly ripe straight off the vine, dressed with salt and olive oil. I’d never had a tomato with flavor before. This had hints of peach, a touch of citrus, not just the red, watery flesh of tomatoes I’d known before. The next season, I grew nine varieties of tomatoes. From tomato-hater to “I prefer the Berkeley Tie-Dye over the Cherokee Purple.” Who am I?

And then, of course, there were the beans. Rio Del Rey makes its chops selling organic beans and working with local chefs to grow specific to their needs, providing them with beans and other produce they may not be able to find locally here in San Diego. I didn’t know a single thing about beans, other than preferring them refried, and really hadn’t thought twice about them until Mike sent me home with a bag of Hopi red lima beans. Have you ever had a single food change your life? It was just like the Chef’s Choice tomato. My mind was blown. Every bean I’d ever known before was a lie. A LIE. A fresh dried bean is just lightyears away in flavor and texture compared to a generic grocery store bean that’s been sitting on a shelf for who knows how long. The texture was like mashed potatoes, and the flavor was almost meaty. Why didn’t anyone ever tell me beans were this good? Like really good? 

I went to a restaurant a few weeks ago and ordered a dish with white beans, so naturally I asked our waiter for the variety.

“The kitchen said they’re white beans.” 

“Ok but what type of white bean? Cannellini? Tarbais?” 

“The kitchen said they’re legumes.”

And that’s both the moment I realized I had become a bean snob, and the moment I knew I had to spread the good bean word. Now I’m a bean evangelist. I give away little jars of anazapes and tarahumara purple stars. Never in my life did I think this would bring me so much joy. It’s thrilling to cook with something I’ve been waiting to harvest for months. I still have so much to learn, but from what I know so far, I think my life’s purpose is to have a farm where I can show people where food comes from, how it grows, how to care for it and how to prepare it. 

And then there’s the cooking part

I cook my beans similarly to the Master Bean recipe Kerri shared earlier this month. Beans soak up lots of flavor from their cooking liquid, so I like to take the extra step to make my stock from scratch. For this batch of Four Corners Gold beans, I roasted duck feet, duck wings and aromatics in the oven, scraped it into a pot and simmered with bay leaves, thyme and parsley stems for 8 hours.

Another addition to a Holly-pot of Master Beans is fat. I add enough fat to create about 1/4 to 1/2” fat cap on top of the beans—duck fat, olive oil, bacon fat, schmaltz, manteca, a combination of whatever I have on hand—makes for a tasty potlikker. I cook them low and slow, the liquid barely bubbling under the fat, so the beans stay whole and the skins don’t break. Beans take as much time as they need, and freshly harvested dried beans can cook in as little as 45 minutes without soaking. 

I salt my beans throughout the cooking process, a controversial decision but one I’ve never come to regret, because whatever the liquid tastes like is what the beans will taste like.  At the beginning, I add just enough salt to make the cooking liquid palatable—not the seasoning I’m looking for in the end product, but not totally bland. The liquid will concentrate as it cooks, so I don’t add too much salt at this point. About 45 minutes into cooking, I add enough salt to make a liquid tasty enough that it would be enjoyable to sip on. Once the beans are done, I add a final salting and a splash of sherry vinegar. Four Corners Gold have a fudgy texture, a nutty, slightly sweet flavor and their beautiful pattern holds after cooking. I love aesthetic beans. 

I have quite the supply of beans at my disposal these days, and usually have a batch of Maximalist Master Beans (described above, a.k.a. just adding hella fat and making stock from scratch in the fridge), ready to go for dinner throughout the week—this is as close as I get to meal prepping. Some quick favorites, from How to Cook Everything Fast: White Bean and Ham Gratin (page 306), Beans and Greens (page 291), Roasted Cannellini with Cherry Tomatoes (page 312). 

So: If you’ve only known canned beans, please, I beg you, try cooking a batch from scratch with a good heirloom bean. It might just change your life.