Sweet Potato and Rio Zape Bean Salad

The people at Rancho Gordo talk about their beans the way oenophiles talk about wine.  They can explain the subtle variances in flavor among Black Calypso Beans and Black Valentine Beans, and stock heirloom varieties with crazy names such as “Goat’s Eye,” “Christmas Lima” and of course don’t forget to call dear old “Good Mother Stallard.”  They’re not quite as cheap as buying from the bulk bin at the grocery store, but since it’s beans we’re talking about, they’re still not a bad buy.  You can do as I do and always order in bulk to save on shipping.  Dried beans are a pantry staple, after all.  And since it’s gardening season, it’s worth mentioning that these beans are so fresh you can plant them and grow your own.  They are so fresh they sprout almost immediately.

Sweet Potato and Rio Zape Bean Salad (2 of 4)

As much variety as there is, most beans have a more well-known counterpart (i.e. don’t be put off by the fancy names if you can’t find the one you’re looking for).  Rio Zapes are similar to pintos, Yellow Eye Beans can stand in for cannelinis.  But it’s fun to try the recipes that have been crafted specifically for each variety, and Rancho Gordo has plenty on their website and more in their book, Heirloom Beans–even though Rancho Gordo provides recipes almost reluctantly, emphasizing that their beans are so flavorful that little elaboration is warranted.  Nevertheless, I’ve been coveting this book for a while, every since I gave it to my father-in-law two years ago for Christmas.  (I figured it would be bad form to pretend it accidentally ended up with my stack of gifts so I resisted the urge to “borrow” it).  I guess virtue or patience or something like that eventually pays off as I got my hands on a copy recently.

No news that I love my sweet potatoes–I’m still happily eating them, even if by early spring I should theoretically be sick of them.  Adding beans in to make this salad makes them a meal and not just a side dish–and since I left out the salad greens (since my kitchen is always understocked), it turned out to be one of those great salads that just gets better as it sits in your fridge.

This salad is pretty simple to make, especially if you are lazy like me and skip the adornments:  toasted pine nuts and fried fresh sage leaves.  This is a pity, I admit, because pine nuts are easy to toast (and given their price, it’s worth the effort) and my sage plants are roaring to life in the garden.  But no point hiding it.  I am sometimes lazy and wont to skip the glorious finishing touches–and this salad was delicious enough, bare-bones style.  I did pluck a few sage leaves for the garnish in my photos though, and I do provide the instructions if you are a bit more ambitious than I.  That redeems it somewhat right?

I’ve been a Rancho Gordo fan for a while–for my earlier posts on Rancho Gordo beans, see herehere and here.

Sweet Potato and Rio Zape Bean Salad (3 of 4)

Sweet Potato and Rio Zape Bean Salad adapted from Rancho Gordo’s Heirloom Beans

Notes:  Rancho Gordo suggests serving on top of a bed of watercress.  i used dried chervil and marjoram–having dried chervil is hard enough, let alone finding it fresh, so you can always leave it out–some suggest parsley or tarragon as substitutes, but I haven’t tried this.

  • 2 sweet potatoes
  • 1T extra virgin olive oil
  • 1/2t salt
  • 2T pine nuts
  • 1c well-drained Rio Zape (or other pinto beans)

fried sage leaves

  • 1/4c grapeseed or safflower oil
  • 20 fresh sage leaves


  • 1 small shallot
  • 1t grainy mustard
  • 2T cider vinegar
  • 1/4c olive oil
  • 1T chopped parsley
  • 1t fresh chopped chervil (1/2t dried)
  • 1/2t chopped fresh marjoram (1/4t dried)
Preheat the oven to 400F.  Cut the sweet potatoes lengthwise into eighths, so you end up with wedges.  Then cut each wedge into triangles about 1/2-inch thick.  Place on a jelly roll pan or other baking dish, drizzle with the olive oil and sprinkle with salt, and use your hands to mix.  Roast about twenty minutes until tender and starting to caramelize at the edges, turning with a spatula or shaking the pan a few times to help roast evenly.
Toast the pine nuts in a small heavy skillet over low heat, shaking the pan often and watching closely.  This should take about 4 minutes.  When the aroma rises, remove to a plate (don’t let them sit in the pan and watch carefully so they don’t burn–as with all toasted nuts, they go from beautifully fragrant to burnt quickly).
To fry the sage leaves, warm the safflower oil over medium high in a small heavy skillet.   (Presumably the one you just toasted your pine nuts in).  Fry the leaves a few at a time for 10-15 seconds, removing to a paper towel to drain.
For the dressing, choose the bowl in which you will be serving your salad.  Whisk together the shallot, mustard, and vinegar.  Drizzle the olive oil in in a thin stream, whisking all the while,  Then whisk in the the parsley, chervil, marjoram, salt, and pepper.
When the sweet potatoes are done, allow to cool somewhat, then add to the bowl with the dressing along with the beans.  Stir to coat and adjust for salt.  (Beans often need extra salt).

Sweet Potato and Rio Zape Bean Salad (4 of 4)

Boulangerie Beans and Potatoes with Spanish Paprika

It might be surprising to admit that I’ve only just recently acquired Mark Bittman’s How to Cook Everything Vegetarian.  I can’t explain the delay–I initially thought there was too much overlap with his non-veggie book, but was quickly disabused of that notion.  I then decided I had enough vegetable-themed cookbooks.  Maybe, but there’s always room for a Mark Bittman!  After both Kathryn and Andrea told me the had it and liked it, and seeing it on display at my local bookstore, I finally caved–and I’m loving it!

I’m not a vegetarian, but am quite happy to eat vegetarian dishes (especially if they have cheese).  However, whenever I do try make something entirely plant-based, it always comes off a bit like a side dish to me.  Cheese and eggs often solve that problem, but there has to be more to it than just throwing in goat cheese or making an omelet, right?  Beans are obviously a great source of protein, but beans and rice, chili–there’s not the “side dish” issue here but they can wear out their welcome.

You know what I’m going to say next–my newest cookbook has a lot of great solutions I”m looking forward to trying.  Last night I made one of the variations for Provencal Potatoes and Beans.  And it was great:  the combination of beans and potatoes is hearty enough, and well-rounded enough to stand as a main course.  The potatoes are meltingly soft and velvet thanks to the way they are cooked, and this delicious texture surprised me not only the day I made it but the following day eating my leftovers.  For me, as I didn’t use stock but rather water, the use of pimenton de la vera was also key to ensure the dish was complex and satisfying enough to stand on its own.   (I was reminded that I needed to make better use of my pimenton after Amy’s post here, and am happy to report that as Mark Bittman appears to be a fan, I’ll be getting plenty of opportunity).  It is uncanny to me how pimenton seems to be Spain in a jar.  And suprising to me that it took so long for me to figure that one out.

I am calling this a weeknight dish even though if you add it all up, it takes a lot of time.  If your beans are already cooked, it’s about 1h 45m start to finish.  However, once you get the dish assembled (the most time-consuming bit of which is peeling the potatoes) you stick it in the oven and can almost forget about it.  So you can do all that other weeknight stuff that is waiting for you.  Perhaps that’s not such an appealing prospect, but sitting down in January to an earthy, simple, satisfying meal certainly is!

Provencal Potatoes and Beans with Spanish Paprika (Adapted from How to Cook Everything Vegetarian)

  • 3 cups cooked white beans (I used Mayacoba from Rancho Gordo, which are not technically white beans)
  • 1t dried thyme (or 2t fresh)
  • 1T pimenton de la vera / Spanish smoked paprika
  • 3 medium russet potatoes (or other baking potato, I used 8 small red roasting potatoes)
  • 1c stock (preferable) or water
  • 3T butter
  • salt and pepper

Preheat the oven to 325F.  Mix half the thyme and most of the pimenton into the beans and spread in a baking dish.  Sprinkle salt and pepper over the surface.  Peel the potatoes and slice thinly–if using larger potatoes, slice into half-moons, if using smaller potatoes, just slice.  Arrange these on top of the bean mixture and pour in the stock.  Dot with butter; sprinkle on the remaining thyme and pimenton; season with salt and pepper.  Cover with foil and bake for 45 minutes, then remove the foil and bake 45 minutes more, until nicely browned and crisp on top.

Yellow Eye Bean Soup

A little while ago I placed a big order at Rancho Gordo Beans.  I heard about them by posting on Chow to ask where a good place was to get the more unusual types of beans.  Since then I’ve seen Rancho Gordo everywhere:  the founder has as a new cookbook and has been making the rounds on the media circuit–which is in fact where this recipe comes from, from a feature in the New York Times magazine.

Here’s a close-up of the cooked beans. 

Yellow eye beans

Yellow eye beans

Right now they are not available on the website, but a whole host of new beans are–I have a feeling they probably rotate types of beans pretty often–after all, there are thousands of heirloom varieties!  You can see pretty quickly where the name “yellow eye” came from.  But look also how robust they look:  unlike most dried beans, there’s no mushiness or falling apart.  That’s because they are so fresh, I imagine–funny to think about, but dried beans can have varying levels of freshness too.  Once you do bite in, they seem to pop in your mouth and then its delicious and creamy.  Cooking the beans has a delicious dividend–they make a lovely broth.  You use the cooking liquid as the stock in this recipe and it’s absolutely delicious.  The soup is light but filling and very fresh tasting (and hey Karen–it’s vegan!).  The recipe is nothing too unusual–a basic vegetable base, so it’s really the beans that make this something truly special.  Another reason I love these beans?  Little E is crazy about them!!!  I used up all my beans in this recipe, and I have to make it through several other types of Rancho Gordo beans (tepary, Indian woman, cranberry, Christmas lima, borlotti, etc) before I order more, but I will definitely be getting these guys again.

A tasty soup

A tasty soup

And as a final note:  the most interesting thing I heard coming out of Steve Sando’s media junket was that you can even plant one of the beans and it will grow into a bean plant.  Of course, I knew that in theory, that’s where beans come from, but it’s still pretty fun to think about!

Yellow Eye Bean Soup (adapted from the New York Times)

  • 3 cups yellow eye or yellow Indian woman beans, soaked 4 to 6 hours if possible
  • 1 carrot
  • 2 ribs celery, halved
  • 1 onion, quartered
  • 1 head garlic, halved across the equator
  • Stems from 1 bunch Italian parsley, (tied in a cheesecloth sachet if you have it)
  • 2 tablespoons (kosher) salt
  • 1 tablespoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the soup:

  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil, plus more for drizzling
  • 3 large carrots, peeled and diced
  • 5 ribs celery, diced
  • 2 leeks, white and light green parts only, diced
  • 1 head garlic, cloves peeled and finely grated
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons red chili flakes, plus more to taste
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh rosemary or 2t dried
  • 1 cup canned tomatoes, drained and chopped (if whole)
  • 1/2 cup chopped Italian parsley

1. Prepare the beans: Drain the beans and place them in a large pot. Add 3 quarts cold water, the carrot, celery, onion, garlic and parsley stem sachet. Bring to a boil, skimming off any foam that rises to the top. Reduce the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the beans are soft and creamy, but not falling apart. (Start checking after 25 minutes; the fresher the beans and the longer the soak, the shorter the cooking time.) Add the salt, pepper and olive oil. Discard the sachet and vegetables. Let the beans cool in the liquid. 

2. Prepare the soup: Pour the olive oil into a large pot set over medium heat. Add the carrots, celery, leeks, garlic, chili and rosemary. Cook until the rawness of the vegetables is just gone and the colors brighten, 3 to 4 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook until slightly caramelized, about 3 minutes more. Add the beans and their cooking liquid, bring to a boil and simmer until the vegetables are tender, 5 to 10 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Just before serving, add the parsley.