Beans Beans Beans

National Geographic journalist Dan Buettner has written a series of books about what he has termed, the Blue Zones (which are super interesting BTW, as is his Instagram account @danbuettner).  The Blue Zones are longevity hotspots all over the globe where people routinely live to be over 100 years old.  Dan traveled to these areas to understand what contributes to these cultures’ long lives and has documented his observations. 

It’s not going to surprise you that these people eat very few breakfast hangover sandwiches,  and they were doing hot mom walks before Tinx. The other common thread is that they eat beans frequently, like every day.  I am a big fan of beans so this was welcome news to me.  

This last summer I went to visit a few of my favorite people on the East Coast, and discovered one has a SUBSCRIPTION to beans from Rancho Gordo, an heirloom bean operation out of Napa.  I had heard about Rancho Gordo during the pandemic and meant to participate in this trend but found sourdough too consuming.  I am now turning my attention to beans. 

It’s really no wonder why beans are a common thread in the centenarians of the world. Beans are a great source of protein, fiber, vitamins, and minerals.  They are also low in fat and endlessly versatile.  Canned beans are fine, and absolutely a great alternative when you are short on time.  For instance, try this great weeknight Tuna Bean Salad.

But you really need to try cooking dried beans for yourself, the benefits are both delicious and extra nutritious.  First of all, by cooking them yourself you control the process; no preservatives, you decide the sodium, and you can cook it with seaweed.  That’s right, seaweed, to be specific kombu.  The enzymes in the kombu help breakdown the bean, making it more tender, but also easier to digest. And Kombu itself is really good for you as well. And of course, you can cook them with all sorts of flavors; garlic, onion, aromatics, whatever you like..  

All these flavors come together and bring us an oft overlooked advantage to cooking them yourself, and that’s the broth that’s left over. Take that broth and make it the base for a soup. A SOUP!. Are you listening? SOUP.  (And BTW Rancho Gordo has a soup recipe of the day page. You’re welcome.)

I purchased a few packs from Rancho Gordo that sounded interesting to me.  Their instructions are very straight forward and easy if you plan ahead.  And I guess that’s the thing about cooking your own beans, you do have to plan ahead, and it will take more time. I consider myself a bean novice but have learned that the longer you soak the beans, the better.  Do not salt until done, salt will prevent them from softening.  Avoid boiling for longer than the initial 15 minutes or you run the risk of them getting tough.  (Also consider using a pressure cooker, or as they are now known, a smart pot.  Incredible results. Great info here from The Bean Institute)


Generally, the best approach for Rancho Gordo dried beans is to soak them from 2-6 hours.  The bigger the bean, the longer the soak.  Other beans, like from your grocery store, might require a longer soak. Previous to cooking the beans, sauté a mire poix which is about a cup of each: chopped celery, carrots, onions and a garlic clove.  Once the vegetables have softened, add the beans.  Cover the beans with at least two inches of water.  Bring to a boil for 15 minutes and then reduce to a simmer.  Start tasting after 45 minutes for doneness.

Here’s a couple more ideas of what to do with your beans:

This recipe was adapted from the Pioneer Woman, Ree Drummond, who makes all the delicious things.  She used pork shoulder, I used chicken thighs because I prefer not to eat pork.  The chicken thighs turned out delicious.

Now I don’t know who Big Ray is, but he makes a damn good soup, Big Ray’s White Bean Kale and Kielbasa Soup.  Brian loves kale, I like it if it’s in something and well cooked, and this is one of those situations.  I used turkey kielbasa btw, when it comes to sausage it’s all really about the spices, so this is a great place to use poultry.