Tuesday, December 14, 2010

Rio Zape Beans with Toasted Chile Sauce

The different Lonesome Whistle Farm's heirloom beans we received in our CSA package are eye catching. My favorite is the rio zape: a beautiful purply red bean with black swirls. Apparently this variety was unearthed in the cliff dwellings of the Anasazi in the American Southwest. They are described as having a rich, chocolatey flavor. I decided to try preparing these with a mole sauce of toasted chiles and cumin. I was also inspired by a black bean recipe from Smitten Kitchen that claimed that using a slow cooker would allow you to prepare perfect beans without the bother of presoaking. I thought it was worth a try.

For the toasted chile sauce I used a combination (pictured from left to right above) of dark, mild anchos, reddish, slightly spicier guajillos, and dark, fruity negros. (A good source for dried chiles in Eugene is the Plaza Latina Supermarket.) For more flavors, I used cumin and fennel seeds, cocoa powder and cinnamon, and sun dried tomatoes and garlic.

To bring out the chiles' flavor, I toasted them in a dry cast iron skillet for a minute or so on each side until they puffed up and became fragrant. I also threw in some garlic cloves to let them develop a roasted flavor. Once the chiles were toasted, I removed their stems and seeds and immersed them in 2 cups of boiling water to soften them. I also added the sun dried tomatoes to this brew. Then I peeled the garlic cloves and put them in a blender. Next, I used the warm skillet to toast the cumin and fennel seeds until they started to brown and became fragrant. I added these to the blender, spooned in the soaked chiles and tomatoes, added the chocolate and cinnamon, and poured in 1 cup of the soaking liquid (using a tea strainer to remove stray seeds), and blended this into a rich, thick paste. 

The next step to developing a complex flavored sauce was to fry the paste in some neutral oil. I have a convenient slow cooker that you can use right on the stovetop and then transfer directly to the heating element. I cooked the chile paste for about five minutes, until the oil had incorporated into the paste, and the sauce developed an intense fragrance of cumin, chiles, cinnamon, and chocolate. Then I moved the pot to the slow cooker base. I used the remaining cup of chile soaking liquid to rinse out the last of the paste from the blender jar, stirred in one pound of rinsed rio zape beans and three more cups of water, and set the beans to cooking. 

After six hours (returning from a pleasant evening out), the beans were absolutely perfect: soft but intact, with a thick, rich sauce. They only needed a generous sprinkle of salt, which I'd left out during the cooking process to avoid toughening them. The rio zape beans tasted somewhat similar to pintos, which would be a reasonable substitute in this dish, but they had much more flavor and a wonderful plump, dense texture. They were delicious as a main dish with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkle of chopped cilantro, and would also make a great side dish. 

Rio Zape Beans with Toasted Chile Sauce

1 pound rio zape beans (or substitute pinto or black beans)
5 dried chiles (for mild spiciness use 2 anchos and 3 negros, for a little more heat, substitute in some guajillos)
6 sun dried tomato halves
4-6 cloves garlic
1 tsp cumin seeds
1/2 tsp fennel seeds
1 tsp cocoa powder
1/2 tsp cinnamon
3 Tbsp neutral oil such as grape seed or canola
5 cups water, heated
salt to taste

1. Heat a skillet and toast the chiles about one minute on each side until they puff up and become fragrant. Also heat the garlic cloves until they start to blacken. Meanwhile remove the stems and seeds from the chiles and immerse them in 2 cups hot water, along with the sun dried tomatoes. When the garlic cloves are done, peel them and put them in a blender. Toast the cumin and fennel seeds in the skillet for about one minute and add these to the blender, along with the cinnamon and cocoa powder. Spoon in the softened chiles and tomatoes. Add one cup of the soaking liquid, strained. Blend until you have a smooth paste.

2. Heat oil in a stovetop slow cooker or other pan and add the paste. Cook, stirring for about 5 minutes until it has darkened in color and become very fragrant. Rinse the blender jar with the remaining soaking liquid and add to pan. If necessary, transfer to your slow cooker. Add the beans and 3 more cups of hot water. Cook on high for 4 to 6 hours (the cooking time will depend on the dryness of the beans and the slow cooker model). When the beans are soft, add salt to taste.

Here are some other recipes for heirloom beans: 
Arikara bean gratin 
Calypso bean and leek soup

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