Through the humble bean, Steve Sando of California-based Rancho Gordo is doing something for genetic diversity and local tradition.
He’s on a mission to remedy an ironic phenomenon: the growing middle class in Mexico increasingly buys commercial beans grown as far away as China even though Mexico itself is a major bean producer. Beans are indigenous to the New World, but heirloom varieties near extinction. So Sando teamed up with a Mexico-based company to launch the Rancho Gordo-Xoxoc Project and has revitalized American (and Mexican) demand for unique beans grown in Mexico.
The imports round out his main selection planted in Napa. Sando offers an ever-changing selection of 20 to 30 varieties.
We loved the purple-grey, rattlesnake-patterned Moro bean. Thin-skinned with a fudgy smooth middle, it tastes somewhere between a black bean and a pinto. Try it in stews, salads or on its own as a fiber- and protein-rich side dish.
We’re not the only legume lovers around: A little restaurant called The French Laundry serves Sando’s beans: “I ran into [French Laundry chef-owner] Thomas Keller at the farmers market, and he told me ‘What you’re doing is very important,’” Sando says.