The ones we have

My passion is for food that is indigenous to the New World … Instead of inventing new food traditions, or copying Europe’s verbatim, I’m more interested in looking at the ones we have. ~ Steve Sando, owner of Rancho Gordo

black calypso beans

A while back I mentioned that I was reading a book about beans. This may not seem like the most scintillating reading material, but I was quite keen on it. We eat a lot of beans. What I did not expect to find in a bean book, even a bean book from so delightful a source as Napa’s Rancho Gordo, was a sprawling love letter. An ode to beans – and also a profound devotional to our collective, geographic culinary heritage.

black calypso beans

So, this blog is probably not the place to hash out what “American” means, in terms of food or perhaps in terms of anything. But I think we can all agree that there are foods that are indigenous to the geography we think of as “the Americas”  … Politics and ethnicities, ancestral homelands and global cuisine influences aside, those foods that are native to this land can be considered, on some basic level, a collective culinary heritage. American foods, if you will allow me the term.

Beans, then, are American food. Boston baked, refried, tucked into chili or pickled in chow chow, yes and yes and yes and yes; and before any of that, beans were cultivated here by the people indigenous to the Americas.

We are on the eve of an election day.  It doesn’t always feel like it, but as Americans we are all connected by our common citizenship. And as Americans we all have the right to vote. We can impact our collective experience through our civic engagement. Agree with me on the issues or not, but lets at least agree that we each have the right to make our voice heard through the mechanism (outdated and dysfunctional though it may be) of our democracy.

Steve Sando writes, “In these times of borders made of anger and cement, it’s nice to consider our world in relation to our neighbors, and focus on the things we have in common.”

Things like beans.


We make a pot of beans most weeks. Soups, stews, and salads all make good bean-meals. So does pasta, or even pizza sometimes. But usually, on the first night, the night of the day we cooked the beans – usually that first night is taco night.

Tonight, we had these tacos. I didn’t photograph them because Jacob put his homemade gak into Lucas’s hair, and by the time I was done with the emergency haircut it was too dark for me to take pictures. But I like that we have another New World favorite – the squash – playing alongside the beans here. It was what we had on hand, and it was a wonderful combination.

I’m all about working with what we have.

Today we made Tiger’s Eye beans, a current favorite bean from Fifth Crow Farm (and not the ones pictured above, which I think are Calypso?) Tiger’s Eyes start out gold and orange and red, and end up a rich chocolatey brown. Which is only one of the reasons that they are awesome. The other reason is that they are delicious.

To serve with your beans, you will want good corn tortillas. You will also want these caramelized onions and squash. The squash and the onions get the most amazing flavor from their long slow kiss with a hot pan. Kyle is crazy about this dinner (a meatless taco meal!) and that is saying a lot. Jacob is also crazy about it, but that might be because of his current obsession with this ode to the taco.


Happy voting everyone ~ and if you’re in California, here are some of my thoughts on Prop. 37. (The short answer: vote yes!) There are many, many important issues facing voters in this election; make your voice heard! And when you are done, fortify yourself with tacos. You won’t be sorry.

Caramelized Onions and Squash

2 medium onions
1 medium Delicata squash, seeded and thinly sliced
Optional: thinly sliced red bell pepper
Grapeseed oil

Caramelize two medium onions in a drizzle of grapeseed oil in a large cast iron skillet, over medium heat. Once the onions are getting some good color (after 8-10 minutes) add the Delicata squash that you have halved, seeded, and then sliced into paper-thin slices. You want them as thin as possible (1/8 inch is great). (Remember that the skin is edible – no need to peel). Put the slices into the pan with the onions, stir to combine, then let the squash cook for a couple minutes, until it starts to get some color. You can also add some pepper slices if you’d like.

Let the whole thing cook for a few minutes, stirring from time to time, until all the veg have good color and are getting slumpy. Season to taste with salt – that’s really all they will need.

Serve in corn tortillas, with simply cooked beans and taco toppings of your choice.

10 thoughts on “The ones we have

  1. I love beans, but I don’t have enough good recipes. I’m going to hunt out the book you mentioned. Your talk of indigenous foods reminded me of what may be my favorite cookbook. It’s called Blue Corn and Chocolate, and it’s by Elizabeth Rozin. It is a celebration of foods native to the American continent, and it has yielded more “keeper” recipes than almost any other cookbook I’ve owned. It’s out of print now, but there are some sellers on Amazon who have it. Anyone who is interested in America’s culinary heritage and the many foods that originated here but have entered into the world’s cooking lexicon should snap up a copy while they can. The Potato Chowder with Roasted Garlic and Pepper Puree is worth the purchase price alone.

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