Read why and get your own magic beans to cook with all winter long.
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I was a latecomer to the magic world of dried beans. Beans were not a dish made regularly at my house growing up, and when they did appear it was usually in the guise of either sweet canned baked beans, or in chili. Canned beans are a great time-saver, but it can be difficult sometimes to get the right texture for dishes or to fully eliminate that tinny flavor. But once I started cooking with dried beans myself, I was hooked. Versatile, affordable, healthy, and delicious, what more could someone ask for?

I fell in love with dried beans so much I joined a Bean Club

The more I used dried beans, the more I started to get interested in heirloom varieties and small producers. Commercial beans can often be old, which you might have experienced if you have ever waited for hours for beans to soften, only to get tough skins and mealy interiors. And once you start to explore the wondrous variety to be had in beans, you will be shocked at how versatile they are. So, it is no wonder that I began to source most of my beans from Rancho Gordo in California. For more than 20 years, Steve Sando's company has been growing and sourcing the finest in heirloom varietals and getting them to their customers within a year of harvest. That means, unlike most commercial dried beans you buy, there is no need to presoak; the beans cook up beautiful and tender every time. (And think about the time you'll save if you don't have to presoak!) 

Once I was addicted, I decided to sign up for Rancho Gordo's Bean Club, a quarterly shipment of six varieties of beans right to your door. Joining the bean club turned out to be really inspiring and fundamentally changed my kitchen practice. The shipments often included beans that I might not have chosen on my own while perusing the website for individual orders, but now have become regulars on my menu. I now make a pot of beans at least once a week!

Dried Beans
Credit: Getty / alejandrophotography

Why I love cooking with dried beans

Working with heirloom beans has inspired me to cook beans much more regularly than I used to, which is both delicious and good for my health, a hard-to-beat combination. And the pretty one-pound packages make for lovely presents for foodie friends, so I often bring a bag or two as host gifts when visiting pals or send them to mark occasions.

Alas, the wait list for Rancho Gordo's Bean Club is massive (you can still get in the line here if it's your dream to be in the club). But you can still order all the ones I have really fallen in love with to try yourself without being a member at all! Here are four of my favorite beans to buy and cook with: 

Yellow Eye Beans
Credit: Rancho Gordo

Yellow Eye Bean

My go-to for homemade baked beans, these beans cook up super creamy and smooth without becoming mushy.

To buy: Rancho Gordo Yellow Eye Bean ($6.25 for one-pound bag),

Midnight Black Beans
Credit: Courtesy Rancho Gordo

Midnight Black Bean

I cook these with poblano peppers and onions to make a filling for homemade black bean tacos or burritos, or with a ham hock for insanely great black bean soup. 

To buy: Rancho Gordo Midnight Black Bean ($6.25 for one-pound bag),

Royal Corona
Credit: Courtesy Rancho Gordo

Royal Corona Bean

This large, meaty white bean is wonderful when you want a bean to be the main protein for your meal. You can cook them Greek style in tomato sauce, simmer them into a bean stew with aromatics and herbs, or even cook and chill them for salads.

To buy: Rancho Gordo Royal Corona Bean ($7.50 for one-pound bag),

Black Garbonzo
Credit: Courtesy Rancho Gordo

Black Garbanzo Bean

If you are a fan of chickpeas, be sure to check out their Black Garbanzo Beans, which are rare, unusual, and perfect in salads and curries.

To buy: Rancho Gordo Black Garbanzo Beans ($7.25 for one-pound bag),

More recipes to try with dried beans

Rancho Gordo has plenty of recipes and recommendations online for how to use all their beans, and the more you experiment, the more you will find new beans you love, or inspiration for beans you might already have in your pantry. Getting more beans on the menu will be a new habit you'll be happy you adopted.

And if you need more recipes for your new bean practice? Check out Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with the World's Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein, my favorite beanery cookbook from fellow Rancho Gordo fan and Washington Post Food and Dining Editor Joe Yonan.