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Tuesday, June 18, 2024 at 10:07 PM

What’s Cooking in Kelli’s Kitchen - Beans, Beans, and Beans

What’s Cooking in Kelli’s Kitchen - Beans, Beans, and Beans
Lukas Volger’s Smoky Confit’d Beans with Olives. Image courtesy of Rancho Gordo.

What’s Cooking in Kelli’s Kitchen - Beans, Beans, Beans and Beans

This last week, I got a call from my friend Erik. Erik is in culinary school to be a better, more efficient, and confident cook. He is already adventurous and methodical in his home kitchen, so culinary school will catapult him to domestic super-stardom. I met Erik in 2019 and learned pretty early on that he took pleasure in tackling challenging recipes and stepping up his culinary game. We chat regularly and exchange photos of dishes that we have prepared. On this occasion, Erik was calling with some extra-special news–after over two years on the waitlist, he has been accepted into the Rancho Gordo Bean Club.

For those of you who are new to this column (or who haven’t been paying attention), I am a devotee of Rancho Gordo. Founded by Steve Sando, a former jazz radio DJ and clothing wholesaler, Rancho Gordo’s bean production and sales have grown from 300 pounds in 2001 to over 500,000 pounds in 2018. That bean club wait list I mentioned, in 2022, there were over 40,000 people waiting to join. Steve’s journey into bean fanaticism started with tomatoes. He went to his local grocery store in Napa in August and discovered that all of the available tomatoes were grown in Dutch hothouses. So he started to grow his own. At the same time, Steve sourced some Rio Zape beans from the Seed Savers Exchange and was off to plant his garden. 

That first season, Steve learned that beans were pretty and easy to grow. After the harvest, he describes his head spinning when his beans had hints of chocolate and coffee mixed with an earthy texture and he wondered why heirloom beans were not more available as a culinary product. He took his beans to a farmer's market and began a second life as the king of the beans. Steve’s self-proclaimed soap-box is that we have a common culture with Mexico and the rest of the Americas. When we cook indigenous American ingredients (like beans, quinoa, and amaranth) we are continuing traditions that are long established for a reason. Steve says, “New World food is exciting, tasty, healthy, romantic, and possibly easier on the earth.”

So, in honor of Erik finally making the club and for Steve, who changed the way that beans are appreciated in America, here is one of my favorite bean-centric recipes. I hope that you will give it a try; extra points if you special order some heirloom beans from Steve.

Lukas Volger’s Smoky Confit’d Beans with Olives


  • 1 ¾ c cooked white beans, such as Rancho Gordo’s Ayocote Blanco, Caballero, Large White Limas, or Royal Corona beans
  • ¼ c kalamata olives, pitted and minced
  • 3 smashed garlic cloves
  • 1 ½ t smoked paprika
  • ½ t kosher salt, or to taste
  • ½ c olive oil
  • ¼ t dried oregano


  1. Preheat oven to 400℉.
  2. In a small skillet or other shallow oven-safe dish, stir together the beans, olives, garlic, paprika, and salt. Pour the olive oil over the mixture and gently stir to combine. Transfer to the oven and bake for 30 minutes. I don’t stir. I like the chewy crust that forms on the beans at the surface. But you can stir once or twice as it bakes if you prefer a more uniform consistency.
  3. Serve hot or warm, garnished with the dried oregano. Leftovers can be stored in an airtight container, where they’ll continue to marinate for up to 3 days. Bring to room temperature or reheat before serving.