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Spilling the beans: Rancho Gordo’s new cookbook offers a second helping of veggies

Feb 18, 2024Feb 18, 2024

Here is Steve Sando’s step-by-step method for cooking a pot of beans:

1. Check the beans for debris and rinse in several changes of water.

2. Saute aromatic vegetables in olive oil.

3. Add the beans and enough liquid to cover by 1 inch if soaked or 2 inches if they’re not soaked.

4. Bring the pot of water to a rapid boil and boil for 10 -15 minutes.

5. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the beans are done, 1-3 hours.

6. Salt when the beans are just starting to turn soft.

For the past 20-plus years, Rancho Gordo Beans has been at the forefront of the eat-local and plant-based food movements, winning over both home cooks and professional chefs with more than 35 varieties of tasty new crop beans from Scarlet Runners to the spotted Eye of the Tiger.

Founder Steve Sando started with a wild dream that his beans would become a hit with Bay Area chefs and visiting foodies. Now they are distributed all over the U.S. and have been written about in the New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, Bon Appetit and Saveur.

“I’ve always enjoyed imposing my taste on others, and this was the perfect opportunity,” Sando said about his beginnings as a bean farmer. “I blinked, and now it’s 20 years and millions of pounds of heirloom beans later.”

Instead of throwing a gala anniversary party in the midst of the pandemic last year, Sando kept his head down and filled bean orders while writing another cookbook with his best “bean buddy,” Rancho Gordo General Manager Julia Newberry.

In November, Rancho Gordo Press published “The Rancho Gordo Vegetarian Kitchen, Volume 2” by Sando and Newberry as a companion to Volume 1. The first volume came out in 2017 and became one of the company’s bestselling projects among its nine cookbooks to date, Sando said.

Newberry, who helps run the Rancho Gordo retail store in downtown Napa, became a vegetarian after the first vegetarian cookbook came out, so she naturally served as the driving force behind the second one.

“She’s one of my favorite cooks,” Sando said. “She understands what a modern mother would like to cook for her family, whereas I’m more out there. I like to go simple or go really deep and do really traditional Italian and Mexican cuisine.”

The new cookbook features more than 60 recipes, plus inspiration for cooking plant-based bean dishes in four “quick and easy” sections with simple instructions paired with photos, such as the one that says “Top a Bowl of White Beans with Pickled Hot Peppers, Salt and Black Pepper.” In the back, there are recipes for about a dozen “extras,” from Pickled Shallots and Pickled Peppers to Skillet Cornbread and French Pistou (pesto).

The cookbook is organized by bean type: white and light beans, medium-bodied beans, dark beans and nonnative pulses. The simple, unfussy recipes include Corn and Bean Fritters from Newberry and Collard Greens with Black Beans and Cornbread from Sando, who is not strictly a vegetarian.

“I eat mostly vegetables, especially during the week, and I eat beans every day,” Sando said. “The whole goal is that someone like me, who is an omnivore, would be really happy with these recipes.”

Along with Newberry and Sando, recipe contributors include a few Rancho Gordo employees, loyal customers and well-known cookbook authors such as Georgeanne Brennan and Paula Wolfert.

Both vegetarian cookbooks provide ammunition against the cheap-and-easy, takeout culture of our times while deepening Rancho Gordo’s mission to help us cook healthy, protein-packed legumes.

“You often hear, ‘I have a pantry full of beans, and I don’t know what to do with them,” Sando said. “That breaks my heart to think of those beans just sitting there.”

This year, Sando said, the company’s rallying cry is “Every pot a victory.”

With that goal in mind, Sando has big plans to educate consumers about how they can cook one pot of beans on Sunday evening, then extend them through the week into tasty soups, salads and dips.

For example, you might cook a big pot of black beans and make black bean chili with a salad for your Sunday dinner, then turn the leftover legumes into a Caribbean black bean soup on Tuesday and a black bean dip on Friday.

“That’s our focus, to help people always have beans,” Sando said. “You open up your refrigerator, and the beans are cooked … If they’re already in the fridge waiting to be loved, then you’re way ahead of the game.”

Sando’s edible empire grew from humble roots.

In 2001, the former web designer, radio disc jockey and Esprit fashion wholesaler quit all his jobs, started a garden and set up a booth at Napa Valley farmers markets. He was doing what he loved, but he didn’t exactly have a business plan.

“The markets started in April here in Napa, and I didn’t have anything to sell yet, so I thought, I’ll just do beans because they’re easy to grow,” he said. “I didn’t realize that beans were the story.”

Over the past 20 years in the U.S., dry beans have gone from a lowly legume to a popular, plant-based commodity stocked by trendy grocery stores and sought after by home cooks.

“Some environmentally conscious consumers are turning to beans as an alternative to meat, and home cooks have increasingly embraced them,” New York Times reporter David Yaffe-Bellany wrote in March 2020. “After dipping in the early 2000s, the consumption of dry beans in the United States has risen in recent years, to 9.6 pounds in 2018 from 7.2 pounds per capita in 2015.”

And Rancho Gordo has enjoyed the ride during this recent bump in bean consumption.

“I wouldn’t call it a revolution, but we have changed the way people eat for the better, and I am proud of that,” Sando said. “It’s a green product, somewhat easy to grow, gentle on the earth and it leaves more than it takes” (by increasing soil fertility).

When the pandemic arrived, Rancho Gordo beans started flying out the door, with gift packs and other popular products often selling out.

“I have friends who provide food for restaurants, and they really got hit,” Sando said. “We were only down 10%, and I think it’s because we’re shelf-stable. Home cooks got obsessed with us, and when the chefs bought anything, it was going to be beans.”

Since 2017, Rancho Gordo has expanded its product line to include global spices and beans and pulses from around the world, such as the Rancho Gordo Black Caviar Lentils and the French-Style Green Lentils.

“Originally, I really wanted to focus on beans from the Americas, but people would come here and want black-eyed peas for New Year’s,” Sando said. “Then we hooked up with a lentil grower.”

Unlike the bland “hippie brown lentils” everyone ate in the 1970s, the lentils carried by Rancho Gordo are an improved experience.

“I liked lentils, and then when I ate these, I decided I loved lentils,” Sando said. “The secret is you don’t need to soak them, and they’re still done in 20 minutes. … They are a great salad ingredient.”

Sando is also a big fan of the Spanish Smoked Paprika he sources from Extremadura, Spain, home of the conquistadors who brought chiles from the Americas to back home to Spain.

“They developed their own version, and it works beautifully,” he said. “Even though it’s a chile, it’s less hot.”

Since 2017, Rancho Gordo has also tripled its production, which will allow them to open up their Rancho Gordo Bean Club to more people this spring. Currently, there are 11,000 members of the bean club and another 30,000 people waiting to get into the club.

Club members receive four shipments throughout the year, each with six bags of beans plus a grain, such as wild rice or quinoa. That pencils out to about a half a pound of beans a week, Sando said, so club members need to be cooking beans on a regular basis in order to use up the beans.

The funny thing about the bean club is that Sando started it as a joke. It took off anyway.

“Living in Wine Country, there were so many wine clubs,” he said. “Wouldn’t it be fun to make fun of the wine clubs by doing a bean club?”

This May, Sando has tentative plans for a 20th anniversary party held at the Native Sons Hall in St. Helena, but he knows the pandemic may postpone it.

Meanwhile, the founder is staying focused on the story of the beans and how his love affair evolved.

“I was 40 when I started this, and I knew I didn’t want to reinvent myself again,” he said. “I thought, ‘I have to make this work.’ And the more I did it, the more I fell in love with the beans.

“We’re almost at 45,000 followers on Instagram. For an old fart who sells beans, that’s pretty good.”

“The Rancho Gordo Vegetarian Kitchen, Volume 2,” is available individually ($24.99) or packaged in a slipcase with Volume 1 ($50). To order:

The following recipes are from “The Rancho Gordo Vegetarian Kitchen, Volume 2,” by Steve Sando and Julia Newberry.

“Sardinia holds a special place in my heart. The rustic food, the welcoming people, the wild landscape, the flocks of flamingos flying overhead — it’s all very charming, and full of surprises,” Newberry wrote. “And the pecorino cheese — ah, the pecorino! Sardinians use a lot of wild fennel and foraged herbs in their cooking. Fregola is the pasta for which Sardinia is famous; if you can’t find it, use orzo or pearl couscous instead.”

Sardinian-Style Bean and Fennel Soup

Makes 4-6 servings

4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

1 small bunch flat-leaf parsley, roughly chopped

1 fennel bulb, trimmed and chopped, fronds reserved

3 garlic cloves, minced

1 teaspoon fennel seeds

½ cup dry white wine

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

6 to 8 cups vegetable broth (depending on how much bean broth you have)

¾ cup fregola pasta (or orzo or pearl couscous)

2 cups cooked Rancho Gordo Marcella or Alubia Blanca beans, plus about 2 cups broth

2 ounces pecorino or Parmesan cheese, grated

Zest and juice of 1 lemon

2 to 3 ounces (about 4 cups) baby arugula, roughly chopped

¼ cup fresh dill, tarragon or foraged herbs

In a soup pot over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the parsley, fennel, garlic, fennel seeds, wine and a generous amount of freshly ground black pepper. Increase heat to medium-high; simmer, stirring, until most of the liquid has evaporated, 2 -3 minutes.

Add 6 cups of broth to the pan; increase heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and add the pasta. Simmer until pasta is barely al dente, about 10 minutes. Add the beans and their broth, and half the cheese. Continue to simmer until the pasta is tender, about 10 minutes more. Add more broth if needed to thin the soup. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Meanwhile, in a small pan over low heat, warm the remaining 2 tablespoons of oil. Add the lemon zest and juice; cook until the oil is infused with the lemon, about 2 minutes.

Remove the soup from the heat; stir in the arugula, fresh herbs and fennel fronds. Ladle soup into bowls, drizzle with the lemon oil, sprinkle with the remaining cheese and serve.


“In the Rancho Gordo library, we have a well-used copy of Judith Barrett’s book ‘Fagioli: The Bean Cuisine of Italy’ (Rodale, 2014), which inspired this recipe,” Sando wrote. “When we tested it in the Rancho Gordo kitchen, it was a big hit, and we all agreed that it was a polenta dish with beans, not a bean dish with polenta, if that makes sense. Our favorite polenta comes from Anson Mills.”

Polenta with Cranberry Beans and Tomato Sauce

Serves 6

¼ cup olive oil

1 large or 2 small red onions, finely chopped

2 garlic cloves, peeled and finely chopped

2 cups canned chopped tomatoes, with juices

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

2 tablespoons tomato paste

1 cup vegetable broth

10 fresh basil leaves, finely chopped

4 fresh sage leaves, finely chopped

4 to 5 cups drained, cooked Rancho Gordo Cranberry or Borlotti beans

Salt and freshly ground black pepper

2 cups yellow polenta

Chopped fresh basil or flat-leaf parsley, for garnish

In a large pan over medium heat, warm the olive oil. Add the onions and garlic. Cook, stirring, until the onions begin to soften, about 3 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and vinegar. Dissolve the tomato paste in the broth; add to the onions and tomatoes along with the basil and sage. Season with salt and pepper and simmer until the sauce has thickened, 15 - 20 minutes.

Add the beans to the tomato sauce. Stir to combine and cook until warmed through, about 15 minutes.

In a heavy pot, combine the polenta with 1 tablespoon salt. Place the pot over medium heat and gradually add 9 cups cold water, whisking constantly, until the polenta begins to boil. Reduce heat to a simmer. Cook, stirring frequently with a wooden spoon, until thick, about 45 minutes.

To serve, spoon the polenta into serving dishes. Ladle beans over the polenta. Garnish with fresh herbs.


“This dish is as visually appealing as it is delicious. It’s fun to arrange on a platter, too, and easy to vary the ingredients with the seasons,” Newberry wrote. “Another roasted vegetable, or wilted greens, would work in place of the squash. All you need is the garlic-spiked yogurt as a base, and some colorful elements to pile on top of it.”

Scarlet Runner Beans with Roasted Squash and Garlic Yogurt

Makes 4-6 servings

1 3- to 4-pound butternut squash

½ cup olive oil


2 garlic cloves, minced

1½ cups full-fat Greek yogurt

½ bunch cilantro

1 to 2 jalapeño chiles, halved, stemmed and seeded

1 tablespoon fresh lime juice

2 cups drained, cooked Rancho Gordo Scarlet Runner beans

½ cup pomegranate arils (optional)

2 tablespoons pumpkin seeds (optional)

Preheat the oven to 450 degrees.

Peel the squash, then halve lengthwise and cut into slices. Lay slices on a rimmed baking sheet and toss with about ¼ cup olive oil and a generous amount of salt. Roast until soft and just starting to caramelize around the edges, 15 -20 minutes, turning the slices halfway through. Remove from the oven and cool slightly, about 15 minutes.

In a small skillet over medium heat, warm 2 tablespoons olive oil. Add the garlic and stir until fragrant and slightly golden, about 1 minute. Transfer the garlic-oil mixture to a bowl and stir in the yogurt. Add salt, to taste.

You also can skip cooking the garlic: Grate the cloves directly into the yogurt, then chill in the refrigerator. (This can be prepared a day ahead.)

To make the herb topping: Finely chop the cilantro, jalapeño and a generous pinch of salt until well combined and almost paste-like. Transfer to a bowl and add 2 tablespoons oil and the lime juice.

Using a spatula or spoon, spread the garlic yogurt evenly on a plate or serving platter and top with the roasted squash slices in a layer. Top with a layer of beans, then drizzle with the herb relish. Sprinkle with pomegranate arils or pumpkin seeds, if desired. Eat with warm bread, or enjoy as is.


Sando has followed chef and food writer Taffy Elrod, in New York’s Hudson Valley, on Twitter for some time, but it was during the pandemic that Elrod was “a constant source of sanity,” Sando said. “We were excited when Taffy agreed to help us with an e-book with recipes.”

Here is one of those recipes. “I couldn’t resist this play on caviar and potatoes, even though that’s not my usual style,” Elrod said. “A little whimsy is worth it in this case because the results are delightful. They are good served hot or cold. If you want to assemble them in advance, wait to add the seaweed sprinkle until immediately before serving so it stays crisp.”

Black Caviar Lentils and Potatoes with Crème Fraîche

Makes 4-6 servings

12 small red potatoes, about 2 inches each

1 tablespoon neutral oil

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 cup uncooked Rancho Gordo Black Caviar Lentils

2-inch piece dashi kombu

1 tablespoon crisp wakame seaweed, such as wakame chazuke, plus more for garnish

1 cup crème fraîche or sour cream

Snipped fresh dill or chives

Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.

Oil a baking sheet. Cut the potatoes in half lengthwise and trim the rounded sides so they sit flat. Toss the potatoes in the oil and ½ teaspoon sea salt, then spread them out on the baking sheet. Bake until tender but still firm, about 30 minutes.

In a pot, combine the lentils with 2 cups water, the remaining ½ teaspoon salt and the kombu. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat, then reduce the heat and simmer until tender but with the lentils still holding their shape, about 25 minutes. Drain the lentils and mix in the wakame.

Arrange the roasted potatoes on a serving platter so the broader flat sides face up. Top each potato with a spoonful of lentils, a sprinkle of seaweed, a dollop of crème fraîche and a sprinkle of dill or chives.

Staff Writer Diane Peterson can be reached at 707-521-5287 or [email protected]. On Twitter @dianepete56

Here is Steve Sando’s step-by-step method for cooking a pot of beans:

1. Check the beans for debris and rinse in several changes of water.

2. Saute aromatic vegetables in olive oil.

3. Add the beans and enough liquid to cover by 1 inch if soaked or 2 inches if they’re not soaked.

4. Bring the pot of water to a rapid boil and boil for 10 -15 minutes.

5. Lower the heat to a gentle simmer and cook until the beans are done, 1-3 hours.

6. Salt when the beans are just starting to turn soft.

Sardinian-Style Bean and Fennel SoupPolenta with Cranberry Beans and Tomato SauceScarlet Runner Beans with Roasted Squash and Garlic YogurtBlack Caviar Lentils and Potatoes with Crème Fraîche