The best dinners are the ones that have a story. This is one such dinner.
It started on a typical day: I was driving to Silverlake to eat lunch at Forage (one of my favorite places to grab a bite here in L.A.) and to have coffee and do work at Intelligentsia. Only, it was street cleaning day which means half of the normally available spots were no longer available. I circled and circled and started to go a little crazy. Trying to find a parking spot isn’t something I had to do in New York; here, it can be a totally maddening experience, especially as you pass the same landmarks again and again, not one car budged, not one person dangling their keys.
When I hit my breaking point, I made a right back on to Sunset and kept going. I didn’t have a destination: downtown, by way of Cesar Chavez? Maybe The Spice Table? As I was making my furious way forward, I came upon a neighborhood I’d heard mentioned here and there but which I’d never visited: Echo Park.
I parked my car in a pay parking lot ($2.50, which I gladly forked over after circling Silverlake for what felt like hours) and used my phone to find the best place to eat lunch. Sure enough, it was right there in front of me–a Vietnamese joint called Xoia:
Inside, each table had soy sauce and fish sauce:
I ordered a papaya salad with shrimp that was pretty tasty:
And then I used my phone to find the closest coffee shop for doing work. That turned out to be Chango, which was just up a hill:
Chango was charming; I sat and wrote the post you read last week about Knowing What To Eat. And as I left, to make my way back to my car, I discovered something: a store called Cookbook that didn’t sell cookbooks.
A hidden gem, Cookbook features ingredients beautifully arrayed on a table:
A refrigerated case of pristine farm-fresh produce:
And a shelf of extraordinary dry goods:
And it was there on that shelf that I found my first bag of Rancho Gordo beans. These beans are the Lamborghinis of legumes; prized by chefs and food writers everywhere, I’ve always meant to order some from the website, but for one reason or another, I always forget to. But now I had a bag in my hands–I chose the Good Mother Stallard beans because they looked hearty–and from the meat section of the store, I bought a package of lamb sausage (also known as Merguez). Here are my goodies back home on my table:
And here are those beans close up:
I decided to improvise a dinner with these two ingredients. I started by putting the beans in a pot of cold water:
I added an onion, a carrot and a clove of garlic (I would also have added celery, but Cookbook didn’t have any that day):
I brought everything to a simmer, added a pinch of salt (even though you’re not supposed to; though chefs differ on this) and cooked for an hour or two, until the beans were creamy and tender:
I added salt to the finished beans, stirred that in to taste, strained them (reserving the liquid), removed the vegetables, and set them aside in this bowl:
It was at this moment that Craig came into the kitchen, popped a bean into his mouth and said, “Oh my God; that’s the best bean I’ve ever had.” It’s true: these beans aren’t just creamy, they’re smoky, fruity, and naturally rich. The Lamborghinis of legumes, indeed.
At this point, I prepped all the other ingredients I’d need to help dinner come together: chopped carrots, onion and garlic (about 4 cloves), chopped parsley, the bean liquid, and the lamb sausage cut into big chunks.
I started by browning the lamb sausage in olive oil:
When it was good and crusty on all sides, I removed it to a plate and cooked the onion and carrot in the sausage fat and remaining oil:
As they started to brown, I added the garlic and cooked another minute until fragrant and then added a splash of the red wine I was drinking (Syrah), let that evaporate a bit, then added the bean liquid (I maybe added too much of it), all the beans, and the sausage:
I stirred that all together, added a pinch of salt and some red chile flakes for heat and allowed it to simmer until the liquid reduced and the flavors melded (about 30 minutes).
With a big spoon, I lifted this into big bowls, drizzled with good olive oil and sprinkled with parsley. Behold!
A dinner that never would’ve existed if parking were easier in Silverlake. So thank you, street cleaners, for sending me scrambling to Echo Park. I now have a new place to eat, work and shop. And a new bean by which I’ll judge all other beans, forevermore.