Santa Maria-Style Beans with Medjool Dates

Serves 6 to 8

Pinquito beans are an essential component of Santa Maria-style barbecue. Originating in the Santa Maria Valley on the Central Coast of California, this style of cooking began in the mid-19th century when local ranchers would hold Spanish-style feasts for their vaqueros. Here we’ve taken this iconic California dish and infused it with smoky bacon, charred Anaheim chilies, toasty spices and sun-sweetened dates from the Coachella Valley. The medjools cook down in the tangy sauce and add a subtle brown-sugar sweetness, but these beans definitely skew more savory than your traditional barbecue beans. As is common with Santa Maria-style cooking, we like to serve the stewed beans with a grilled tri-tip steak and crusty bread.

Ingredients:

Beans

  • 1 pound dry pinquito beans (pink beans; see Note), such as Llano Seco brand
  • 1 onion, halved
  • 5 large garlic cloves, smashed
  • 2 bay leaves

Sauce

  • 1 large Anaheim chile
  • 1 pound smoked thick-cut bacon, diced
  • 1 white onion, minced (reserve some for garnish)
  • 4 garlic cloves, minced
  • 1 teaspoon quality chile powder
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon mustard powder
  • 2 cups tomato puree
  • 1 cup Mexican-style lager
  • ½ cup brewed coffee
  • 5 Rancho Meladuco Medjool dates, pitted and chopped
  • Kosher salt and pepper

Mexican crema, for serving (optional)

Serving suggestion: Grilled tri-tip steaks and crusty grilled bread

Prepare the beans Rinse and sort the beans. Transfer to a large heavy pot and cover with cold water. Let soak for at least 8 hours and up to overnight. Drain the beans and cover with fresh cold water by 3 inches. Add the onion, garlic and bay leaves and bring to a simmer over moderate heat. Cook, uncovered, until the beans are tender, 1 hour and 30 minutes to 2 hours. Add hot water, as needed, to keep the beans covered.

Prepare the sauce While the beans are simmering, char the Anaheim chile over a burner on your stove top or under the broiler until completely charred. Transfer to a resealable plastic bag and let sit for 15 minutes. Once cool enough to handle, use a paper towel to remove the skin. Finely chop the chile and discard the seeds and stem.

In a large saucepan or Dutch oven, cook the bacon over moderate heat, stirring occasionally, until it’s crispy and browned, 8 to 10 minutes. Using a slotted spoon, transfer one-quarter of the bacon to a paper towel-lined plate to drain. Reserve for garnishing. Pour out some of the bacon fat, if desired.

In the saucepan, add the diced onion and cook over moderate heat until translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook until fragrant, about 1 minute. Add the chile powder, cumin and mustard powder and cook, stirring occasionally, until fragrant, about 1 minute. Stir in the tomato puree, beer, coffee, dates and diced chile. Season with salt and pepper. Bring the sauce to a boil, then reduce the heat to low and simmer, stirring occasionally, until the sauce is thickened and the dates are beginning to break down, about 30 minutes.

Finish the beans Drain the beans, reserving 1 cup of the cooking liquid. Discard the onion, garlic and bay leaves. Return the beans to the pot. Stir in the sauce and the reserved cooking liquid and cook over low heat until heated through. Season with salt. Transfer the beans to a serving bowl and garnish with the reserved bacon, white onion and a spoonful of Mexican crema, if desired. Serve right away.

Santa Maria Style Beans with Tri-tip

NOTE Pinquito beans are native to the central coast of California and are worth seeking out for this recipe. If you cannot find pinquito (pink) beans, small white beans, such as navy beans, are an adequate substitute. 

Recipe and photos: Julia Heffelfinger

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