A Hill of Beans

Local chefs look to the legume for inspiration

With tables of eye-catching spring produce piled high at the farmers' markets, dried beans might not be the first thing on your shopping list. But they should be.

Grown near Santa Barbara and distributed by Lompoc Valley Seed & Milling, Suncoast Farm beans come in a variety of shapes and styles, including the lesser-known dainty, yellow amarillos (great for refried beans), and the more familiar black beans and black-eyed peas.

Suncoast's pretty speckled limas, also known as Christmas lima beans, are popular with both home and professional cooks; find them at most farmers' markets from Pasadena to the Palisades.

At The Curious Palate in Mar Vista, they're in the Big Curious salad (also for sale on the market shelves). The earthy lima beans, which turn a rich shade of brown when cooked, mingle perfectly with sweet red peppers, feta and crisp baby lettuces.

Other chefs use heirloom beans from Rancho Gordo for their salads. At the Nickel Diner, Monica May stuffs an avocado with quinoa, plump pinquitos (a pinker, smaller, tastier version of pintos), fresh corn and bell peppers. They add a luscious, meaty texture to the salad without weighing it down.

Ciudad chef Jeremy Tummel thinks beans, when cooked perfectly, should be like pieces of caviar–firm on the outside, but tender within. Velvety red kidney beans lend an extra layer of flavor and texture to his Cuban fried chicken chopped salad.