January is a miserable month in the Rioja region. The holidays have passed, most people’s bank accounts have taken a serious hit (in Spanish we call it ‘la cuesta de enero – ‘the January hillclimb’), we are trying to lose the weight gained over the holidays and get back into our exercise routines.
Our favorite food in January and the rest of winter is ‘comida de cuchara’, literally, ‘food you eat with a spoon’, especially all kinds of stews made with beans: lentils, chickpeas, red, white, brown and black beans. These legumes provide warmth on cold, rainy winter days as well as slow-absorbing carbs.
A one kilogram bag of Anguiano beans, with a recipe and the seal of guarantee
I recently read a book (The Four-Hour Body by Timothy Ferriss) that recommended eating a lot of legumes that provided slow-absorbing carbs as part of a diet. Ferriss wrote the book for Americans, who traditionally don’t eat a lot of beans, except for baked beans, with a sauce full of molasses, not the ideal diet food. He urged his readers to soldier through what he thought was an unpalatable diet of beans. After all, every American knows the rhyme ‘Beans, beans, they’re good for your heart. The more you eat, the more you f***!’ On the other hand, for those of us that live in Spain, this diet is paradise! All last winter and so far this year we have eaten lots of lentils, chickpeas, red, white, black and brown beans. And yes, we have Beano! Sadly, we haven’t lost any weight but we haven’t gained any either! Diets in an area like Rioja with so much good wine are hard to keep!
Recently we got a call from Wine Fandango, one of Logroño’s hip gastrobars, reminding us about a special dinner where each course from the pre-meal cocktail to dessert was made using red beans from the village of Anguiano. The dinner was part of a series of events (‘La Rioja a Bocados’- La Rioja Bite by Bite) at Wine Fandango, highlighting regional produce made in an innovative way by chef Aitor Esnal.
The poster advertising the Anguiano bean dinner
Anguiano in the southwest corner of La Rioja is most famous for its ‘danzadores’, men who run and twirl around down steep village steps on stilts. No less famous are its beans, locally called ‘caparrones’, that have a quality seal from the Government of La Rioja attesting to their origin and method of cultivation.
The event opened with an introduction from Javier Llaría, a producer from Anguiano who explained the characteristics that made the local beans so special – the beanstalks are grown at an altitude of 650 meters (2132 feet) on stony soils that provide drainage and reflect sunlight back to the plants, with a large temperature difference between day and night, and selection of individual beans on sorting tables. 20% of the harvest is rejected and therefore not certified.
It could have been a wine grower talking. There were many other similarities between bean and wine certification, especially problems with certain producers who don’t like the fact that the certification process means control over their production and certain retailers that prefer to buy large quantities at bargain prices rather than in the one-kilogram package with the seal of guarantee. The bean producers from Anguiano have chosen to adhere to the fairly lenient demands of a product guarantee rather than the tight strictures of an appellation of origin. Mr. Llaría understood the fact that the Rioja appellation was founded in 1925 and has had almost a century to work out most of its problems while the Anguiano bean producers have just started working together.
Opening cocktail: “Alubión” (a play on ‘alubia’ – ‘bean’ in Spanish) made by Esnal’s wife Beatriz, the restaurant’s mixologist, with liquefied beans, rum, almond liqueur, sugar, and orange juice with a slice of orange peel as decoration. It was surprisingly good.
‘Alubión’, the bean-based cocktail
Capuccino from Anguiano made with liquefied beans, small pieces of spiny lobster and cacao. Served in an espresso cup.
A waffle topped with beans, a red pepper sauce, collards and spicy sausage.
Grilled baby squid in a sauce of mashed beans, with a mousse of scallions and leeks.
Toasted filet mignon with a spinach leaf in a bean and garlic gravy and shrimps in tempura.
Dessert: Bean pie with chocolate, ice cream made with young beans, an almond cookie and raspberries.
The wine was El Buscador 2015 from Bodega Finca de la Rica (DOCa Rioja).
The verdict: Pass with Distinction
Before the meal we had some doubts about a meal made with beans as the main ingredient. Chef Aitor Esnal told us during his introduction that we shouldn’t expect a ‘caparronada’ (thick bean stew with pork rind – a Riojan favorite). The meal showed an extremely high level of creativity and tasted great!
Esnal and mixologist Beatriz Martínez’s next event will feature a cocktail and five course meal based on Riojan black truffles. We can hardly wait for that!
Chef Aitor Esnal (Credit: Wine Fandango)
Wine Fandango, General Vara de Rey 5-26003 Logroño (La Rioja)