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Not these beans for a recession dinner

December 23, 2008 | 11:10 am

CassouletI stopped at Surfas in Culver City for beans for a cassoulet, the great-for-winter, oven-braised stew we're making for a party. In my holiday rush, I felt smug for noticing that one variety was labeled for cassoulet and rushed to the counter with three 1-pound bags.

Distracted by my to-do list, I handed over my credit card. And then the words from the cashier vaguely made their way through my crowded consciousness: The total was $60-some.

"For beans? That's not possible," I sputtered. The man did not disagree and sent someone to investigate. But in fact, the price for these little white gems was $21.10 per pound.

So here's why, according to the website of Purcell Mountain Farms in Idaho, which sells them and many other beans: Tarbais beans come from a small village in southern France, and are a pole bean planted with corn, using the corn stalk as their pole. That makes them labor-intensive to harvest.

And they cannot be called Tarbais if they are grown anywhere else, the folks at Surfas said.

Sabine Dahlmann of Purcell, which sells the beans for $15.95 a pound, said that many chefs like them, especially at Christmastime, but that she has never tasted them.

"It's expensive," she said.

Nicole Grandjean of Nicole's Gourmet Foods in Pasadena did try them. "I thought, 'OK. They are nice.' " But chefs, she said, "won't use anything else" in cassoulet.

And, she said, it's not too much to spend on friends for a party. But she said cooks could use Great Northern or cannellini beans for cassoulet; they are less than a quarter the price.

So, we have not decided whether to splurge on the beans. But if we shell out the vacation budget for some dried beans, and our dinner guests wonder if we're making beans because our 401(k)s are tanking, we will be sure to set them straight.

-- Mary MacVean

Los Angeles Times