Tips and tricks for cooking with Next Step Produce's black turtle beans

by Kara Elder

April 05, 2020


Tips and tricks for cooking with Next Step Produce's black turtle beans

by Kara Elder

April 05, 2020

**The 2019 harvest of Next Step Farm's Black Turtle Beans is officially done! While we no longer have any of their beautiful beans to sell, these recipes and tips will work with any black beans.**

Hey, sauerkraut eaters and hot sauce shakers! I’m Kara Elder, a DC-based writer and recipe developer. Caitlin and Yi Wah asked me to help you with your home cooking adventures, so I’m fermenting away on this blog and will be here once a week with stories behind the local producers and farmers whose products are delivered to your doors. (I promise to keep pickling puns at a minimum.) You can expect to see flexible recipes and tips for using all their great produce, pantry staples, and Number 1 Sons goods, too. And be sure to check out Number 1 Sons Instagram stories, where I’ll be posting photos and cooking tips.

First up: Farmers Heinz Thomet and Gabrielle Lajoie, who started Next Step Produce in Newburg, Maryland, 20 years ago in the spring of 2000. Caitlin and Yi Wah met Heinz, Gabrielle, and their daughters Mikayla, Raphaelle, and Hazel in the early days of Number 1 Sons. Theirs is a farm that truly embodies its mission statement: “Committed to Growing Nourishing Food in Harmony with Nature.” This goes way beyond their organic certification.

Before they could grow, Heinz and Gabrielle had to first restore the soil that had been depleted by years of conventional tobacco growing. (Southern Maryland has a 200-year history of unstainable, extractive tobacco growing.) Their focus is on feeding the soil — which then feeds the plants, which then feed you! For much more detail on what exactly this means, go check out Next Step’s explanation of their compost, cover crop, crop rotation, and mineral balancing practices (plus their efficient and sustainable energy sources!). When you’re done, read this article on Next Step by Lisa Held in Civil Eats.

As you can see, Heinz and Gabrielle are integral to the Mid-Atlantic farming community. Local producers like them were always important, but perhaps now more than ever people understand just how vital farmers, farm workers, farmers markets — the people who tend, grow, and make the nutritious, good food that everyone needs — are to the health of every community around the country.

Did you get a bag of Next Step’s black turtle beans? *Update: we are sold out for the season**

These shiny little powerhouses of protein were harvested just last October, meaning they’re so fresh that you don’t have to soak them prior to cooking.

~~~I know this may come as a shock or go against most things you’ve read or heard from your grandparents, but... you don’t really need to soak most beans. (The biggest caveat and exception to this rule is if you don’t know how old your beans are. Older beans = thicker skins = longer cooking time. Soaking jumpstarts the water absorption.) For more on the subject, see this Q&A with Washington Post Food editor Joe Yonan — who also wrote the book on legumes, Cool Beans, for more info.~~~
I like to cook a whole pound of beans at once so that I can use them throughout the week in salads, tacos, sandwiches, stir-fries, soups, and more. The instructions below are adapted from chef Christian Irabién’s recipe for Salsa Madre (black bean mother sauce) in Cool Beans. In his recipe, chef Irabién cooks the beans without salt (and also without kombu) and then brines the cooked beans in salty water for an hour, which seasons the beans with salt throughout. I liked it that way, but on the off-chance that you’re rationing your salt supply, I’m suggesting you do without the brine.
  1. Rinse 1 pound black turtle beans, then put them in a large, heavy-bottomed pot (such as a Dutch oven) along with 3 quarts (that’s 12 cups) water, a few bay leaves, ½ an onion (skin-on), a few cloves garlic, and a strip of kombu if you’ve got it.
  2. Add 1 tablespoon kosher salt if you like. (It won’t toughen the beans, promise.)
  3. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat to maintain a simmer. Cook uncovered for 2 hours or so, until the beans are cooked. (Taste several to check: they should be tender and tasty.) You shouldn’t need to add more water; the cooking liquid will reduce into a nice inky, thick broth.
  4. Once your beans are done, turn off the heat and let them cool for a bit.
  5. Puree half of the beans with some of their cooking liquid, then transfer to a container for storage. (Fun fact: An old quart container from Number 1 Sons is perfect for this!)
  6. Put the other half, with their cooking liquid, into another quart container.
  7. Store in the fridge for up to a week, or freeze for longer storage.

Now that you’ve got cooked beans and a bean sauce on hand, you’re that much closer to many delicious and nutritious treats:

To make black bean soup, cook some chopped onion, peppers, spices, etc. in a little oil, add some of the bean puree, thin with bean cooking liquid or another broth (if you’d like a thinner soup), and cook for several minutes to let the flavors meld.

~ I added some cooked rice and kale to make this a one-bowl meal.
~ Other add-in ideas: Leftover meat, roasted vegetables or mushrooms, sour cream, yogurt, cheese.
~ Play with the spices! I used smoked paprika, cumin seeds, and crushed coriander seeds. Try chili powder + cumin, turmeric + coriander + paprika, a hefty dose of a random spice blend you need to use up, or whatever your spice-loving heart desires!
~ Top with kraut or kimchi or chopped daikons. A dash of hot sauce would also be lovely.


If you happen to have a few plantains, make a plantain snack! This works best with ripe plantains (ranging from yellow with a lot of black splotches to completely black), though you could take this idea and use it with baked sweet potatoes, too:

  1. Preheat your oven to 450 degrees.
  2. Peel a ripe plantain by making two shallow slices down the length of the plantain, on opposite sides, then peeling away the skin with your fingers. (The shallow slices help you to separate the peel from the flesh; the peel has a tendency to be clingy.)
  3. Cut the plantain into two stubby halves, then cut each in half lengthwise. Slice an opening down their middles (pretend you're slicing a bun for a hot dog; don’t slice all the way through).
  4. Mash up some of your cooked beans with a little of their broth. Add spices like cumin, paprika, or some chopped up kraut or kimchi, if you’d like.
  5. Fill the little plantain boats with your beans. Top with cheese if you want!
  6. Bake for about 10 to 15 minutes, until the plantain is soft (test it with the tip of a knife) and the cheese is golden and a little crispy. 

Other ideas:

Add to rice! Beans and rice is a classic dish the world-over, and for a good reason: together their powers combine to make a complete protein (meaning it has all the nine amino acids we humans need in our diet). I added cooked beans to some kimchi and ketchup fried rice, because caring about amino acids does not negate my love of ketchup.

Spread the bean puree on a warm flatbread or piece of toast, then top with whatever leftovers you have lurking in your fridge, plus whatever ferments you’re craving and something green, like Little Wild Things pea shoots, sunflower shoots, or cilantro microgreens, for color and a pop of flavor.

Add the cooked beans to salads, tacos, sandwiches, and chili; turn them into refried beans!; make bean burgers or bean-based sloppy Joes; dry them and toss with a little oil, then toast in a skillet until they're crispy... there sosososo many ways to use black beans, and I’m guessing you’ve got some tricks up your sleeves, too. Please feel free to share in the comments below so that we can all learn from you brilliant, beautiful home-cooking pros. :) 

Take care and eat well! 


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