By Melissa Kruse-Peeples, NS/S Education Coordinator. Published on June 18, 2015.
Tepary beans are one of the most heat and drought tolerant crop varieties in the world. These traits are the result of centuries of adaptation to the unique growing conditions of the Southwest, the ultimate heritage local food. And what makes them even better is that they are delicious and packed with nutrition. What’s not to love! Because most people have not heard of tepary beans, let alone tried them, we put together the following descriptions and recipes.
Tepary beans provide slightly more protein per ounce than common beans like pintos or kidney beans. They also contain higher amounts of calcium, niacin, iron, zinc, magnesium, phosphorous, and potassium. Tepary beans provide a great source of calcium for those who do not consume dairy products. Tepary beans greatest nutritional trait however may be that they contain high amounts of soluble fiber and are low on the glycemic index. Therefore, they are very helpful in controlling cholesterol and diabetes. Because tepary beans are a high fiber food, they digest slowly. This provides sustained energy and a feeling of being full making them a great energy food for athletes, dieters and diabetics. Many people turned off by beans due to their tendency to cause digestive discomfort will be pleasantly surprised that tepary beans also lead to less gassiness.
Tepary beans also offer some unique flavor and textural qualities that make them very versatile in the kitchen. They are ideal for soups, stews, and cold salads because they stay whole when cooked. When pureed, teparies have a creamy texture so they can also be used for dips and creamy soups. Their dense, meaty texture is great for vegetarian dishes.
In general, all tepary beans have a rich nutty flavor. White varieties have a slightly sweeter flavor than brown varieties which are very earthy. Until recently white and brown varieties were the main varieties found in stores and restaurants. Given the recent resurgence in heritage foods it is now possible to find yellow, pinks, red, and black. Black varieties are quite unique with hint of lime flavor. Joshua Johnson, Chef de Cuisine at Kai of the Wild Horse Pass Resort & Spa in Chandler, AZ, said black tepary beans were his favorite bean to eat and cook at a recent Native Seeds/SEARCH event. He can’t get enough and they are a new favorite on the menu. At the San Xavier Coop Farm stand near the mission south of Tucson, it is possible to find white and red varieties and, if you’re lucky, freshly prepared tepary bean dishes from Phyllis Valenzuela. Pictured above is Phyllis’s white tepary bean stew, cholla bud salad, and a mesquite tortilla.
Tepary beans have a wonderful flavor on their own but also go well with seasonings such as cumin and garlic, as well as with more pungent herbs such as sage, bay, oregano, and thyme. Chiles are also a great addition for those who like to add a little heat. The rich smoky flavors of Chipotle flakes and Pasilla de Oxacca work well with the nutty flavor or tepary beans.
To cook tepary beans, first sort through the beans to ensure there are no pebbles or dirt. Wash them thoroughly. The dense texture of these beans lends themselves to being slow cooked in a crockpot but they can also be cooked on the stovetop or a pressure cooker. It is recommended that they are soaked overnight or at least 8 hours if not using a crockpot. Once the beans are clean and soaked, place beans in a large pot. Cover with water, around 8 cups of water to 1 cup dried beans. Bring to a low boil and cook for 90 minutes to 3-4 hours until tender. They will double in size. Add salt and seasonings. In a crockpot, cook on low for 6-8 hours.
The summer monsoon season beginning at the end of June or early July is the best time for planting if you are interested in growing your own. Native Seeds/SEARCH currently provides over 25 varieties of tepary beans. Growing and harvesting tips can be found in a previous blog post. For those wishing to skip right to cooking up a pot of beans we offer brown, white, and black varieties on our website or retail store in Tucson. The varieties we offer in 1 or 5 lb bags have been grown at Ramona Farms on the Gila River Indian Reservation in Arizona. Ramona and her family are following the traditions of their Pima ancestors who have been growing tepary beans along the Gila River for centuries.