This year I am on a mission to cook and eat as many different varieties of beans as possible. This is another in a series about my observations about those beans.
Imagine there was a bean that was drought tolerant and higher in protein and fiber than many other beans. And, what if it came in different varieties that are suited to growing in most any climate? While we’re at it, let’s make it tasty and versatile in the kitchen. You would think if there were a bean like that it would be widely known and grown, wouldn’t you? Well, a bean like that already exists, and there’s archeological evidence it was grown thousands of years ago. It’s called a tepary bean, and it is making somewhat of a comeback here in the 21st century.
The tepary bean, Phaseolus acutifolius, is native to the U.S. southwest and Mexico. According to legend, the bean got its name when Spanish explorers to what is now New Mexico asked a group of Tohono O’odham people what they were planting. They replied “T’pawi,” meaning literally “It’s a bean.” According to Mother Earth News, the tepary beans have traditionally been planted as both a spring and summer crop, depending on the monsoon rains to give them moisture to germinate and grow.
Until fairly recently I had never even tasted a tepary bean. That changed when I cooked up a batch of Brown Tepary beans from Rancho Gordo. I used a pressure cooker to cook them, without soaking first. I cooked them for 18 minutes at high pressure, and let them sit while the pressure released naturally. As you can in the below photo, they held their shape well, staying firm but tender. What you can’t see is how they tasted. The Brown Tepary beans have a rich, complex taste that has a touch of sweetness to it. The sweetness is supposed to be more noticeable in the white varieties.
They are so tasty that the Brown and the White Tepary beans are listed on the Slow Food USA’s Ark of Taste. Slow Food describes their flavor as ‘rich and nutty’, and says they are used in traditional southwestern soups, stews and casseroles. In the book Heirloom Beans there are several recipes for tepary beans, including one I plan on trying called Spicy Tepary Bean Dip.
Once cooked, I turned the whole batch into refried beans. To do that, I heated a little olive oil in a skillet then sautéed chopped onions until they were soft. Next I added the tepary beans along with a bit of their cooking liquid, plus some minced garlic, ground cumin and salt. I cooked the beans for about 15-20 minutes, stirring and mashing with the back of a wooden spoon until they were somewhat smooth but still chunky. The above photo does not really do them justice.
Some of those refried beans went on tostadas we made. The refried tepary beans have a great flavor and texture, and compared to refried beans made with pinto beans they also have more protein, fiber and minerals. I was so impressed after that first encounter, I knew I had to have more of them, and I knew I had to make them one of my featured cooking beans.
After a little more research I also decided to make a small test planting in the garden. The variety I’m going to grow is called Sacaton Brown. I got those seeds from Native Seeds/SEARCH, and they have a great selection of over 20 varieties of tepary bean seeds. We’ll see how they handle the hot and humid summer weather we usually have here. I also want to try a variety called Blue Speckled. I will be sure and report on how they perform here in the garden.
Brown Tepary beans for eating are available online from Rancho Gordo, Ramona Farms, and Native Seeds/SEARCH. I hope you have enjoyed this review of the Brown Tepary beans. More bean tasting continues here at HA, and I will be back soon with another bean review.