Featured Cooking Bean: Brown Tepary

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.

Brown Tepary beans

Brown Tepary beans

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.

Brown Tepary beans

Brown Tepary beans

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.

cooked Brown Tepary beans

cooked Brown Tepary beans

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.

refried Brown Tepary beans

refried Brown Tepary beans

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.

tepary bean tostadas

tepary bean tostadas

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.

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10 Responses to Featured Cooking Bean: Brown Tepary

  1. Michelle says:

    I wanted to try to grow some tepary beans this year and even had a couple of varieties picked out at Native Seeds, but my wish list got to be too big for my garden so they’ll have to wait until next year. It will be very interesting to see how well they do in your garden.

    I realized as I read your description of refried beans that that’s basically what my “smashed” beans are, only Mediterranean style. I spread them on bruschetta and pile sauteed greens on top.

  2. Lisa says:

    Keep us posted on how these beans do. I have never attempted to grow a dried bean and I am interested.

  3. Margaret says:

    Those refried beans look delicious to me – this is another incredible sounding bean to add to my grow list. You know, you are killing me here….where on earth am I going to fit all these great varieties you keep featuring 😉

    My beans seem to be having issues coming up this year – I’m seeing somewhat sporadic germination it seems. Or maybe I’m just being impatient as it’s been less than a week since I sowed them.

  4. I love it that you make your own tortillas! I cooked white tepary beans once and didn’t really care for them. I found the texture too… creamy? Sounds nice, but I wanted more texture in my beans. Maybe I just over-cooked them. I made them with beef short ribs, which I was told on the Navajo reservation was how the “old ones” cooked them. Love Native Seed Search. They have an amazing selection of beans, chiles, corn, squash and sunflowers from the American Southwest, Mexico, and Central America. I particularly like their Mayo Blusher winter squash, which turn from white to pale pink when ripe.

  5. Daphne says:

    I wish I could eat beans. They are so healthy and tasty. And those sound delicious. Though the bean itself seems a bit unassuming. I wonder if that is why it lost favor for a while. There are so many pretty beans. But taste means a lot as does nutrition.

  6. Will - Eight Gate Farm - NH says:

    I’ve never heard of this variety before. It’s super-interesting. Please do let us know how your growing results go. Maybe you can start your own bean seed collective.

  7. Susie says:

    Photos of refried beans pretty much NEVER do them justice. 🙂 Let’s be honest, they are ugly but SO delicious. I second (or third?) the comments above – you’ve inspired me to add yet another bean to the garden in the future. I read about your reference to Rancho Gordo too late for this year’s selection but it’s bookmarked for next year.

  8. Rosemary Pohl says:

    I realize some time has gone by since this was posted BUT I finally cooked up some brown tepary beans and loved them..I soaked some of the dry beans and planted them in numerous pots….and they are coming up fast!! I can hardly wait to have my own home-grown crop of tepary beans…Wondering how they will do here in Portland,Oregon……….

  9. Val says:

    I grew Tepary beans for the first time this summer and I am very impressed. I planted them in front of a large, south-facing window where the reflected sun was scorching everything in the flower bed in front of it. I solved that by erecting a trellis in front of the window and then growing Tepary beans on it. The ground there is sheltered from any winter rain by a modest roof overhang so the earth is very dry year round (no rain from May to November). Despite the hot sun and dry earth, just a good drench from a hose every week or two was all they needed to grow an incredible green bean curtain in front of that window. I did have difficulty at first with slugs eating the tender sprouts so I fashioned little tubes out of leftover window screen and put those around the baby plants until they had their second or third set of leaves. It took them a while to really get going but I think it was because at first I thought they were getting more water than they were from an adjacent drip system. As soon as I started hand watering – artificial monsoon! – they took off. Every time I water they grow a new batch of vines. Since Silicon Valley rarely gets frost before early December I am still picking dried beans while simultaneously there are new blossoms being pollinated. They are amazing plants! Tepary beans are going to be my dried bean crop from now on. I got three kinds of Tepary bean seed from Native Seeds/Search; black, white, and blue speckled San Ignacio. I look forward to trying others next year.

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