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.
The origins of today’s featured cooking bean are a bit murky to say the least. According to Slow Food USA, the Rio Zape bean was found in the ruins of the Anasazi cliff-dwellers in the American Southwest. Better documented sources claim the bean was found in a cave near the Rio Zape in Durango, Mexico. And to add to the confusion, Steve Sando, founder of Rancho Gordo, says that Rio Zape is also known as the Hopi String bean, and was used by the Hopi as both a green bean as well as a dried one.
Regardless of its true origins, the Rio Zape beans I bought from Rancho Gordo are about the size of a pinto bean, but with much more flavor. The dried beans are a lovely dark purple color, with blackish striped markings. After cooking the beans lose some of the vivid purple coloring, and though the stripes are harder to see they do not completely disappear. The cooking liquid (aka pot liquor) is dark with a rich flavor.
Rio Zape is one of those beans I fell in love with at first bite. It’s also one of the few beans I’ve tried that is so flavorful I could sit and eat a bowl of them all by themselves. Sando classifies these as pot beans, ones that are good served simply as a side dish, with perhaps a splash of lime juice or a bit of chopped onion. In the book Heirloom Beans: Great Recipes for Dips and Spreads, Soups and Stews, Salads and Salsas, and Much More from Rancho Gordo they are featured in the recipe for Rio Zape Beans and Sweet Potatoes. This recipe is so tasty I’ve made it twice now, and just looking at the below photo makes my mouth water. I’ve made it with both orange and purple sweet potatoes, and that’s the Purple variety in the below photo. It’s topped with toasted pine nuts and some fried sage leaves.
Even though the beans hold their shape well for salads, they also make good refried beans. A couple of weeks ago I refried some and used them to make bean enchiladas. I made a sauce from some of last year’s frozen tomato sauce and some of my Homemade Chile Powder, then topped the Rio Zape enchiladas with some Queso Chihuahua. I made a meal of these one day. The refried beans are also good as a side dish or as taco or burrito filling.
So far I have only cooked these beans, and haven’t tried growing them. Rio Zape beans for eating are available online from Rancho Gordo, Purcell Mountain Farms, and Native Seeds/SEARCH. Rio Zape seeds for growing are available from Victory Seeds and Native Seeds/SEARCH (listed as Hopi Purple String bean). I hope you have enjoyed this review of the Rio Zape beans. Our bean tasting continues at HA, and I will be back soon with another bean review.