Featured Cooking Bean: Rio Zape

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.

Rio Zape beans

Rio Zape beans

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.

cooked Rio Zape beans

cooked Rio Zape beans

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.

Rio Zape and Sweet Potato Salad

Rio Zape and Sweet Potato Salad

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.

Rio Zape Bean Enchiladas

Rio Zape Bean Enchiladas

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.

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7 Responses to Featured Cooking Bean: Rio Zape

  1. Daphne says:

    Those enchiladas look so good. I make some with beans in it for my husband occasionally.

  2. Steve Sando says:

    What a great write up. I’m glad you liked them as much as I do.
    You also see them in parts of Mexico as San Franciscano beans.
    I did want to add, you can plant any of our Rancho Gordo beans as seed. No guarantees but they are current crop and we do nothing to prevent you growing them (I’ve heard of some companies “neutering” them to protect their interests). It’s a little late this year but next spring, try planting a handful and carry on the tradition.

    • Dave says:

      Thanks Steve. Rio Zape is one that would definitely be worth trying to grow, given how much I like them in the kitchen.

  3. Michelle says:

    I haven’t tried Rio Zape beans but it sounds like I should. My next order from Rancho Gordo will include some. I have used RG beans as seeds and gotten great results. Last year my bumper crop of Tarbais beans were started from a package from Rancho Gordo and they performed better than “seeds” that I got from two differerent sources.

    • Dave says:

      Thanks for the report on growing out the Tarbais seeds. I will include that info about using the Rancho Gordo cooking beans as a seed source on my next bean review, now that I have it from at least two good sources!

      I didn’t even try to describe the great taste of Rio Zape, but I will say I dipped some bread in the pot liquor to sop it up.

  4. Margaret says:

    Oh, those enchiladas look amazing and the beans sound so good. They have been added to the list. I don’t think I can get Rio Zape here (I’ve already checked!), but there are handy dandy shipping depots in Buffalo for just that reason.

  5. Susie says:

    I’ve only discovered RG through your write ups but they are bookmarked for next years’ seed order. It is so wonderful to read your blog as you describe many varieties of plants that I have never heard of! I LOVE most beans so looking forward to trying something new next year from RG.

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