About Tepary Beans

August 20, 2006

About Tepary Beans

In Praise of Tepary Beans, by Tucson CSA member Mary Ann Clark

Tepary beans (Phaseolus acutifolius) are the dense, fibrous-rich, dried legumes that were first domesticated by Native Americans in the desert Southwestern United States. It is named for the Tohono O’odham phrase t’pawi or “it is a bean.” Nutritionally, it is higher in fiber and protein while lower in carbohydrates and calories than the common bean (Phaseolus vulgaris). Most importantly for those of us living in the desert, the tepary bean requires far less water to produce an abundant crop than other dried beans and it grows happily in our alkaline soil. Once plants are established in my home garden, I water only once per week, even through the fiercest drought conditions, and each plant produces an abundance of seed-filled pods. While we at the Tucson CSA have access to two varieties of tepary beans, white and brown, there are also several other varieties including tan, beige, black, blue-speckled, brown-speckled and orange or golden-colored. Most plants produce lovely, delicate white blossoms; however, some seeds (the black and speckled varieties) produce a lilac flower.

 

There is some controversy over whether or not to soak dried beans before cooking them. I recommend soaking any dried bean in water in the refrigerator if it is more than one year out of the garden. Dried beans toughen with age, especially if they are stored in a warm, humid environment and can therefore benefit from presoaking prior to cooking. In addition, some people report a reduction in flatulence from beans that are presoaked, in which the soaking water is drained away and new water or broth is used for cooking the beans. The thought is that the soaking water leaches the indigestible sugars from the beans; thus, by discarding it, you are reducing the chance for producing noxious gas in your intestine. Unfortunately, when you discard soaking water you also discard nutrients. Slow-cooking dried beans can also reduce the carbohydrates that produce flatulence.

 

While presoaking is important for old beans or to wash away the indigestible sugars, it is not necessary to presoak the beans from Farmer Frank. These beans are fresh and will cook on the stove top in a pan of water at a brisk boil in two to three hours. Alternatively, you might slow-cook them for twelve hours (or overnight) and still produce a firm bean that does not fall apart. This is really one of the major advantages of tepary beans. They are ideal for salads because the beans soften, while maintaining their shape. You can substitute them in recipes that call for a common bean such as pinto or red kidney, though their size is smaller than either of these beans. Whatever they lack in size, they make up for in nutrition.

 

Ideally, when preparing dried legumes for cooking, it is best to sort and rinse the beans. Sorting the beans requires the cook to pick through all the beans, removing those that are blemished or stunted (flat and small). It is likely that you will also find little clods of farm dirt and debris, which also should be removed. Rinsing the beans under a running stream of water removes any small particles of dust or plant material from the beans.

 

Mary Ann Clark is co-compiler of the cookbook From Furrow to Fire: Recipes from the Native Seeds/SEARCH Community and a member of the Board of Directors at Native Seeds/SEARCH, a seed conservation organization located in Tucson.

References

Clark, Mary Ann and Shannon Scott, compilers. From Furrow to Fire: Recipes from the Native Seeds/SEARCH Community. 2005.

Green, Aliza. Beans: More than 200 Delicious Recipes from Around the World. Philadelphia: Running Press, 2004.

McGee, Harold. On Food and Cooking: The Science and Lore of the Kitchen. New York: Scribner, 2004.

Nabhan, Gary Paul, ed. “The Desert Tepary as a Food Source.” Desert Plants 5.1 (1983).

Neithammer, Carolyn. American Indian Cooking: Recipes from the Southwest. Lincoln: Bison Books, 1999.

 

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