Have you ever had tepary beans? Apparently, once upon a time, they were an important food source for Native Americans in the American Southwest, and the history of their use dates back over 6,000 years in Mexico. Yet, until recently, I had never heard of the tepary bean (whose name seems to derive from t’pawi, Papago Indian for “it’s a bean”) and without Rancho Gordo, I probably would not have been able to find them. Tepary beans are drought-resistant, native to the arid landscape of Arizona, New Mexico and northern Mexico: in a world suffering increasing effects of global climate change, including the drought-plagued United States, perhaps the tepary bean will make a comeback? I hope so, because I am here to tell you: they are quite delicious.
Tiny when dried, tepary beans look like nothing so much as a handful of small pebbles. Even when soaked overnight, they can cook for a long time (2 – 3 hours) and still maintain their shape (although they double or triple in size), and a certain al dente toothsomeness, without giving up too much texture or cloudiness to the water in which they cook. They taste a bit nutty and slightly of potato, to me: less “beany” than their Phaseolus vulgaris cousins. And if you do a bit of Googling, you’ll find all sorts of people raving about the health benefits of the tepary bean: higher protein, higher fiber and lower glycemic index than other beans; high in vitamins and trace minerals; they are even thought to treat diabetes and cure cancer! That’s a heavy load for a tiny bean. I generally take this type of hyperbole with a hefty grain of salt (as I do here), but there seems to be no doubt that the tepary bean is a nutritional powerhouse. Mostly, I’m just delighted that they taste great.
This soup started out as a stew, inspired by this mention of a simple Zuni stew, in which tepary beans and cubed meat are simmered together for hours, until the beans are tender. While the ‘stew’ was cooking away, however, I realized that I loved the light, flavorful, pork-infused flavor of the broth so much that I did not want to reduce or thicken it; I wanted to keep it just the way it was. So the stew become a soup, the summer vegetables of a more typical Zuni stew became the winter vegetables in my January larder, and the Flying Pigs pork cutlet I had stashed away in the chest freezer infused the whole thing with a deliciously light yet meaty, slightly Asian flavor. Some dried herbs, a couple of dried chiles for a hint of spice, and a few hours simmering on the stove yielded a surprisingly light yet satisfying soup. Bonus points? This recipe makes a rather huge batch: some to enjoy this week, and some to tuck away in the freezer for one of those last-minute-deadline, just-can’t-cook-tonight nights. I’m already looking forward to it.
- 1 lb dried white tepary beans, soaked overnight
- bacon grease or olive oil
- about 1 and 1/4 lb pork cutlet
- 2 large leeks, halved lengthwise, washed well, and sliced
- 4 medium scallions, sliced, white & dark green parts divided
- 3 large carrots, scrubbed and sliced
- 1 large parsnip, peeled and diced
- 3 stalks celery, with leaves, sliced
- 2 large garlic cloves, minced
- 1 pint stock (pork is ideal if you have it; I used corn cob)
- 1 tsp dried oregano, or to taste
- 1 tbsp sea salt, or to taste (use less if using store-bought or salted stock)
- freshly ground black pepper
- 3 dried red chiles (I used Arbol)
- In a large (at least 6-quart) stockpot or Dutch oven, heat 1 tbsp bacon grease over medium-high heat until it just starts to smoke. In batches, brown pork cutlets, about 2 – 3 minutes per side, taking care not to crowd the pan, until both sides are nicely browned. Remove pork to a clean plate.
- Add another 2 tbsp of bacon grease and bring to a shimmer over medium heat. Add leeks, scallions (reserve dark green parts for garnish), carrot, parsnip, celery + leaves and garlic. Stir well to coat vegetables in grease. Reduce heat to medium-low and sauté, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are fragrant and soft, about 10 minutes.
- Chop pork cutlet into thin strips; add to pot. Add tepary beans, with their soaking liquid, stock and enough additional water (if necessary) to cover the beans by at least 1 inch. Stir well, cover, raise heat and bring mixture to a boil (beans will foam, so watch carefully that the soup does not boil over). Reduce heat to the lowest setting, cover and simmer until beans are just tender, about 2 hours. Add oregano, salt, pepper and chiles; simmer until beans are nicely tender, approximately 30 – 60 more minutes. Remove cover for the last 15 minutes or so if a thicker soup is desired.
- Serve hot, liberally garnished with slivered green scallion.
Serves 10 – 12.
- Because the meat is cooked for a long, slow braise in the soup, it really flavors the broth and the beans. Choose good quality meat for flavor, but you can use a tougher cut as the meat is falling-apart tender by the time the beans are done.
- Tepary beans are really quite unique and unlike other beans, heirloom or standard. The beans hold their shape well and do not produce a thick, “beany” pot liquor, leaving the soup light and tasting primarily of pork and aromatics. Of course, you can substitute another bean, but be aware that it is likely to produce a heartier, beanier soup.
- Although this is a fairly meat-and-veg-packed soup, there is more broth than is shown in the pictures above. For the sake of attractive soup photography, I included a bit less broth than I would use when serving.
- Take care to sear the pork well in the intial browning step, otherwise the braised pork cutlet can look a bit grey and unappetizing in the final soup.
Refrigerated, for up to 5 days. Frozen, for up to 3 months.