Tepary Bean, Pork & Winter Vegetable Soup

tepary bean soupHave 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.

tepary bean soupTepary Bean, Pork & Winter Vegetable Soup

INGREDIENTS

  • 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)

METHODS

  1. 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. 
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. Serve hot, liberally garnished with slivered green scallion.

Serves 10 – 12.

tepary bean soupOPTIONS

  1. 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.
  2. 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.
  3. 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.
  4. 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.

STORE

Refrigerated, for up to 5 days. Frozen, for up to 3 months.

SEASON

Winter.

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12 comments

  1. I did the same thing, I had a bag in my cupboard for a year and then I too had to order more. I thought they also had a bit of sweetness. They are wonderful in tuna salad or bean dip too!

    • You know, I thought a tasted a bit of sweetness as well, but since I used corn cob stock, and that adds its own sweetness, it was a little hard to tell. I suppose of any ‘regular’ bean, they remind me most of flageolets, which also have a bit of sweetness to them, but are more grassy & floral, IMO, whereas the tepary is nutty.

  2. This looks so good! I hadn’t heard of tepary until recently. I just read about them the other day in one of my seed catalogs. I’ll have to try them.

  3. eastofedencook

    Tepary beans are new to me. I will make an effort to find them as in addition to the historical and nutritional goodness I really like that they hold their shape. A flavorful dinner heady with flavor and packed with a foundation of healthy ingredients!

  4. Pingback: Szechuan Green Beans and Red Pepper « the taste space – steam, bake, boil, shake!

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