The Sonoran Desert has many gifts to contribute to the world of cuisine. The cactus fruits, mesquite flour, bacanora…but perhaps the most important of all these foods is the tepary.
The tepary is a unique bean, of a completely different species than the average bean (which is called Phaseolus vulgaris). It rivals the regular bean in many ways: it’s nutritional profile is not only higher in protein and lower in fat, it also contains less of the ant-enzymatic compounds found in regular beans. To top off the benefits of the tepary over the regular bean, the species is also the world’s most drought tolerant bean, best planted with spring and summer rains, and using the thriftiest of watering habits (holding back water actually encourages the tepary to produce).
The tepary bean is something like a large, square-ish shaped lentil; only slightly bigger. It’s usefulness has not even begun to be tapped. In addition to cooking traditionally, we should explore how teparies might be used in such preparations such as in making tempeh. It’s important to note that the flavor is very different than most beans. The taste of the tepary is rather nutty, and the texture is much creamier than the average bean.
As said above, plant teparies from seed during spring or summer rains. Water to establish and when plants get large enough, hold back watering. This requires some planning: don’t stick teparies in parts of the garden where you would be reluctant to hold back water. Companions with teparies should be drought tolerant crops (using traditional varieties from the Southwest USA and N. Mexico is ideal). Traditionally they worked well with the Three Sisters method of growing squash, corn and beans. Soak seeds overnight before planting. In 60-80 days plants should produce (depending on the variety). This is much faster than most varieties of beans. Teparies are easier to deal with, using a substrate on which to climb like a fence or trellis, but also do fine just left to sprawl around. As with most beans, do not add too much nitrogen to the soil: teparies produce their own nitrogen with their symbiotic relationship with mycorrhiza.
The best place to get teparies is at Native Seed SEARCH, a seed company dedicated to preserving heirloom crops of the SW USA and N. Mexico.