Native American Day
The fourth Friday in September is Native American Day. In celebration of my family's Cherokee and Chickasaw heritage, I wanted to make a dish that was inspired by our Native American ancestors. After flipping through my copy of The Art of American Indian Cooking and a looking at a bag of tepary beans that I purchased from Native Seeds/SEARCH, I decided on a stew. I created a variation on the traditional recipe for White Tepary Stew which is filled with white tepary beans from the Tohono O'odham Reservation, beef, carrots and spices. My Tepary Bean & Beef stew is a soothing and hearty dish guaranteed to satisfy any hunger pangs.
The Tohono O'odham people reside primarily in the Sonoran Desert. Once known as the Papago, a name given by the Spanish conquistadores which means tepary bean eater. Their traditional lands lie in the United States and stretch into northern Mexico, where they grew cotton, beans and corn. Their traditional lands were divided in half when the United States purchased southern Arizona in 1853 with the Gadsden Purchase. They live on one of the largest Native American reservations and still speak their native tongue and live with their traditions.
Modern life has brought it's share of challenges for the Tohono O'odham. The tribe is stricken with poverty with unemployment around 42 percent and 40 percent living below the poverty level. The largest employer is the gambling casinos where about half of the employees are O'odham. They are working to provide post high school education and training opportunities to help stem the tide of young people dropping out of high school, which is currently around 48 percent. The modern American diet has brought health challenges with half of the adults living with diabetes, which is spurring a return to their traditional crops in an effort to halt the progression of the disease.
With their traditional lands lying on both sides of the border, their once quiet life in the desert has seen a dramatic change since the mid-1990s with the flood of illegal immigrants and smugglers coming through their lands. The impact on the daily lives of the Tohono O'odham has been dramatic with the number of people moving across their lands and the work of the Border Patrol or National Guard. Theft is a daily problem and anything that can help someone move north is at risk of being stolen. Many while attempting to cross the Sonoran Desert leave many of their own possessions behind or ditch stolen vehicles. The tribe's solid waste management program removes tons of trash from around the reservation and hundreds of abandoned vehicles each year. They were once hospitable to the few that braved a desert crossing, but now the tribe's resources are stretched thin with expenses in the millions for emergency services, trash removal, coroner and services from the police.
In an effort to revitalize their health and build opportunities for a sustainable economy, an independent grass roots organization was born called Tohono O'odham Community Action (TOCA). Their current programs are the Basketweavers Organization, a community arts and culture, youth & elder outreach, and a community food system.
The brown and white varities of tepary beans they grow can be purchased from Native Seeds/SEARCH. White tepary beans are mild and slightly sweet in flavor and can be substituted in any recipe that calls for beans. The TOCA group has a brochure of recipes that comes with their beans. It has recipes for the Tepary Bean Stew, Refried Tepary Beans, Tepary Tamale Pie, Tepary Bean Dip and Sonoran Desert "Hummus."
1 1/2 cups dried white tepary beans, rinsed & picked through
10 cups water
1 cup diced carrot
1/2 diced white onion
1 1/2 tsp salt or to taste
3/4 tsp black pepper or to taste
3 bay leaves
1 tsp dried thyme leaves
1 pound beef stew meat, cut into cubes
1/2 cup brown rice flour
1/2 cup corn flour
olive oil for cooking meat
1. In a crock pot dump in the tepary beans, water, salt, pepper, bay leaves, thyme leaves, carrot and onion. Begin cooking the beans and liquid on low heat.
2. In a medium sized bowl with a lid, pour in the rice and corn flour then dump in the chopped stew meat. Put the lid on the bowl and shake vigorously until all the meat is coated in flour.
3. In a large preheated skillet, pour in enough olive oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Place the cubes of stew meat into the skillet and brown. Keep turning the pieces until all the sides have been browned. Drain the cooked meat on a paper towel covered plate.
4. Scrape the roux from the pan and place it into the crock pot. Then dump in the browned pieces of stew meat. Stir to blend the roux and meat into the stew liquid.
5. Cook the stew until the beans are tender. Cooking times will vary based on your crock pot. I started my stew around noon and served it for supper.
What was the family verdict on Tepary Bean & Beef Stew? At first my children thought there were way too many beans although they liked the flavor. The next day when we had left overs, they said the beans didn't bother them anymore. My husband and I thoroughly enjoyed the stew. The white tepary beans are mild with a hint of sweetness and were wonderful in the stew. This recipe is a keeper.