Celebrate the Solstice-tide with Heirloom Bean Treasures

Our ancestors did it—and we still do it today in many ritual ways—we await and call out to the returning light. Indeed in these holy-days of Solstice, Hanukkah, Shálako, Christ-mass, the Yule, we still hope and pray that the light will return to our hearts and our communities throughout our small planet!

Four Corners Gold beans in a Tarahumara madrone scoop

Four Corners Gold beans in a Tarahumara madrone scoop

Tia Marta here to share some ideas of foods that have assisted in traditional winter rites, and which can grace our  tables anew for these holy-days.

To me, sprouts, more than anything else, symbolize the return of longer light, the rebirth of life–on so many levels. Out of the darkness and dormancy a sprout brings new life, vitality, a tiny, fragile but hopeful future. Nutritionally, a sprout is a wave of exuberant phytonutrients surging with life-giving properties for itself–and for those who might consume it.

Four Corners Gold bean sprouts on the 2nd day just emerging from seed coat

Four Corners Gold bean sprouts on the 2nd day just emerging from seed coat

Ancient cultures of the Southwest have used sprouts in ceremony since time-immemorial, helping communities through rough times of transition, phases of seasons, new homes and life changes. My special favorite for sprouting is the beautiful Four Corners Gold bean, a bright mottled golden-yellow Jacob’s cattle bean, a genetic gift from Native Zuni farmers over the centuries. I sprout the beans by first soaking a ½ cup of dry beans overnight in a cup or bowl, then rinsing and draining them at least 2-3 times daily over a 3-5-day period. Watch life virtually explode out of those little packages of potential! I use the sprouts as a respected garnish or as a flavorful addition to salads or stir-fry. It is like a form of communion to eat sprouts–ingesting renewal.

Four Corners Gold beans up close--check out the difference with Yellow-eye--very different tastes--both wonderful

Four Corners Gold beans up close–check out the difference with Yellow-eye–very different tastes–both wonderful

These colorful dry Zuni beans cooked from scratch also make a hearty and nutritious soup or chile-bean dish for chilly wintry nights. On sunny winter days I like to cook the dry beans (pre-soaked the night before) in the solar oven and have them “at the ready” later in the frig. A pot of beans on the back burner during the holiday season can help make a party happen. Cooked beans are a wonderfully patient food you can have waiting to leap into culinary action when company pops in unexpectedly, or if teenage appetites require between-meal satisfaction.

Heirloom Scarlet Runner Beans washed and ready to soak for cooking

Heirloom Scarlet Runner Beans washed and ready to soak for cooking

Here’s a hearty Tia Marta recipe for enlivening a holiday season buffet:

These make the perfect vegetarian hors d’oeuvres to serve at a holiday buffet or to have ready to heat for drop-in company!

Start them the day before you want to serve them by soaking 1 cup of dry Scarlet Runner Beans.
Soak beans in plenty of water (3-4 cups) for at least 12-24 hours until fully plump and twice their original size.
Drain beans, and add 3-4 cups drinking water.
Simmer on low (stovetop or crockpot) for 3-4 hours until done through and pass the taste test, beyond al dente. The beans should keep their shape and integrity. This will produce extra beans to freeze for other recipes or for doubling the recipe. You will need about 8-10 oz or 1 generous cup of cooked beans for this barbeque recipe.

BBQed Scarlet Runner beans glazed and delicious after simmering in sauce

BBQed Scarlet Runner beans glazed and delicious after simmering in sauce

1 large or 2 medium onions, diced                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                      1 Tbsp. olive oil                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                  3-4 Tbsp. butter                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    1 tsp. sea salt
4 Tbsp. molasses
1-2 Tbsp. prepared mustard
1/2 cup mild chile salsa
1 Tbsp. cider vinegar
1-2 tsp. Worcestershire sauce
Dashes of Tabasco or Red Devil hot sauce to taste

To make the Barbeque sauce:
Saute onion in butter until clarified. Add all seasoning ingredients to sauteed onions, stir and simmer for 5 to 10 minutes or more.
Add in cooked, drained beans–8-10 oz cooked Heirloom Scarlet Runner beans (about 1 generous cup).  Simmer smothered beans and sauce 10 minutes or longer (the longer the better).  Making the BBQ scarlet runners ahead, you can refrigerate them at this point.  Heat before serving.
Serve smothered beans on a hot platter or in a chaffing dish with a fancy toothpick in each bean for a wonderful party surprise that is more satisfying than meat-balls.  Serves a gang of hungry party-ers.

(By doubling this sauce recipe you can use all your cooked beans in it.) Bon appetit! And happy holidays to you and your guests!

Barbequed Scarlet Runner beans as hors d'oeuvres--each one is a perfect tasty bite!

Barbequed Scarlet Runner beans as hors d’oeuvres–each one is a perfect tasty bite!

At New Year’s, our family tradition, with one branch hailing from the South, has always been Black-eye Peas. It is a joy to know that there are Native People here in Baja Arizona who adopted black-eye peas into their own traditional cuisine when European padres first brought them from the Old World. Locally-grown black-eye peas (u-us muñ) may still be available from a Pima farm at http://www.ramonafarms.com and sold through the Native Seeds/SEARCH store.

Heiloom Yellow-eye Bean--a delectable alternative to black-eye peas for New Years or great as baked beans anytime!

Heiloom Yellow-eye Bean–a delectable alternative to black-eye peas for New Years or great as baked beans anytime!

For those who want to break away one step from tradition, it is fun to try a delicious alternative New Year’s bean—the yellow-eye. Natives of New England introduced it to Colonists and it became the real Boston Baked Bean long before newer varieties like navy beans or great northerns ever came on the scene. Yellow-eye has a flavor like no other bean and is worth trying in different dishes. I especially like yellow-eyes spiced with freshly ground pipian rojo móle from our own local Mano y Metate (www.manoymetate.com).

We think of cranberries as a holiday fruit but have you tried cranberry beans for warming winter dish? There are many Italian recipes for cranberry bean. My stick-to-the-ribs favorite, which delectably uses winter’s plethora of fresh greens, is cranberry beans-and-greens. Tucson’s Mission Garden is producing bundles of the best acelgas greens ever—available at Thursday’s Santa Cruz farmers market at Mercado San Augustine. I invite you to scroll back to last December 2013’s savorthesouthwest.wordpress blog for more great holiday bean recipes.

Heirloom Christmas Limas can lend themselves to our BBQ bean recipe as well

Heirloom Christmas Limas can lend themselves to our BBQ bean recipe as well

Until I was introduced by Dr Barney Burns (co-founder of Native Seeds/SEARCH) to the diversity of Southwestern heirloom beans, I was a beans-out-of-the-can cook. Indeed even now, with growing awareness of heirloom foods, there are many folks whom Rod and I meet at our farmers market booth who are daunted by the idea of cooking beans from scratch. Yes, dry beans do take time—but with simple low-tech tools like the crockpot or solar oven, multitasking is a breeze. Nothing could be simpler! Cooking one’s own beans opens up a whole new array of flavor possibilities. It’s a color and flavor rainbow of Native American, Hispanic, and pioneer traditional beans which we now have available (largely through the exploratory Southwest seed-saving by Native Seeds/SEARCH over the last 30+ years). All beans are not created equal. Each heirloom has its own unique flavor and bouquet well worth tasting, and its own adaptations to the Baja Arizona desert well worth planting in your garden. Scarlet runner, for example, is long season. Plant it under a mesquite and watch it vine up into the branches, blooming with red flowers for the hummingbirds—the best in edible landscaping! Harvest the giant pods in the fall for next year’s holiday feast.

For limited budgets, buying and cooking dry beans also saves money—big-time. One pound of dry beans when cooked will yield the equivalent of 4 to 6 cans of heat-and-serve beans. Nor will you find our rich SW variety of heirloom beans on any grocery shelf. The Native Seeds/SEARCH store at 3061 N.Campbell Ave, Tucson and the NSS website (www.nativeseeds.org), or the Flor de Mayo booth at Sunday’s St Phillips farmers market (www.flordemayoarts.com) are the very best places to experience that AH-HAH moment when you see 18-20 beautiful heirloom varieties spread out before your very eyes.  I look forward to your visit to our market booth!

Christmas limas with recipe ideas--a yummy stocking stuffer

Christmas limas with recipe ideas–a yummy stocking stuffer–at Flor de Mayo Sunday St Phillips market booth

When one thinks of the cultures, the farmers, the planting and harvesting knowledge, the years of patient selection that all this bean diversity represents, it can boggle the mind and can truly humble the best of cooks and gardeners.

Tia Marta and Rod of Flor de Mayo are sending our thanks to those traditional farmers and to the many young  innovative organic food growers.  May the light be born again in us as we share honorable heirloom foods graciously with our family and friends this Solstice-tide!

Heirloom Beans for Holiday Feasts!

Colorful Christmas lima, also known as Chestnut lima, will keep some of its purple color and its shape in cooking.  Photo by Muffin Burgess

Colorful Christmas lima, also known as chestnut lima, will keep some of its purple color and its shape in cooking. Photo by Muffin Burgess

Among beans, Christmas Lima is a giant not only in size but in flavor!  This heirloom Phaseolus lunatus is dramatic mottled purple and white, and lends itself to many colorful dishes.  Try a holiday tip from the Heirloom Bean Queen “Tia Pan Dulce”—sure to please vegetarian and omnivore alike:  Curried Christmas Limas!

The evening before cooking, sort and wash ½ lb of dry Christmas Limas.  Presoak overnight in plenty of water (at least a qt) as they will swell.  Next day give remaining water to your compost and add a qt of fresh drinking water.  Simmer limas without salt until they test tender (1 ½-2hrs stove top; 2-3hrs solar oven; 3-5 hrs crock pot).  Some people prefer them al dente.  I like them soft and done through but not mushy.  Reserve the bean liquid.

Saute ½ cup chopped onion, ½ cup chopped celery, ½ cup thin-sliced winter squash, and ½ cup chopped sweet pepper in olive oil and stir in 2 tsp curry powder.  (My favorite curry powder is from Santa Cruz Chile and Spice Co, available at most southern Arizona groceries.  If you are ever in the Tubac area give yourself an olfactory adventure by visiting the SC Spice Co outlet just south of Tumacacori Mission Nat Hist Park.)

Add cooked limas to the veggie curry stir-fry adding either veggie stock or the reserved bean liquid as needed.  Simmer on low heat until flavors are blended (about 1/2 hr) and salt to taste.  Serve with brown rice or polenta for a complete protein complement.

(Here’s another idea to try with cooked Christmas limas:  If they keep their shape as individual beans when done, you can serve them as veggie hors d’oeuvres with toothpicks dipped in your favorite sauce.  Try BBQ or Asian or chilpotle sauce.  They are better than meatballs and much healthier!)

If you want to GROW Christmas limas for yourself, save a few seed out of the bag you find at Sunday’s Heirloom farmers’ market or at the Native Seeds/SEARCH store (3061 N Campbell, Tucson).  Plant them in April where they can vine their way up a trellis in dappled light or into a low-growing tree.  They are long-season, so plan on tending them thru heat of May and June until the monsoons give them a boost.  You will be climbing the tree or trellis to harvest big pods in the fall, ready for homegrown holiday cookery next year.

Bright and beautiful Four Corners Gold beans are used in the traditional winter ceremony by the Zuni.  These beans are truly light-returning and life-renewing.  photo by Muffin Burgess

Bright and beautiful Four Corners Gold beans are truly light-returning and life-renewing.  photo by Muffin Burgess

An important heirloom for the season– used by Native cultures of the Southwest since time-immemorial to celebrate the Winter Solstice—is the festive yellow and white Four Corners Gold Bean (aka Zuni Gold).  It will lend itself to any hearty dish you may want to have simmering in a crock pot ready to drive off any chill from ski-ing, hiking, cycling, or dog-walking thru these short wintry days.  Try them in a bean soup with an oxtail from Jojoba Beef at the farmers’ market; or as chile beans with Native Seeds/SEARCH’s amazing chilpotle chile powder; or as a dip mashed with a Tarahumara bean masher, dashes of Red Devil tabasco sauce and 1 tsp of cumin powder.

"Moon Beans" spiced with Pipian Rojo Mole from Mano y Metate makes an exceptionally festive vegetarian dish!  photo by Muffin Burgess

“Moon Beans” spiced with Pipian Rojo Mole from Mano y Metate makes an exceptionally festive vegetarian dish! photo by Muffin Burgess

My grandmother always served us black-eyed peas for New Year’s telling us grandkids that the number of them we ate was the number of dollars we would make in the new year.  In her tradition of black-eyed peas, as New Year’s approaches, I like to fix a Southwestern version of black-eyes:  Moon Beans!   For a festive flavor try moon beans with pipian rojo mole as a centerpiece dish, adding the prepared mole powder from Mano y Metate in the last half hour of bean cooking.

Solar-cooked Moon Beans can be downright celestial.  If December 30 or 31 is going to be sunny, and if you know you will be “hanging out” available for re-orienting your solar oven every ½ hour or hour, soak your Moon Beans the night before, change the water next day, and in a saucepan with plenty of drinking water add a ham hock and/or chopped onions and veggies to your Moon Beans.  A few hours of solar cookery will provide a New Year’s home-made feast worth a million dollars.

Happy Holiday-time with Heirloom Beans– and Bon appetit from Martha Burgess!  http://www.flordemayoarts.com