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Indigenous Cooking: Nopales Tepary Bean Salad

tepary beans
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nopales-tepary bean salad
Nopales-tepary bean salad | Photo: Deborah Small

Watch our documentary Tending The Wild on KCET TV, February 7 at 9:00 p.m. 

We are the Chia Cafe Collective, a grassroots group of southern California tribal members and collaborators committed to the revitalization of Native foods, medicines, culture, and community. Our work honors the vast traditional knowledge and spiritual relationship to the land, and the nutritive and medicinal bounty the land offers us. Through workshops, classes, demonstrations, and native foods celebrations, we focus on ways to re-incorporate Native food plants into our daily diets to take back responsibility for our health and well-being. We hope our recipes can help you reconnect with the land through gathering, gardening, and cooking Native foods.

We promote an ethic of gathering and cultivating native plants in a manner that is sustainable, and we stress the importance of preserving native plants, plant communities, habitats, and the land for the future generations of all species.

I was introduced to tepary beans years ago through the Tohono O’odham people. I love them. I even grew some in my front yard. I like to use them because they’re one of the traditional beans that is still used today. They’re a great diabetic food, high in fiber. I remember that [the late Cahuilla elder] Alvino Siva said we had our own traditional beans here in California. He even described what they looked like. He said you could sometimes find them in the wild, but I’ve never seen them.


1 C dry white tepary beans
1 C dry brown tepary beans
[see instructions below for cooking tepary beans]
4 fresh, non-GMO ears of corn (or 2 cups frozen or canned corn)
1 C onion, chopped
3 garlic cloves (or to taste), chopped fine
2 T olive oil (or other healthy oil)
1 C cactus pads, cooked and chopped
1/2 C black beans, cooked or canned
1/2 C kidney beans, cooked or canned
1/2 C pinto beans, cooked or canned
salt and pepper


If using fresh corn: Remove kernels from the cob. Stir-fry onions in olive oil about 3 or 4 minutes until translucent.

Add garlic and fresh corn. Cook until corn is soft. Chop cooked nopales into small cubes and add. Stir until mixture is heated.

If using frozen or canned corn: Stir-fry onions in olive oil about 3 or 4 minutes until translucent. Add garlic. Stir-fry for another 1 or 2 minutes. Then add the corn and cooked nopales. Stir until mixture is heated.

In a large bowl, mix the tepary, black, kidney, and pinto beans. Then add the stir-fried onions, garlic, corn, and cooked and chopped nopales (cactus pads). Toss together using the olive oil they cooked in as the dressing. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

Yields 6 cups (6 to 12 servings).

A note on tepary beans from the Chia Café Collective: 

One of the most drought resistant crops anywhere, the tepary bean has been grown in the Sonoran desert area with minimal irrigation for thousands of years. In their Cahuilla ethnobotany book, Temalpakh, Saubel and Bean write that tepary beans (tevinymalem) were cultivated by the Cahuilla as part of their trade economy.

According to anthropologist Mike Wilken, elders of the Paipai tribe in Santa Catarina, Baja California, Mexico remember eating tepary beans as children, which they called yurimun. Their late elder Benito Peralta recalled that they ate white, brown, and other colors of cultivated tepary beans.

According to Native Seeds/SEARCH, the normally high yield tepary beans have been documented to produce lower yields with increasing amounts of water. Their roots grow twice as deep as other beans and their growing time is shorter.

The high-protein, high-fiber tepary beans are high in soluble fiber, low on the glycemic index and can help regulate blood sugar levels. The nutrient dense beans are also higher in calcium than other beans. In our unpredictable, climate changing world, we all should pay attention to this little bean whose adaptations have enabled it to survive fierce heat and drought conditions.

You can try growing your own tepary beans. In their effort to support seed sovereignty and food security, Native Seeds/SEARCH sells 33 varieties of wild and cultivated tepary bean seeds.

Cooking tepary beans

Tepary beans are smaller but denser than other beans, and they take longer to cook. First, sort through the beans to remove any pebbles or dirt. Wash thoroughly and then presoak overnight before cooking (both white and brown tepary beans have the same soak time). We bring a big pot of water to a boil, turn off, and add the beans. This is really important if you’ve stored your beans for a long time.

In the morning, drain them, then place them back in the pot. Cover them with fresh water, bring to a boil, and simmer for 2-4 hours until tender. The beans can also can be cooked in a crockpot. Wait until they are fully cooked before adding salt and seasonings. The beans double in size after cooking.

Banner: tepary beans. Photo: Deborah Small


Co-produced by KCETLink and the Autry Museum of the American West, the Tending the Wild series is presented in association with the Autry's groundbreaking California Continued exhibition. 

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