By Brenda Norrell

Foods for Health

Tohono O’odham say the Milky Way is composed of tepary beans sprinkled across the sky.

On the Tohono O’odham Nation, delicious tepary beans are the bedrock of new cooperative farming projects, a new café, and an award-winning O’odham student recipe. The ancient O’odham desert beans, both white and brown teparies, help fight diabetes by keeping blood sugar levels stable.

At the Desert Rain Cafe in Sells, Arizona, tepary beans, which have the good taste of the earth, are on the menu in stews, atop salads and in tamales. White tepary beans are served in savory stew with chicken and green chiles. The brown tepary beans are also served with Ojibwe wild rice and quinoa over mixed salad greens. The hearty beans are served alongside cholla buds at the cafe in the Tohono O’odham capitol.

 “Traditional foods are healthy foods. They help regulate blood sugar levels and control diabetes. We use syrup from the agave as our sweetener, mesquite flour in our baked goods and olive oil for cooking,” says Desert Rain Café, a project of Tohono O’odham Community Action (TOCA).

Prickly pear, mesquite or chia seed smoothies are on the menu, along with other favorites like green corn tamales, fresh ground corn tamales:

Tohono O’odham Community Action Club students recently created an award-winning recipe and claimed top honors in the National Healthy School Campaign with tepary beans. The students were Ross R. Miguel, Yvette Ventura and Zade Arnold. The menu was: tepary bean quesadillas, baby spinach and pear salad with carrot vinaigrette, and yogurt peanut butter fruit dip.

“The quesadilla is something we have at school but we wanted to make a better, healthier one. We love spinach and carrots so the salad idea just popped into our heads. When we saw peanut butter and yogurt on the list, we thought it would be good together,” the students said.

“Tepary beans, approved as a substitute for red beans, is the most significant traditional food of the Tohono O’odham people and is locally sourced from Papago Farms in Pisinemo, Arizona — our farmer there is Noland Johnson. We got our carrots and spinach from the Student Learning Farm at Tohono O’odham Community College in Sells, Arizona — there our farmers are Paul Buseck and Clifford Pablo,” the students said.

Read more atbout TOCA at:

MARKET:  The San Xavier Co-operative Farm, south of Tucson on Tohono O’odham land, sells tepary beans, cholla buds, melons in season, and other traditional foods: San Xavier Cooperative Farm, 8100 S. Oidak Wog, Tucson. (520) 295-3774.

COOKBOOK:  TOCA’s cookbook, “From I’Itoi’s Garden, is available at

SEEDS:  The heat and drought-tolerant beans are available for planting from Native Seeds Search in Tucson, which provides Native American farmers with complimentary seed packets each year. There’s Cocopah White, Kickapoo White and Hopi White, Tohono O’odham brown and white teparies, Yoeme Brown, Yoreme White and speckled varieties for planting during the summer monsoon rains. Native Seed Search catalogue:

Tucson Native Seeds Store recently moved. After twelve years on Fourth Avenue, the new store is at 3061 N. Campbell Avenue, just south of Ft. Lowell.  

Tepary beans are especially delicious with wild game.

RECIPES:  TOCA: O’odham White Tepary Bean Stew

Courtesy of Frances Manuel, San Pedro Village

 This rich, filling stew is ideal for slow cooking in a crock pot.

 1 cup of dried white tepary beans, rinsed and picked through

10 cups of water

1 teaspoon salt

1 pound oxtails, beef shortribs, deer, or rabbit

 Place beans, water and 1 teaspoon of salt in a stockpot. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer, covered, for one hour and a half. Add meat to the bean mixture, cover and cook for one more hour, or until beans are tender and meat is falling off the bone. If using a crockpot, place all ingredients in the pot and cook on high for 6-8 hours, or until beans are soft and meat is falling off the bone.


 1 C dried tepary beans, rinsed and drained

2 tsp vegetable oil

1 small onion, chopped

1 small red bell pepper, chopped

2 cloves garlic, minced

½ tsp each of cumin, lemon, basil, and salt

¼ tsp Mexican oregano

1 chipotle chile (smoked jalapeño) optional

2 tomatoes, chopped

In large pan cover beans with 3 cups water and bring to a boil. Turn off heat and stir. Cover and let sit 1 hour, stir, then simmer covered 2-3 hours until cooked. Sauté onion, bell pepper, and garlic in oil until tender. Add to beans along with remaining ingredients. Simmer covered 1 hour.

Native Seeds Search: Herbed Tepary Dip:

¾ cup dried tepary beans
1 tablespoon fresh lemon juice
1 large clove garlic, finely chopped
1 teaspoon olive oil
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon dried oregano
pinch dried red pepper
additional pinch dried oregano

Sort and rinse beans and place in one quart of cold water in a lidded pot. Soak in refrigerator for 12 hours or overnight. After soaking, drain beans and place in lidded pot with another quart of water. Simmer, covered, one to two hours or until tender. Drain excess liquid from beans and refrigerate overnight.

Puree beans, lemon juice, garlic, olive oil, cumin, and oregano until smooth. Transfer mixture to a serving bowl and sprinkle with dried red pepper and additional oregano. Serve with crackers, crudités, or pita chips. Makes about 1-1/4 cups.

More Native Seed Search tepary recipes: