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!
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.
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.
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.
Here’s a hearty Tia Marta recipe for enlivening a holiday season buffet:
BARBECUED Heirloom SCARLET RUNNER BEAN Dippers
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.
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!
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.
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.
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!
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!