By Gary Nabhan
Tepary beans and prickly pear pads (called “nopalitos in Mexican grocery sections) are among the best “slow release” foods that reduce blood sugar and increase insulin levels in diabetic Native Americans. Both were regularly used by Native American communities in the Desert Southwest and adjacent Mexico, including the O’odham, Yoemem, Nde, and Cucupa. These desert-adapted plants are rich in soluble fibers that slow water loss from their tissues during drought; these same mucilages slow down blood sugar changes in our bodies. This recipe also includes two Native American spices that are anti-oxidants: sumac berries and wild oregano. If unavailable, substitute cinnamon in their stead.
2 lbs. white tepary beans, cleaned, soaked, and boiled until tender
1 lb. of tender prickly pear pads (nopalitos tiernitos), already in strips or diced, with spines removed
4 wild green onions (scallions, shallots or chives), with shoots minced
4 cloves of garlic, minced
4 tsp of ground sumac berries (called simmac in Middle Eastern groceries)
4 tsp of crushed dried “Mexican” wild oregano leaves
6 tsp. of extra virgin oil
2 tsp. of salt
Boil or cook in crockpot the tepary beans until very tender – often one hour longer than what pinto or navy beans require in a crock pot. Remove from heat and drain. In a skillet or wok, heat 1 teaspoon of olive oil, then toss in the diced prickly pear, sauté for 3-5 minutes, then add onions, garlic and oregano. And keep on low heat for another 3 minutes. Pour beans into an oven-worthy (or microwaveable) casserole dish ¼ larger in volume than the bean volume, and then stir into them the prickly pear, onions, garlic, and spices. Pre-heat oven to 300 degrees (or prepare microwave for a five minute low heat program). Pour the remaining olive oil into the beans, and sprinkle ground summac berries over the top. Cover with a lid and bake for one half hour, or microwave for five minutes. Serve hot.