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Anasazi beans are small, kidney-shaped, purple and white beans in the same family as pinto beans. They are used in Latin American and Southwestern cuisines, and have a mild, sweet flavor that pairs with a mealy texture. The beans cook much more quickly than regular beans, and they appear to have been a part of the human diet in the Americas for thousands of years. They are also marketed as New Mexico cave beans, Aztec beans, New Mexico appaloosas, and Jacob's Cattle beans.
The story of Anasazi beans varies, depending on who is telling it. In popular mythology, the beans were uncovered by an anthropologist, who discovered a 1,500 year old tightly sealed jar of them at a dig in New Mexico. Some of the beans germinated, and the new variety of bean entered cultivation again. Since most botanists agree that most beans are unable to germinate after approximately 50 years, it is more probable that the beans remained in constant cultivation in the Southwest, probably in Native American gardens, and that they were picked up by companies looking for new “boutique beans.”
Beans have played an important historic role in Native American cuisine because they are an important source of protein and other nutrients. They also enrich the soil they are grown in, and they are commonly grown in tandem with crops such as corn. Under extensive cultivation, beans and corn are literally grown side by side, with the beans using the corn as a trellis to grow on. After being harvested, the beans are dried for use throughout the year.
When selecting Anasazi beans to eat, cooks should look for plump, glossy specimens without signs of withering or disease. They should store them in a cool dry place until they are ready for use. The beans should be washed before being soaked for approximately eight hours or overnight. After soaking, the beans can be cooked in an assortment of recipes including soup, chili, and burritos. Their slightly sweet flavor makes them excellent for spicy Latin American food.
In any recipe which calls for pinto beans, Anasazi beans can be used as a replacement. They can also be used as refried beans, or combined with other beans for rich bean soups and stews. Like all legumes, they should be thoroughly cooked to prevent gastrointestinal distress and the sometimes socially unacceptable symptoms that accompany it.