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Also known as black-seeded beans or simply black beans, turtle beans are beans that are distinguished by their black skin over a light tan or cream flesh. Turtle beans tend to be somewhat smaller than other types of beans, and offer a slightly sweet taste to any recipe that calls for the inclusion of the beans. Native to South America, the beans are now grown in several parts of Mexico and the Caribbean, and are often included in many different Mexican and Latin American recipes.
There is some difference of opinion as to what constitutes true turtle beans. Some feel that any type of bean with a black skin can rightfully be referred to as a turtle bean. Others hold that there are several varieties of black beans, with turtle beans being somewhat smaller and a little sweeter than the rest. A different school of thought holds that only black beans that are dried and stored for later use truly qualify as some type of turtle bean, while others believe that as long as the bean has a black skin and a light colored meat, it does not matter if the beans are fresh, canned, or dried.
The beans tend to retain the most flavor when prepared fresh or when dried beans are used. When using the dried type, many country cooks recommend placing the beans into a large bowl and covering the beans completely with water. The beans should be allowed to soak overnight for the best results in terms of consistency.
Before cooking the turtle beans, they should be thoroughly drained, and rinsed in a colander. Once the beans are ready for cooking, they should be placed into a pot. There are a number of different ways to season the beans, including the use of a small amount of salt and a little bit of olive oil. For people who prefer the taste of meat in their beans, adding a small amount of ham is usually enough to provide the ideal amount of seasoning.
There are many different ways to serve the prepared beans. One approach is to serve the cooked turtle beans on a bed of fried or white rice. The beans can also be used in the preparation of homemade chili, or as one of the ingredients in making a sauce for various types of pasta. It is also possible to use the cooked beans in a variety of casseroles and soups, making it easy to make use of any cooked beans that may be leftover from previous meals.