Tarwi, Chocho, or Lupini: The slow-your-roll bean
There are only two beans, or legumes, that are actually indigenous to the Peruvian Andes. One is called "pallar," which is in the lima bean family, and the other is called "tarwi" in Quechua, "chocho" in Spanish, and "lupini" in English. They are often used in cold salads, as the protein in ceviche, or as a porridge for a side dish. The first time I ever saw and tasted these little beans was when visiting a town called Yungay and buying some ceviche serrano, highland ceviche, made with these legumes instead of fish. It makes my mouth water just thinking about it!
Tarwi has been toted recently as yet another superfood from the Andes. It is indigenous to Ecuador, Peru and Bolivia. In Peru the most common areas where these plants flourish would be in valleys in higher altitudes. One of those regions is where my grandparents originally come from called Ancash. It's not surprising, then, that first time I tried tarwi was in this region, in Yungay (see photo below).
The tarwi plants produce beautiful purple flowers and large bean pods. When it is time to harvest, the stalks are cut down and left to dry, with the pods still attached. When shaking the dry plants, they rattle just like a musical instrument. After drying, the beans are then removed from the pods and stored until they are ready to be prepared. The beans are, before processing, quite bitter because of the alkaloids contained in them. If not properly prepared not only will they continue to taste bitter but could also make you nauseous and weak. While it takes some work to prepare the bean, it's a foodstuff packed with nutrients. It is low in starch, high in protein, high in fiber, and contains quite a few vitamins and minerals. It is believed to help reduce high blood pressure and is a super heart healthy legume. I'm going to talk about my first time processing these beans below. It took a while! Let me be specific, it took me 11 days all together to prepare them.
I had never seen tarwi sold locally here in the Boston-area, until very recently. A couple weeks ago, I hosted a lecture and food demonstration at a local university about indigenous foods from the Andes. While my main focus was on dishes with quinoa, potatoes, and choclo corn, I decided I wanted to expose people to these beans in a traditional ceviche serrano, which I have made a variation of before on this blog. Admittedly, in my own excitement of finding them near me, I had forgotten about the research I had done the year before where I read it takes about a week to prepare them. Yikes!
On the night of the event that I was hosting, I opened three 1-lb bags of the tarwi to prepare for ceviche serrano. I couldn't wait to share these beans wit the public and with my fellow cooks. We washed them and then put them in a pot to boil. After about 40 minutes I noticed they had begun to soften a smidge, but were still pretty hard. I took one out to see how much time we might still need and the flavor overwhelmed my entire palate. It was like I had taken the darkest roasted coffee bean paste and slathered it all over my tongue. And the taste lingered for a LONG time. I'm sure I made the ugliest of faces. This prompted everyone else to try one too, out of curiosity. I was working with several other cooks for this event and all of them said the same, "I don't think we can use these." The director of the Gastronomy program at this university went back to her office to do a bit of research and came back and said something like, "I hate to tell you this but it says that it takes 5-7 days to soak and rinse these before they are edible." Then I recalled that I had done this research last year and completely forgotten about this part! Sheesh. So, after a few quick boils and changing of the water, I had to make the call to go pick up some canned beans instead to use, as the tarwi were still insanely bitter. I decided to take them home with me. I wanted to honor them and give them the proper attention they deserved. There was no way I was going to toss these precious babies, abandon them like they had no value.
Once home, I rinsed the beans, covered them with water, strained them, and covered them again 3 times a day for 10 days. It was then I noticed that not only was the bitterness only slightly detectible in the aftertaste but also the beans had absorbed all the water necessary to make them ready to eat. They are not cooked a second time, only the first boil was necessary to soften them. I found a video to help me with the rest of the process, de-shelled them, and prepared them for the ceviche. De-shelling 3-lbs of tarwi (which now doubled in size and filled a very large salad bowl) took about 2.5 hours. No joke. My mom offered to come help me with the last of it because my fingers were pruny and cold from all the moisture, my back was killing me, and I was almost ready to give up. At least I finally got to watch that movie about Mister Rogers!
I called my dad to tell him about the intense amount of work I had to do to prepare the tarwi and he said, "Krysia, you can't be doing that right. There's no way you have to do that much work for a dish so simple and cheap. How much did you pay for the ceviche serrano [when we were in Peru]?" I answered, "I don't know maybe 2 soles?" (which is the equivalent to $.50). Then I went on to say, "But doesn't that tell us something, Daddy? That our indigenous foods are not valued in the same way? Look at how much work went into this dish!" And I believe this to be true. As urban residents in the U.S. we rarely have any concept of how much work goes into processing our foods. Quinoa, amaranth, beans, dried and nixtamalized corn, they all take tremendous effort to prepare for consumption, and here we are just picking up a bag of quinoa at Costco as if some machine just did it all. Did it? Do we known this? Have we even questioned that? In the case of many indigenous ingredients, at least the really good quality ones, many of these products are still processed by hand, at least partially. I am glad I took the tarwi home so I could truly understand the value of this bean.
The one thing I will say I learned during this process is how to slow my mind down and not stress about the journey to get to the end. Towards the tail-end of de-shelling, however, I did find myself getting impatient because I could see the end of the road and I had to make myself slow-my-roll. I'm glad m mother offered to come knock the rest out because it ended up being really nice to spend time with her. Good food, healthy food, it should take us time to make. It helps us spennd time with one another, understand the value of our food, and maybe even make it taste better. My mother had never tried ceviche serrano and when she tasted it, she gobbled it all up!
It is possible to find these beans already processed in jars and in a brine, ready to eat. I may try to find them in jars next time and see how they taste. When freshly made, the texture of the beans is very similar to the way edamame, or steamed soy beans, feel. There's a little bit of a bite to the bean. The flavor is nice and nutty and they really do lend themselves perfectly to a cold salad. I'll try and check out the jarred variety soon and let you know. In the meantime, I'm going to drop a quickie recipe below for the more traditional ceviche serrano. Try it from scratch if you dare! Bwahahaha! Haha. Buen provecho, amig@s!
Traditional Ceviche Serrano - Serves 6
1 pound prepared tarwi beans
1/2 - 1 large red onion, sliced thin
1 quart cherry tomatoes, diced
1/4-1/2 bunch cilantro, chopped
Spicy pepper of choice, finely diced (Optional, traditionally rocoto pepper is used)
Salt and pepper to taste
Prepare tarwi beans (see below).
Thinly slice red onion and wash three times in cold water. This will reduce the bitterness.
Squeeze limes and retain juice.
Chop cilantro roughly.
Combine all ingredients in a large bowl. Add salt and pepper to taste. Toss to coat. Listo!
NOTE: Take dry tarwi beans and wash them. Add to pot and cover with water. Bring to a boil. Strain. In a bowl, add the tarwi and cover with water. Change the water 2-3 times a day for 5-7 days (this is standard, though mine took a bit longer). If it is cool in your house, they can stay out at room temp. If it is warmer, place in refrigerator. There will still be a slight bitterness but barely detectible. You can leave the skin on or take it off. It's a little less bitter with skin removed.
ANOTHER NOTE: Traditionally, ceviche is also served with choclo (large corn), camote (sweet potato), and cancha (toasted corn). See my other blog post for instructions of how to prepare these side elements.