Modern Masa Cherokee Bean Bread

Traditional Cherokee bean bread (tuya asuyi gadu) is boiled, not baked. Marrying this moist, dumpling-like corn-and-bean bread with readily accessible masa harina makes it easy for anyone to experience this beloved Native dish at home. Most commonly served alongside hearty soups and stews, it’s also a satisfying plant-based main dish paired with a seasonal salad. Our thanks to chef Nico Albert, a member of Cherokee Nation, for sharing this bread with us.

Prep
45 mins
Bake
45 mins
Total
4 hrs
Yield
15 individual bean breads
Modern Masa Cherokee Bean Bread - select to zoom
Modern Masa Cherokee Bean Bread - select to zoom
Modern Masa Cherokee Bean Bread - select to zoom

Instructions

  1. To cook the beans: Place the beans and water in a 3-quart saucepan.

  2. Bring the beans to a boil, reduce the heat to a low simmer, then cover and cook for about 2 hours, adding water as needed if the water level falls below the top of the beans. Cooking time will vary depending on the freshness and type of bean used, so if they’re not tender after 2 hours, continue to cook and taste every 15 to 30 minutes until they’re creamy all the way through.

  3. When the beans are tender remove them from the heat and set aside. Beans may be prepared the night before and refrigerated in their broth overnight if desired; reheat the beans and broth to a simmer before preparing the bread.

  4. To make the bean bread: In a large mixing bowl, combine the masa harina and salt.

  5. Strain the cooked beans, reserving their liquid.

  6. Add the beans to the masa mixture and gently stir until evenly distributed.

  7. Add 2 1/2 cups (568g) of the reserved hot bean broth to the bowl. Fold the mixture together until all the flour is incorporated and a uniform, sticky dough forms; it should be about the consistency of chocolate chip cookie dough. If needed, add extra broth a few tablespoons at a time until the desired texture is achieved.

  8. Fill a large pot (at least 7 to 8 quarts) about three-quarters of the way full of water. Bring to a boil over medium-high heat while shaping the breads.

  9. Use your hands to scoop about 1/3 cup (94g) portions of the lukewarm dough. Shape the dough into balls and flatten slightly into ovals about 3” wide x 1” thick.

  10. Wrap each bread in a corn husk, folding the husk around it on all sides to completely enclose it. If the husks are on the small side, use two husks per bread to ensure all sides are covered.

  11. Pull a thin strip from another corn husk and tie it around the bread to secure the wrapper. Use kitchen twine if the strips of corn husk prove difficult.

  12. Repeat with the remaining breads.

  13. Carefully place the breads into the pot of boiling water. Allow the water to come back to a boil, then reduce to a simmer.

  14. Simmer the breads, uncovered, for about 45 minutes. Check for doneness by removing a bread from the water and carefully pulling back the husk; if the husk pulls away from the bread easily, it's done. If the husk sticks to the bread, it needs a little more time.

  15. When the breads are cooked, drain off the water and allow the breads to drain and cool a bit before serving.

  16. Storage information: Store breads, wrapped individually in corn husks (to prevent them from sticking together), in the refrigerator in an airtight container for up to a week; freeze for longer storage.

Tips from our Bakers

  • This recipe is a great way to use leftover beans! If you have 2 cups of cooked beans with their cooking broth, feel free to use them instead of cooking beans from scratch. You’ll need to reheat them with at least 2 1/2 cups (568g) of water to have enough broth for the bread.

  • Masa harina (translation: dough flour) is flour made from corn that’s been soaked in a solution of slaked lime (nixtamalized) to loosen its hull and soften it, which improves its texture and helps release its nutrients. The soaked corn is ground into a paste (masa), dried, and then ground again, this time into a fine flour. Due to the corn’s special treatment, neither cornmeal nor corn flour are good substitutes for masa harina.