White Kidney: The Bean with the Answers

Rarely is there truth in spam mail. But then I got an intriguing email from “White Kidney” with the subject line, “The Bean With The Answers.” I gave this a bit of thought and realized that yes, White Kidney, you ARE the bean with the answers. You are the bean with the answers to what I am going to cook for dinner.

You are also the bean that I have stashed in my freezer.

It’s going to be cold, grey and generally the way it’s supposed to be in the Northeast in February. And I want to cuddle up with a White Kidney.

But dear White Kidney, what exactly will I do with you? The depths of winter call for some comforting and familiar, but nothing boring, please. So why not shake things up a bit and make a winter white chili?

Without tomatoes or ground beef, and an unconventional dash of cinnamon, this dish will probably offend chili purists. But then again, I don’t know if I’ve ever had “real” chili, which apparently consists solely of beef, tomatoes and chiles. I’ve also never been to Texas where this dish supposedly originated, so I’m going to just go off on my own chili tangent and adapt to my chilly surroundings.

The Beans

Buy canned beans if you must; I certainly won’t judge you. Canned beans are convenient and cheap. However, dry beans are an even bigger bang for your buck. For example, a pound of dried beans is about $2.50, while a can is $1.89. It’s not a big price difference, right? Consider though, that a can of beans is only 3 or 4 servings, while a one pound bag is 12 servings.

Also, if you cook your own beans you will be able to control the texture. With canned beans you get a consistent texture: mush. If you cook your own beans you will discover a whole range of bean textures, from al dente to mush. We like choices, don’t we? The point is that you have some control of the outcome, which is always a good thing.

Believe it or not, cooking beans is not a huge pain in the ass. Sure, it’s more involved than using a can opener. But, no, you don’t have to soak them overnight. I make a whole bunch of beans at once and store them in the freezer for future use.

Here’s how:

Pour one pound of beans into a fine mesh sieve or colander. If using a colander, make sure your beans are bigger than the holes so you don’t spill the beans (sorry, I couldn’t help it).

Rinse under cold water and pick out any random debris like twigs, small pebbles, etc. Sometimes these things end up in dried beans. I don’t know why. Also remove any sad, shriveled, split or deformed beans.

Place beans into a large pot or Dutch oven and add enough water to cover, plus two additional inches. You don’t want them to be drowning, so don’t be tempted to fill the pot to the top.

Place over medium-high heat and bring to a low boil. Once boiling, reduce heat to low to medium-low, so that there are a few bubbles rising to the surface every few seconds.

Cooking time depends on bean type. Refer to this handy reference from the Bean Institute for times. My White Kidneys took a good hour to cook, but it was mostly unattended. Just check on them periodically and add additional water as needed to ensure they are fully submerged throughout the cooking process.

Once your beans have reached the short end of the cooking time, check the texture. If they are to your liking, remove from heat. If not, keep going and check occasionally.

Once done, drain and use immediately. Or, freeze in small containers with a little bit of the cooking water. I use small half-quart plastic takeout containers for storage.

Winter White Chili

Sometimes inspiration is found in strange places. This Winter White Chili is as unconventional as its spam mail origins. Just call it a chicken and bean stew if you’re from Texas.

Hello? Is it me you’re looking for?

2 Tbsp olive oil
1 large sweet onion, chopped
4 large garlic cloves, chopped
1 Tbsp ground cumin
1 ½ tsp dried oregano
1/2 tsp dried crushed red pepper (I used a small dried habanero left over from the summer)
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1 pound boneless skinless chicken thighs, cut into 1-inch pieces
5 cups white kidney beans (if using canned beans, 3 15-ounce cans), reserving ½ cup of bean liquid
1 cup homemade chicken stock (or canned stock/broth)
One 7-ounce can diced green chilies (I used 2 Tbsp of frozen Hatch chiles, care of some globetrotting, spice-loving friends)
1 cup corn kernels (fresh or frozen)
3/4 cup full-fat Greek yogurt
Chopped fresh cilantro and avocado slices for garnish

In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat oil in over medium heat.
Add onion, garlic, cumin, oregano, cinnamon and dried red pepper. Cook until onions are translucent, about 5 minutes. Add chilies. Move onion mixture to one side of pan and add chicken chunks. Cook chicken until browned, about 5 minutes. Add beans, stock, corn and reserved bean liquid. Simmer until chicken is tender and cooked through, about 10 minutes. Stir in yogurt to combine and adjust seasonings to taste.
Serve with cilantro and avocado slices.

Adapted from Bon Appetit’s White Bean Chili

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