Oh, beans! Such an old school food. Funny, though, when you look at dry beans, they don’t even look like food. (See this about bean fear) They’re hard, they don’t really smell good, (or bad) and well, let’s face it. People fear them, even though they are cheap and nutritious. They fear that cooking beans is too tricky or takes too long, and they end up relegating the sack of dry beans to that corner of the pantry labeled “Only If I’m Starving.”
Cooking your own beans, as opposed to opening a can of beans, really isn’t hard. It does take a little forethought, of which the Damsel admits she is often in short supply. But the hands-on time is small. Really.
This morning, the Damsel read a recipe on one of her favorite blogs for white chili and decided to springboard off it for a lesson on beans. Let’s take away some of that bean fear.
If you think of it early enough, it’s nice to soak beans first. To do this, you simply cover beans with water and walk away. That’s it. For this recipe, put about 3 cups in a pot and run some water over them. Don’t fuss. Cooking with beans is not an exact science. (By the way, a pound is about 2 cups)
About 3 hours before you want to eat, drain the water from the pot, leaving the beans in the colander. After soaking they look a little plumper, a little wrinklier, but not so much that you’d think, WHOA! The Change!
At some point along the way, cook some chicken. 1 whole chicken breast would do, or for even better flavor, use a bone-in type. Just cover with water and simmer until cooked through, then shred. You want to end up with around 3 cups of cooked, shredded chicken.
Dice a medium onion and three or four cloves of garlic. To peel garlic the easy way, just smash it with the flat side of a knife. The papery peel comes right off. Then dice. This is the Old School way to deal with garlic, and it’s lovely because it doesn’t get extra kitchen stuff dirty, such as a garlic press.
Put a glob of butter in a pot, perhaps the same one you soaked the beans in. The Damsel is all about making fewer dirty dishes. Add a matching amount of olive oil. Maybe 3 tablespoons of each, but don’t fuss. Turn the flame to medium, and in goes the onion and garlic.
After the onion and garlic have gotten accustomed to each other, add the drained beans. Then add five or six cups of chicken broth, depending on whether you like your chili super thick or soup-like. You could use the water you cooked the chicken in, or you could use something like this:
Class, meet Better Than Bouillon, the Damsel’s favorite way to cheat. This is a paste you stir into water–a handy shortcut to good broth, especially if you’re using boneless chicken. Cooking that stuff makes a very weak broth.
When the beans are nearly tender, add the shredded chicken. How can you tell when they’re tender? Bite one. Soft, but still with a little firmness is perfect, but don’t stress. If they are already quite soft, nothing bad will happen.
The Damsel can’t resist telling you a random bean story here. Apparently, the Knight discovered as a missionary in Denmark, that the words for “bite a bean” are almost exactly the same as “say a prayer” in Danish. Imagine the hilarious confusion for a moment…missionaries asking folks “do you mind if we bite a bean?”…errr ok…
Add between one to three teaspoons of dried cumin. This spice says “chili” even more than chili powder to the Damsel. Just remember, it’s easier to add than subtract. As a matter of fact, subtracting cumin from a pot is downright difficult. Throw in salt and pepper, too, according to your taste.
Now take a cup or so of milk, and add a tablespooon of corn meal. Stir well, and add to the pot. This will thicken it slightly and give it a nice chili-ish flavor. Cook for another ten minutes or so, or until when you “bite a bean” everything seems right.
The Damsel freely admits this is wimpy chili. You could add green chilis, hot peppers, cayenne pepper, etc. It’s up to you and what your dream of the perfect white chili is.
While this cooked, the Damsel’s Monday afternoon crop of piano students drooled over the delicious smell floating from the kitchen. The Damsel cruelly declined to invite them to dinner. It was a purely selfish act, because the Damsel wanted three bowlfuls all to herself.
Topped with grated jack cheese and cilantro, this felt great going down.
Margot is a mom of seven and pretty much crazy from it. Online she's known as the Damsel in Dis Dress and blogs at the Old School and twitters at @the_damsel. Her writing blog can be found at Inklings.