Chili is the perfect one-pot winter meal. It’s quick and warming and possible to make with locally grown dried beans and sweet potatoes.
You can find the local dried beans in co-ops and winter markets. Look for Jacob’s Cattle (with white and red spots), Marfax (tiny brown beans), Swedish Brown beans (larger brown beans), and cranberry (a deep maroon). They all add color and flavor to any soup or stew. Because all dried beans are relatively neutral in flavor, they may be used interchangeably, so if the local heirloom beans are not available, any of the common varieties will do nicely.
The biggest difference is between canned and dried. Canned beans, as convenient as they are, seldom taste as good as those cooked at home. But there are times when they save the day. I prefer the brands from natural food companies, such as Eden. Though more expensive than others, the textures are better and beans are far less salty.
Soaking beans before cooking reintroduces moisture, shortens the cooking time, and makes it easy to remove the over-dry or immature beans that float to the surface. Soaking also helps make the beans more digestible.
For an overnight soak, cover the beans with water at least four times their volume and allow to stand at room temperature overnight (or at least for four hours).
Lacking time, quick-soak the beans by covering them with four times their volume of water, bringing to a boil for a full minute, then allowing them to stand for one hour.
Once the beans have soaked, pour off the soaking water, cover with 2 inches of fresh water and bring to a rolling boil for about 10 minutes. Scoop off the scum from the surface. Then reduce the heat and simmer the beans until they are soft and creamy, but not falling apart.
The cooking time will depend on the type of bean and its maturity, but most take between 45 minutes and 1 ½ hours. Once the beans are cooked, drain before using. They can be held in the refrigerator for several days in a covered container.
This chili recipe works well with both freshly cooked and canned beans. I like using a mix of beans for color, but a single variety works equally well. The chili tastes even better the next day.
Beth Dooley is the author of “In Winter’s Kitchen.” Find her at bethdooleyskitchen.com.