I was shopping in Hattiesburg, in the bean aisle. Usually, there is nothing surprising or unusual to be found–I am reasonably certain that we have tried about every bean sold in Southern Mississippi at least once. Beans are cheap, easy to prepare, and pretty tasty too.
It’s not really bean season yet, but since I’m working on a new cookbook project that uses some, I was going to be cooking more beans than usual for this still-too-hot-for-soup weather. I’m certain, just like my neighbors, that cooler weather is just around the corner. After all, they have already gotten some snow in the northern tier of the country. Surely our long, hot, and humid summer is about to draw to a close as well!
There, on the bottom shelf though, I found a bean that I didn’t remember ever seeing before. It was labeled “Mayocoba” beans, and there were three or four different brands offered of this mystery bean.
Sized and shaped similar to a pinto bean, it looked like a natural for chili, and since I am naturally curious…I bought a pound to take home with me. In the Southwest, there are many beans offered commercially for sale that never make it to Mississippi, such as pink beans and Anasazi beans. I suspected that this was a variety not unlike them, and much more common in other areas of the country, if I did my research.
It turns out that they are a relatively “new” variety, although their type has been around for a millenia or more. It’s a “yellow” bean–although I don’t see a hint of yellow in their color as a dried bean. More like a pale tan or murky cream colored, darker than navy and Great Northern, but far paler than pink or pinto beans.
Once home, I could search for information about the mystery bean. It seems to have popped up in the coastal region of Mexico, and may or may not have been a local variety crossbred with imported Peruvian yellow beans. It’s supposed to hold its shape better than pinto beans for chili, but have a very similar flavor and nutritional content. It’s also cooked identically to pinto beans.
So what does that mean? It means you should soak them, but if you are like me, 9 out of 10 times, you don’t bother. They just take a bit longer to cook then. Don’t even dream of trying to cook these beans to make Creole style creamy beans though–they will NOT break down into that familiar near-puree texture.
For chili, they are fantastic. It means you can simmer that pot of chili overnight in your slow cooker, then let it simmer all day too, without it turning into a chili paste. Of course, you can also opt to do it the way many members of my family swear by as well. For this, the “chili” part is cooked separately, using meat, stock, chili powder and other seasonings, until there is a thick red chili without beans. (Be warned, if you see my uncle doing it, it WILL be blistering spicy-hot!) The beans are cooked separately, typically with a ham hock or some salt pork, and seasoned with nothing more exotic than salt and pepper. The individual diner then can combine the red chili and beans in their own bowl, to their own personal tastes.
Chili is something that almost everyone makes, with as many variations on the dish as there are cooks that make it. From Cincinatti chili, served with spaghetti, to chili made with kidney beans and tomatoes, and even my step-mother’s chili with mushrooms in it…there is a version sure to please.
Here is a recipe for Chicken Red Chili that is economical, tasty, and good to warm up with. It’s a recipe typical of Arizona and New Mexico. If you want more heat, don’t use cayenne! Instead, add some hot or chipotle chili powder for a more authentic taste. This makes a big pot of chili, but it freezes well for up to three months. This rather large recipe is also great to take to church suppers and potlucks.
Chicken Red Chili
- 5 lbs. chicken hindquarters
- 3 lbs. pinto or mayocobo beans, picked of debris and rinsed
- 2 onions, finely chopped
- 2 tbsp. vegetable oil
- 1/2 c. chili powder (use one without salt)
- 1 1/2 tsp. ground cumin
- 1 tsp. oregano
- 1 tbsp. salt
Heat oil in large stockpot over medium high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, for about 5 minutes or until onions are soft. Add chicken, beans, spices, and water to cover. Bring mixture just to a boil, reduce heat to a simmer and cover. Simmer for about 2 hours or until chicken is tender.
Using a slotted spoon, remove cooked chicken from stock pot and place in a deep dish to cool. Cover and continue cooking beans until tender, about 2-3 hours. When chicken is cool, remove and discard bones and skin. Break meat into small pieces and refrigerate until beans are tender and broth begins to thicken slightly.
Taste and adjust seasonings in chili. Add cooked chicken to mixture, and cook for about 15 minutes. Serve with sopapillas, fry bread, tortillas, crackers or corn bread.