One unexpected consequence of this year and a half of relentless home cooking is that I’ve developed an affinity for ingredient deep dives. It usually goes as follows: I’ll stumble upon a new-to-me or long-overlooked ingredient, and spend a week or so cooking it in as many ways as possible using (mostly) what I have on hand.
A few months back, while sleepwalking through my weekly grocery store trip, an unassuming bag of dried kidney beans jolted me to attention. Why do I almost never cook with kidney beans when I’ve never met a bean I don’t like? I wondered, hopefully not out loud.
I’ve never been all that into chili, so I decided to start my kidney bean journey a bit further afield—in Afghanistan via lubya, a sweet tomato curry infused with coriander, dried mint, and caramelized onions. A few days later, I went somewhere near Northern Italy, cooking down the kidney beans with the minestrone-esque flavors of cabbage, carrots, farro, and a Parmesan cheese rind.
When I posted my little kidney-bean diptych on Instagram, Yoshi Yamada, friend and chef/owner of fun-loving Indian restaurant Superkhana International in Chicago, chimed in to profess his love of kidney beans, calling them by their Hindi name, rajma (which, by the way, is also the name of a North Indian stew starring the titular ingredient). Our caption exchange sparked a real-life chat during which we waxed poetic on this special bean that is often, inconceivably, overlooked in a lot of households.