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My Favorite White Bean Chili Recipe

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My Best, Your Best, Whose Best Chili?

Mixtures of meat, beans, peppers, and herbs were known to the Incas, Aztecs, and Mayan Indians during pre-Columbian times. The blending of these elements resulted in what we today call chili, a favorite dish of large numbers of people.

Perhaps the all-time best cooks of chili were the trail cooks who provided the Texas cowboys with sustenance along the dusty drives to railheads in Kansas for shipment to stockyards in Chicago. Uncured beef slaughtered fresh on the trail had a strong flavor, so the good chuck wagon cooks knew to gather fresh wild oregano, onions, chili peppers, and garlic, making their tasty bean brew for tired and hungry cowpokes something to look forward to—not dread.

Nearly every U.S. state thinks its bowl of chili is best. There are multitudes of chili cook-offs and recipe contests. Many states vehemently claim the invention of chili (Texas, New Mexico, or California probably have the rights), and the individual who invented chili is up for eternal debate.

Here's my best Arizona white bean chili, a family favorite!

White Bean Types

The most commonly used white beans are navy beans, also called Yankee beans, Boston beans, Boston navy beans, pea beans, and white pearl beans. The French call these haricot blanc beans. Another white bean choice is the great northern bean, sometimes referred to simply as northerns. Some say great northerns are bland, but in this recipe they are anything but.

Cook Time

Cook timeReady inYields

3 hours

3 hours

4 - 5

Pre-Soak Your Beans

A half pound of bulk northerns will feed four (or maybe more). Or make two meals for two, as the beans taste great warmed up. If you wish to prepare a pound, just double the ingredients.

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Soak the 1/2 pound of beans in 3 cups of water overnight (8 hours). I have heard people say the water must be distilled, but I use tap water and they come out just fine. Then gather your ingredients.


  • 1/2 pound northern beans, soaked and drained
  • 3 cups chicken broth
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/2 tbsp olive oil
  • 1 (4-ounce can) chopped green chilies
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 3/4 tsp dried oregano
  • 1/8 tsp ground cloves
  • 1/8 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 cups diced cooked chicken or turkey
  • 1 1/2 cups grated Monterrey Jack cheese
  • 1 jalapeño or serrano pepper, chopped (optional)

Note: If you don't like spicy, drop the cayenne pepper above which results in a wonderful tasty thick soup.


  1. To a soup pot, add the beans, chicken broth, garlic, and half of the onions. Bring to a boil. Lower the heat and simmer until the beans are very soft, 3 hours or more. As necessary, add more water or thin broth. After 3 hours, test at intervals to make sure the beans are no longer hard or crunchy.
  2. Saute remaining onions in oil until tender. Mix with chiles and seasonings and add to bean mixture. Add chicken and continue to simmer 1 hour. Check seasonings, and add jalapeño or serrano chile for desired level of hotness (see note above regarding spiciness).
  3. Serve topped with grated cheese. Garnish with cilantro, chopped fresh tomato, salsa, chopped scallions, and/or guacamole. Serve with fresh, warmed flour tortillas or tortilla chips.

There is one more plus to this recipe. Once you have the spices, this recipe can be made many times at a very reasonable (cheap) price. Bulk beans are inexpensive, and in my opinion, they always taste better than canned. Bon appetit!

The emphasis today, more than ever, is on healthier nutrition. White beans are full of good protein. The chicken broth is low in fat and provides great protein. The spices are rich with vitamins. The kids in our family love the non-jalapeno, non-cayenne pepper version. If you like spicy hot, you'll really love the full flavor of the recipe.

Diced hot green chilies

Diced hot green chilies

Optional Toppings and Sides

The dish may be served with toppings or accompaniments: grated cheese, diced onions, and sour cream are common toppings, as are saltine crackers, tortilla chips, or corn chips, cornbread, rolled-up corn or flour tortillas, and pork tamales. Another idea is to serve the chili over rice or pasta, such as spaghetti.



© 2016 John R Wilsdon

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