Nov 07 2009

Cold Day? Make a Pot of Soul-Warming Chili!

Is it cold where you are? Maybe raining or snowing, too? Then cook up a pot of chili! You could make it with canned beans, but if you’re nesting for the day, give dried beans a go. It’s not as hard as you think. Much of the work is done without your needing to keep watch, and the results are well worth the effort. Dried beans simmer up into tender, toothsome morsels packed with their own subtle sweetness. And you get to control the salt content—something to keep in mind if you’re on a low-sodium diet.

Until three days ago I’d never cooked dried kidney beans, and perhaps never would have if I hadn’t excavated a large bag of them from a forgotten corner of the cabinet. What I didn’t have was ground beef. No matter. Meatless chili is every bit as satisfying, and it’s lower in fat, too. But don’t be turned off by the lack of meat. This chili is robust in texture and flavor, and will appeal to carnivores and herbivores, alike. And if you stick around, I’ll give some ideas on how to customize this recipe to suit your own tastes. Ready? Here’s…

The Master Recipe

  • 1 pound dried beans—I like small red beans, or dark kidney beans
  • 1 each red and green bell peppers, cut into 2″ pieces
  • 2 medium or one large onion, chopped into large pieces
  • 4-6 large roma tomatoes, quartered
  • 8 cloves of garlic, peeled
  • olive oil
  • 1 small can chopped green chilis
  • 1 32-ounce can whole or diced tomatoes (do not drain)
  • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • salt and ground black pepper
  • 2 tablespoons dried oregano
  • 2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin

Start this chili early in the day. Rinse and pick over the kidney beans, discarding any stones. Put beans in a slow cooker and cover by two inches with water. Cover the cooker and turn the dial to high. Within two hours, the beans should be softened. Add more water if you need to. When the beans are softened but still firm enough to hold their shape, shut off the slow cooker.

Meanwhile, toss the peppers, onions, roma tomatoes, and garlic with about two tablespoons of olive oil. Season with salt and pepper, spread into a single layer in a roasting pan, and pop the pan in the oven to roast for an hour at 350-degrees Fahrenheit. When the vegetables have softened and are slightly caramelized around the edges, remove from the oven and allow to cool slightly.

The bean and veggie prep shouldn’t take you longer than about 20 minutes. After you get the beans in the slow cooker and the veggies in the oven, go do something else. Once the roasted vegetables are done, they can sit in the pan on the stove top while you wait for the beans to soften. Then continue with the rest of the recipe.

Put about a tablespoon of oil into the bottom of a large pot. Cut the roasted vegetables into smaller pieces—irregular chunks are just fine. Now add the vegetables and any juices from the roasting pan to the olive oil, then turn the heat up to high. When the vegetables are sizzling, ladle the kidney beans and remaining juices from the slow cooker to the pot. Stir to combine. Pour in the canned green chilis as well as the whole or diced tomatoes and their juice, mixing with the beans and vegetables, breaking up whole tomatoes with a spoon as you do. Here’s what the chili looks like at this stage.

Meal in the Making

Stir in the oregano, cinnamon, and cumin. Taste for flavoring, and adjust to suit. Bring the chili to a boil, then reduce the heat to let the pot simmer, partially coved, for between one and two hours, or until the chili thickens. Stir in the corn—yes, you can pour it in right from the freezer bag—and adjust seasoning to taste. Let the chili simmer a little longer so the corn heats through, then serve. How much does it make? Enough for six or eight hungry people. Leftovers? Pop them in the refrigerator and reheat tomorrow. Chili freezes well, too, and can be thawed and simmered directly from the freezer.

Chili Ready to Eat

Variations on the Theme  If I’m in the mood for some carne, I sauté up to a pound of ground lean beef chuck, then drain the fat, before adding the roasted vegetables and softened beans. Proceed with the rest of the recipe. Adding meat increases the yield and makes enough for a small crowd.

I don’t tolerate much heat anymore, so my chili is on the mild side. Make the chili as hot as you like with jalapeno peppers, chili powder, or hot pepper sauce. Serve with garnishes such as grated cheddar or Monterey jack cheese, sour cream, chopped onions, chopped chilis, guacamole or cubed avocados, fresh chopped tomatoes, or tortilla chips. And how about skillet corn bread, or better yet, skillet cheddar corn bread? There’s no better way to heat you up on a cold day. Have some!

Meal in the Making

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