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 kidney 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 fabulous. 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. Wet snow was forecast, the day was raw and overcast, and I was tired from the previous day’s chore ride to town. I didn’t know what to make for dinner but didn’t want meat because I’d gorged on a large hamburger the day before. How about a meatless chili? So after a little online research to be sure I didn’t flub cooking the beans, I came up with a rustic, hearty, meatless chili which required very little of my time. The aromas coming from the kitchen were mouth-watering. 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

  • • 2 cups dried 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 32-ounce can whole tomatoes (do not drain)
  • • 1 cup frozen corn kernels
  • • salt and ground black pepper
  • • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • • 1 teaspoon 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, use a slotted spoon to lift the kidney beans from the slow cooker and put them in the pot. Stir to combine. Pour in the canned whole tomatoes and their juice and mix with the beans and vegetables, breaking up whole tomatoes with a spoon as you do. Now add enough of the bean-cooking liquid to cover the solid ingredients. 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 partially cover, reduce heat to let the chili simmer, and let it do so for one or two hours, till the flavors mature and 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 and serve. How much does it make? Enough for six hungry souls, or four famished folks with very large appetites. Leftovers? Pop them in the refrigerator and reheat tomorrow. It’s delicious if folded into tortillas, too.

 

Chili Ready to Eat

 
Variations on the Theme  If I’d had a can of chilis on hand, I’d have added them to the pot. If I’d been in the mood for some carne, I’d have cooked up a pound of ground chuck, drained the fat, and then added the roasted vegetables and softened beans before proceeding with the rest of the recipe. 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, 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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