I was talking to some friends the other night, about fair skin and blue eyes. In our house were a couple of Swedes (one bona-fide, one of descent via Wisconsin), a Dutchman (my spouse, of descent, via Pennsylvania) and myself (British and Spanish, of descent, via Mississippi — that one’s a long story, especially if you get my Dad talking about it). All of us have blue eyes and blonde/red coloring, and all of us have a low tolerance for very spicy foods. We also, as a group, agreed that we’d rather bundle up in winter than stifle in summer.
Don’t get me wrong. I am actually a very cold-natured person, and will wear thermal long-johns under my jeans all winter long. In the dead of February, I am just as likely as my olive-skinned neighbor to long for the green of spring. But somewhere in my DNA is the gene that not only thinks getting warm in winter is easier than cooling off in summer; that escaping cold is more fun than participating in water sports — but also makes me inherently attracted to long-cooking foods. I can appreciate and love the garden-ready fresh foods of summer, but take the most comfort and joy in the soups, stews, roasts, and rich flavors of fall and winter. Like layers of clothing, I prefer layers of flavors that can only be acquired by drawing them out of the depths of their parts over hours of oven or stove time.
And nothing can so easily feed a crowd as a huge pot of simmering soup, stew, or chili. One-pot meals are usually very cost-effective, and most of the work is done far ahead of time, so you can be cleaned up and ready to serve when guests arrive. Last week, we had neighborhood friends at our place for dinner, and I made the season’s first batch of chili. This one is adapted from my favorite vegetarian cookbook, The Grit Cookbook (oh, would they shudder to think of my adding beef to their recipe). You can eat it straight-up, or use it in a burrito or as topper for smothered nachos. Up the heat if you like, by adding more cayenne — I’d blame my mild version on my kids, but you can refer to the first paragraph to uncover the real motivation(s).
*Notes: This recipe requires overnight soaking of dried black beans. It also makes a lot, so be prepared to feed a crowd or freeze the leftovers.
Beef and Black Bean Chili
(adapted from a recipe in The Grit Cookbook)
- 1 quart (about 2 pounds) dried black beans, picked over and rinsed
- 4 Tbsp lemon juice or apple cider vinegar
Place rinsed beans in a large bowl, and add enough warm water to cover by 2 inches. Add the lemon juice (or vinegar), and stir to combine. Let sit at room temperature overnight (up to 24 hours). Drain beans (discard soaking water) and rinse thoroughly.
- 1 medium yellow onion, finely chopped
- 2 Tbsp minced garlic
- 3 Tbsp chili powder
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 2 tsp dried oregano
- 1/4 tsp cayenne pepper
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
Place soaked beans in a large stock pot or dutch oven, along with the onion, garlic, and spices. Add enough water to cover by 1 1/2 inches. Bring to a simmer, stirring occasionally, until beans are very tender (cooking time will vary; count on 1 or more hours). Add water as necessary to keep beans covered.
- 1 pound ground beef
- 1 small green bell pepper, finely chopped
- 3 stalks celery, finely chopped
- 1/4 large yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 cup fresh or frozen corn
- 1 cup shredded carrots (about 3 carrots shredded on large holes of box grater)
- 2 (28-oz) cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 Tbsp salt
After beans have been cooking for about 45 minutes and are close to being tender, sauté ground beef in a skillet until no pink color remains (careful not to over-brown). Using a slotted spoon, remove beef to a bowl and set aside. Using rendered fat from beef (adding olive oil if necessary to make about 2 Tbsp), sauté green pepper, celery, and onion until onions are translucent and vegetables are tender.
When beans are very tender, add beef, cooked vegetables, and the rest of the ingredients to the pot (no need to thaw the corn). Stir to combine, bring to a very low simmer, and cook for another half hour. Taste for seasoning, adding additional salt if necessary.
Serve topped with grated cheddar, sour cream, green onions, etc.