Beef and Black Bean Chili

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)
serves 16

The Beans

  • 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.

The Rest

  • 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.


7 thoughts on “Beef and Black Bean Chili

  1. Katy, this is too funny. I spent the end of last week searching for a good chili recipe, and determined that the Carters must not do chili. Also, why did I not think to source the Grit cookbook?? (One of my favorite spaghetti sauces is the Grit marinara . . . plus a pound or two of real ground sausage.)

    I, too, am of the cold-weather-preferring variety, and my favorites are the foods that go along with that. German descent! By way of Texas, however, so all my chilis, tomato sauces, and winter vegetable soups are preceded by “spicy” and filled with cayenne, red pepper flakes, and hot chili powder. Poor New England-Swiss Kenton. We’ve started a tradition in the last two years of hosting a fall gathering at the end of October, sometime between his birthday and halloween. Set menu: huge pot of chili, mulled wine (the first of the season!), and pumpkin-y desserts. The chili I did up for this year was quite tasty, but I’m bookmarking this one for the next.

    1. That sounds like a fantastic tradition. Since our October is choc-full of family birthdays, I should try the same. Kill all three bday birds with one stone? (Somehow I doubt my little girls will go for that.) What desserts did you do? I’m way behind on fall baking, and have yet to make even a single loaf of autumn-spiced quick bread. Or even an apple pie.

      I’m impressed with your love of heat, even being from Texas. Maybe Texas is just that big — that it can overcome generations of Western European ancestry?

      1. Katy, this year’s party sweets were limited due to pregnancy slow-down: two different kinds of mini-cupcake – chocolate and pumpkin spice, with peanut butter (Kenton’s favorite, for his October birthday) and maple cream cheese icing, respectively. Last year, I also made ginger molasses cookies and apple-carrot shortbread. It was a small and basic menu this year (chili, mulled wine, cupcakes), but filling enough to make everyone happy. Nice to know that that can be the case!

        And I do think Texas is that big. I don’t get it, but it is. It just is.

  2. Hi. I found you via Diana’s blog and really liked your comment. A lot. The whole debate about HFCS has me on the edge and I think your comment was well articulated.

    By the way, soups are my favorite.

    1. Thanks, Damaris, that’s really good to hear. The debate gets me all hyped up, too, and it’s hard to step back from a comment and be objectively self-critical about how it can be read.

      Glad to find another soup sister ; )

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