You know it’s an odd summer when the first thing that comes to mind for dinner is chili.
When I returned from Shane Creek Bison Ranch on Sunday afternoon, the wind was howling, as in huffing and puffing à la 3 Little Pigs . My lawn chairs were cartwheeling around the lawn. The dogs were terrified and hiding under the deck. The cats just wanted to be fed, but that’s cats for you. Dot and Rick called to say that all was well and they were home, and that they’d driven over some mountain passes where it was snowing. I wanted a warm, warming dinner.
When I was in high school I skied at a mountain that’s coincidentally visible from the spot to which I’d hiked with the dogs, searching for the bison herd. Home from skiing, my mother would make chili for dinner. It’s one of my fondest memories of her. She was the saddest person I ever knew, and kind gestures from her had profound meaning. So wind, mountain snow in June (!), a contemplative weekend alone among great natural beauty all added up to chili for dinner. To sweeten the pot, my friends, Kim and Tom, had recently given me several pounds of ground beef from their own herd. I’m a dévotée of the meat your meat concept, so was looking forward to trying their beef.
Beans. I love beans of any color, but especially black beans. I love that they cook relatively quickly; I love their deep color, their size, their tender meatiness; I love their protein and their fiber. My mother made her chili with canned kidney beans several years shy of when I would first meet black beans. I was living in Minnesota, post-graduate school, working for an international trading company, several of whose employees had rotated through its offices in Venezuela. At the end of the summer each division of the company held its own picnic. It was there that I tasted black beans for the first time. I believe they’d been boiled as was traditional with some ham, possibly hocks. I fell in love.
Beans. Who remembers or plans to soak them the night before? Often, not I. And let’s remember, I had the excuse of having been gone, though, yes, I could have set them to soak before I left on Saturday. But I didn’t. Canned beans will certainly get you to the finish line fast. But canned anything these days implies the dreaded BPA. Besides, dry beans are significantly less expensive by volume than their canned relations. I picked up a 2-pound bag of dry black beans for just under $2.50. Cooked, they will yield 6 pounds of beans! Compare that to paying approximately the same price for a 15-ounce can.
So say you’ve forgotten to soak them overnight, as I did. I poured the entire 2-pound bag into a colander and rinsed them under cold water. Then I transferred them to a large soup pot and filled it to cover the beans with cold water by 3 inches. I set the pot, covered, on the stove to bring to a boil. I boiled them for 5 minutes, then turned off the heat and let them sit, covered for an hour.
When the hour was up, I poured the beans through the colander again, then poured them back into the pot. I refilled the pot with cold water to cover by 3 inches again, and replaced the lid. I brought it to a boil, then reduced it to an active simmer until the beans had begun to soften, about 1 hour. Once again, I poured them into a colander to drain, rinsed the pot, and used it to start my chili. On a chilly summer night. Sorry, someone had to say it.
Beans, again. I didn’t use all the beans (6 pounds cooked!) for my chili. I used half, and packaged the other half in ziplock bags in portions good for a solitary cook plus leftovers for lunch the next day. I laid them flat in the freezer, and they’re as good as gold in the bank.
BLACK BEAN CHILI
Serves several, or a solitary cook, plus leftovers to freeze
2 yellow onions, peeled, small dice (1/4″)
6 cloves garlic, smashed, peeled, minced
3 tablespoons bacon fat (you do keep a container of bacon fat in the fridge to use for cooking, don’t you?) or olive oil
Pinch of salt
2 pounds good ground beef
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 teaspoons chipotle chili powder (made from smoked jalapeños, and well worth seeking out for its deep flavor)
2 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes plus 1/4 full of rinse water
2 cups frozen corn, thawed (don’t use canned – it has an unpleasant “cooked” taste), though if you add it frozen, it’s honestly going to thaw very quickly
1 1/2 pounds of black beans cooked as described above
Sea or kosher salt and grinds of pepper to taste
Grated cheese, diced onion, diced avocado, sour cream, minced cilantro
- Warm a heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium heat. Add the bacon fat or olive oil. When hot, add the onions and a pinch of sea or kosher salt. Stir, and sauté until onions are softened and translucent. Add the garlic and sauté until very fragrant.
- Break up the ground beef into chunks with your hands. If you use locally-raised and processed beef, or buy it from a natural foods store (because they purchase it from local producers), it won’t be full of water that can legally be added, and which basically causes it to poach in that very water and turn grey without ever really browning. Raise the heat to medium-high. As the beef cooks, use a wooden spoon to break it into smaller chunks, but not too small. Some good meaty chunks will be wonderful. Add the cumin, coriander, and chili powder. Continue cooking as the beef begins to brown. It wants to brown well, because the caramelization will contribute lots of flavor. Simultaneously, the seasonings will toast and also develop great layers of flavor. Don’t be in a hurry. This can take 20-30 minutes.
- When beef has browned well, add both cans of tomatoes. Run the cans under water until 1/4 full, each, and swish the water around to rinse the cans thoroughly. Add this to the pot. Also add the corn.
- Add the beans. Stir everything to blend, cover the pot, and reduce heat to a simmer. Simmer until flavors are blended and chili has thickened, about an hour. Stir every 15 minutes or so.
- When it reaches a good concentration of flavor and consistency, season to taste with salt and pepper. Adjust other seasonings as you deem fit.
- Ladle into bowls. Arrange tortilla chips around the edges of all bowls. Garnish as you wish with grated cheese (cheddar, Monterey Jack, pepper jack), diced onion and/or avocado, sour cream, cilantro. Use your imagination. Have a lovely summer!
First let me say how wonderful and flavorful Kim and Tom’s beef was. It browned up beautifully, and the chili was fantastic as a result. Yes, Kim, this is a bald-faced plea for more the next time you have some.
And if you’re a solitary cook, you are going to have abundant leftovers. Cool down the remainder, package it in ziplock bags that you can lay flat in the freezer, and build up your frozen treasures.