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Clearing a Few things Up about Chili Weather


The calendar and the thermometer says it’s chili weather, and besides being tasty, chili offers a number of advantages.

  • It can be made in bulk in advance, and it freezes well.
  • It’s a good way to make your meat dollars go further. 
  • It’s healthy.
  • It’s good for parties (and with the Super Bowl coming up, that’s something to keep in mind).

I have a solid, go-to chili that I came up with a few years ago. It has a rich, mouth-watering flavor, thanks to smoked paprika, and I’ve written about it here before. Recently, I realized I need to make a clarification to the recipe. As I published it previously, I called for 16 ounces each of cooked black, kidney, and garbanzo beans.

Every time I’ve made the meal, I’ve been a bit confused by my own directions. I make my beans from scratch (and you should too—more on that in a moment), and I can never remember how many dried beans I should use to end up with 16 ounces of cooked ones. 

When I was making the chili this Saturday, I decided to take action. Instead of being confused, I paid attention. Paying attention is one of my New Year’s resolutions. I’m focusing on the lives of those around me, my own life, and on my inner life. I’m also focusing on the inner life of beans.

Beans have a rich but dry inner life. The bean needs to be re-hydrated in order to be eaten. There are a thousand theories on the best way to do this. There’s the sanctioned overnight soak. There’s the rapid, power soak. And then there’s my way—the no soak. Whatever it is about the beans that I buy in bulk from the Park Slope Food Coop, I’ve found that they cook up just fine without anything more than a good rinse. This takes time, of course. Hours and hours, but I don’t worry about that. I just cook them until they are done. This means, using a big pot of water, I bring them to a boil, and turn them down to a simmer. And then I let them ride until the interior is soft. My point here is that beans are easy to cook

There are more nuanced ways to do this, of course, and there are myriad benefits to cooking your own beans. They are much cheaper and much more tasty (I’ll never forget the first time I had homemade Garbanzo beans; I’ll never touch canned Chick Peas again!). And if you learn how to do this right, you can make a week’s worth of meals out of one pot of beans, as Food52 recently documented.

Here’s my chili recipe, properly annotated.

Smoky Chili

  • 1 onion, diced
  • 2 strips of bacon, diced
  • 2 carrots, diced
  • 1 celery stalk, diced
  • 3-4 cloves garlic, diced
  • 1 lb. ground beef
  • ½ cup dry white or red wine
  • 1 cup chicken stock
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • One 28-ounce can peeled plum tomatoes, run through a blender or otherwise chopped
  • 16 ounces each of cooked black beans, garbanzo beans, and kidney beans (Start with half a cup each, dried; rinse them, and cook them separately in big pots of water until done--probably a few hours.)
  • 1 tablespoons ground cumin
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
  • 1 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • ¼ teaspoon thyme
  • 2 bay leaves

In a bit of olive oil, sauté the onion, bacon, carrot, and celery, until the onion is soft and the bacon fat rendered.

Add the garlic and sauté a moment more.

Add the beef and cook until brown, breaking it up with a wooden spoon (or a potato masher).

After the beef is browned, add the wine, and reduce.

Add the chicken stock, tomato paste, canned tomatoes, beans, and all the spices and herbs. If you start this at the same time you start the beans, then you will have to wait for the beans to finish cooking before adding them. 

Bring to a boil and simmer as long as you feel like it. It doesn’t need much more cooking at this point.

Salt and pepper to taste.

Serve with rice, garnished with grated cheddar cheese, sliced scallions, cream cheese, and/or any topping of your choice.


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