I’ll get this right out there, I love Mexican food. It’s not like we eat it all of the time or anything, but I like to make soft shell chicken tacos, crunchy tacos, enchiladas, taco salad, burritos, fajitas, and chili. I like to eat in Mexican restaurants, be they authentic like the place in Stockton where you would NEVER dream of going at night, because you might get killed (even though it’s only a few blocks from the police station), or be they crap Mexican food like Taco Hell. (That’s what we used to call it, but hey, I’m not above running for the border now and again.) I love Tex Mex ala’ Chevy’s, and high scale fancy like Tequila’s in Philadelphia. All of it is yummy.
I also really like chili. I like all beef chili, vegetarian chili from the back of the Morningstar Farms box, turkey chili, Robert Redford’s lamb chili, canned chili, bring home soup from the gourmet part of the grocery store chili, all of it. My favorite chili, however, has to be Black Bean Chili that I make from my Green’s cookbook. It’s kind of a
pain in the ass labor of love, because it entails toasting your own spices, grinding them in a mortar and pestle, soaking the black beans overnight, etc. But really, it’s worth every minute, and on a cold rainy evening, nothing could be nicer.
Because I’m nice like that, I’m going to give you the recipe. And you know what? It makes a lot of chili. So tomorrow, I’ll show you what to do with the leftovers, OK?
Black Bean Chili – From The Greens Cookbook
2 cups black turtle beans, soaked overnight
1 bay leaf
4 teaspoons cumin seeds
4 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
4 teaspoons paprika
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 chili negro or ancho chili, for chili powder, or 2 to 3 tablespoons chili powder (I use chili powder)
3 tablespoons corn or peanut oil
3 medium yellow onions, diced into 1/2 inch squares (I don’t measure…shhh)
4 cloves garlic, coarsly chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds ripe or canned tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped; juice reserved (I use canned…they’re juicier and riper,esp in winter, which is when I crave this dish)
1 to 2 teaspoons chipotle chili
About 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
4 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
1/2 to 3/4 cup muenster cheese, grated
Green chilies: 2 poblano or Anaheim, roasted, peeled, and diced, or 2 oz. canned green chilies, rinsed well and diced
1/2 cup creme fraiche or sour cream
6 sprigs cilantro
Sort through the beans and remove any small stones. Rinse them well, cover them generously with water, and let them soak overnight. Next day, drain the beans, cover them with fresh water by a couple of inches and bring them to a boil with the bay leaf. Lower the heat and let the beans simmer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Heat a small heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, and when they begin to color, add the oregano leaves, shaking the pan frequently so the herbs don’t scorch. As soon as the fragrance is strong and robust, remove the pan from the heat and add the paprika and the cayenne. Give everything a quick stir; then remove from the pan–the paprika and the cayenne only need a few seconds to toast. Grind in a mortar or a spice mill to make a coarse powder.
Preheat the oven to 375F. To make the chili powder, put the dried chile in the oven for 3-to-5 minutes to dry it out. Cool it briefly; then remove the stem, seeds and veins. Tear the pod into small pieces and grind it into a powder in a blender or a spice mill. (I skip this step by using chili powder)
Heat the oil in a large skillet and saute the onions over medium heat until they soften. Add the garlic, salt and the ground herbs and chili powder and cook another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes and their juice. Simmer everything together for 15 minutes (It comes out looking like this, a big yummy mess…)
then add this mixture to the beans, and, if necessary, enough water so the beans are covered by at least 1-inch. Continue cooking the beans slowly until they are soft, an hour or longer, or pressure cook them for 30 minutes at 15 pounds pressure. Keep an eye on the water level and add more, if needed, to keep the beans amply covered.
When the beans are cooked, taste them and season to taste with the vinegar, additional salt if needed, and the chopped cilantro. Prepare the garnishes. If you are using fresh green chiles, roast them over a flame until they are evenly charred. Let them steam 10 minutes in a bowl covered with a dish; then scrape off the skins, discard the seeds, and dice.
Serve the chili ladled over a large spoonful of grated cheese and garnish it with the creme fraiche or sour cream, the green chilies and a sprig of fresh cilantro.
Though served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon, this chili is a great deal thicker than most soups–thick enough in fact to be served on a plate right alongside fritters or cornbread. It also, however, can be thinned considerably with stock, water or tomato juice to make a thinner but still very flavorful black bean soup. When thinned to make a soup, it can be served as part of a meal rather than a meal in itself.
Tomorrow: Yummy Black Bean Enchiladas!