At first thought, beans may seem a mundane ingredient around which to build a meal. Because they are a blank slate for the taste buds, they are willing reservoirs for seasonings and preparations as varied as the globe itself. Beans of endless varieties crisscross continents and are part of virtually every regional ethnic cuisine.
Building a pot of chili is an ideal place to begin to customize your preferred seasoning blend. Making chili is one of the first things that come to mind if my kitchen shelves are well stocked and I come home on a snowy, sloppy, frigid Friday night when even the closest of grocery stores seems far away. Not only will a hearty bowl of chili warm me up, but beans are a quality source of protein, fiber and complex carbohydrates so they will fill me up.
I survey what I have on hand: the kind of bean really doesn’t matter. And, great, I have a large can of diced tomatoes and they’re fire roasted. I see that I have most of a white onion and most of a red bell pepper in the refrigerator drawer. And, the spice shelf will lend chili powder, cumin, chipotle powder, and salt. I may find another thing or two to add as it cooks.
This is the advantage of the craft and finesse of eating solo. If you are a connoisseur of hot sauces, you will likely have several choices to add to your chili. If you have any food allergies or sensitivities, you can avoid them.
A 4 quart soup pot, rubber spatula, large kitchen serving spoon, and can opener are all the equipment needed after you round up your ingredients:
- Vegetable oil: 3 tablespoons of any neutral oil such as canola or corn oil;
- Cans of beans: 2-15 oz. cans of any beans which could include black, pinto, kidney, garbanzo, white, or navy beans. Drain water from the cans. Two different beans can be combined;
- Can of diced tomatoes: 28 oz. can, preferably fire roasted to add more flavor;
- Fresh vegetables to dice- onion, garlic, green or red bell pepper, celery, or carrots in any combination. 2-4 cups diced; otherwise more flavors can be added from spice shelf;
- A frozen vegetable like corn or peas and carrots blend can be added;
- Spices of your choice: chili powder, cumin, salt, dried, minced garlic, if fresh not around, chipotle powder, paprika or smoked paprika, oregano, cayenne pepper powder or hot sauce, if a fan. Here’s where it’s helpful to have dehydrated onion, bell pepper, and celery to use if you don’t have fresh vegetables on hand;
- Vinegar- a dash or two of red wine vinegar or apple cider vinegar;
- Options to add: already cooked rice or other grain like barley or quinoa, already cooked macaroni or pasta;
- Optional toppings: shredded cheese such as pepperjack or cheddar, sour cream, tortilla chips, crackers, more chili powder.
To cook chili, if you have diced fresh vegetables, put vegetable oil in pot and turn heat to medium high and allow oil to warm up. Add diced vegetables, stir well with rubber spatula. Turn heat to medium and cook 5-6 minutes, stir often, until vegetables are starting to soften. Add some of seasoning, 1 tablespoon chili powder, 1 teaspoon cumin and 1 teaspoon of salt to the vegetables and stir well.
Add diced tomatoes and the drained beans, stir. Adjust heat so chili is at a simmer and not boiling. A simmer is when there a few bubbles gently coming to the surface, so the stage before a rapid constant bubbling boil. Cook for at least 30 minutes, stir often, but it should cook for several hours as you add more seasoning and a splash or two of vinegar. Taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. The vinegar will help bring out the zing of the tomato. Add cooked rice or pasta towards the end just to warm it through.
Scoop chili into a wide bowl and top to your liking. Chilis and soups will taste even better the next day as the flavors meld together. It can hold for 5-6 days so it’s a great make-ahead item. Chili freezes well but as with any item, be sure it is very thoroughly cooled off before you scoop it into a container.
Stocking those ingredients that store well will allow for ease of preparation when the weather outside is frightful or you simply want something delightful that you made yourself.