There are two kinds of bean people – those for whom beans are good for the heart, and those for whom they are the magical fruit. I am the former kind. They’re not a fruit! And they’re obviously good for the heart. And in a recession, nothing is more nourishing and less expensive. I’ll always remember the day I was buying bulk grains underneath the Port Authority bus terminal and a homeless man came in to haggle over the price of a pound of navy beans. He ended up getting them for 80 cents– not so bad, compared to the 99 cent slice of pizza offered next door. It was then I decided that in the face of poverty, I must start cooking on the cheap. Beans are the answer. And what a delicious answer they are.
This first recipe is for chili. It’s not actually chili, I know: there’s no beef in it, no chili powder, and no cheese, pasta, or whatever else you may put on top of it. I think it qualifies, though, because it’s spicy, contains cumin, is very filling, and gets its flavor from lots of simmering. It also has a secret ingredient, which every chili ought to contain. There’s no meat in it primarily because I didn’t have any at home, and it also makes the recipe more versatile for feeding large groups of hungry starving college graduates, some of whom might be vegetarian (for ethical or financial reasons).
I chose to alter the the usual chili flavors (chili powder, cumin) a bit by making it sweeter and smokier – hence the lack of actual chili powder, and the presence of molasses, cocoa and cloves. Siracha hot sauce is perfect for this because it’s naturally sweet, and the acidity of the molasses is tempered by the Dutch process cocoa, which is alkalized. Also, smoked paprika. Yes.
2tbsp olive oil (or 1tbsp bacon fat)
1 medium-large red onion, diced
1 medium zucchini, diced
2 medium green or yellow bell peppers, diced large-ish
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 can red beans, drained (or 1 cup cooked red beans)
1 can black beans, drained (or 1 cup cooked black beans)
1 can diced tomatoes (“small diced”, if possible)
1 small can sweet corn (no salt added), drained
4 Jamaican hot peppers, diced (ribs & seeds removed)
4-6 whole cloves, ground
1tbsp cumin seeds, ground
2tsp smoked paprika
1tsp sweet paprika
1tsp black pepper
1 bay leaf
5-6 squirts of Siracha chili sauce
1 large dollop (probably 1.5tbsp) of blackstrap molasses
2tsp Dutch process cocoa powder
1. In a large dutch oven/deep pot (at least 3.5 quart), heat oil or fat until it shimmers. The Bacon fat adds a lot of nice smokey flavor, and it’s the only thing standing in the way of this chili being vegan. (Though that wouldn’t be a bad thing).
2. Add diced onions & minced garlic, and cook on medium heat until the onions are translucent. Caramelization is not necessary, as we already have a lot of burnt-sweetness in this chili from the molasses.
3. Add a squirt of Siracha, then add peppers and cook; add another squirt of Siracha and add zucchini. Cook vegetable mix for a few minutes on medium heat.
4. Meanwhile, grind cumin and cloves together with a mortar & pestle. (Or use a coffee grinder, but make sure it’s well-cleaned. Actually, a bit of residual coffee flavor might go really well here, too.)
5. Add minced hot peppers to vegetables, then add all spices except cocoa powder & molasses to vegetable mixture, and cook for a while until it becomes very aromatic.
6. Add 1 can black beans, 1 can red beans, 1 can diced tomatoes, and 1 small can corn. Add a little water if necessary, and throw in a bay leaf. Stir in molasses, and simmer on low heat for 30 minutes, adding water or vegetable stock to preference.
7. After 30 minutes of simmering, stir in cocoa powder and cook for 15 more minutes. I used Dutch process cocoa powder because it’s basic, and I figured it might neutralize the acidity of the molasses and tomatoes a bit. That probably doesn’t actually make scientific sense, but whatever.
…and you’re done! This recipe makes around 3 quarts of chili, which feeds 5 or 6 hungry mouths, for around $14, not including spices. I like to serve mine with mustard/mesclun greens on top and a nice piece of home-made cast iron corn pone on the side.