Monday, January 16, 2012

Black Bean Chili

My love of cooking is no hidden secret, but something I don't get to do often that I absolutely adore is cooking for big groups of people. It's the reason I did things in college like volunteer to coordinate a 200-person Thanksgiving dinner (complete with 20 turkeys and real mashed potatoes, thank you very much). And why I still do things today like volunteer as a sous chef once a month to prep 120-person dinners at church.

Last week my boss hosted a dinner for all of the field managers in Bloomington. She decided to make chili for the group and she asked me to I offered to make a batch to share. We had a fantastic spread: white chicken chili, extra spicy chili, traditional chili with bison meat and a vegetarian black bean chili. Even better than the food was the company. One of my favorite things about the kitchen is how it brings people together. That night the house was full of people from all over the country enjoying conversation and laughs over a delicious meal. Maybe it's just me, but I'm fairly certain food even tastes better when you are enjoying it alongside others.

Here's the recipe for black bean chili I made for the group. It's a non-traditional chili flavored with coffee, brown sugar, molasses and cinnamon. It has a flavor reminiscent of baked beans with much more depth and richness. If you're like me and have been making chili fairly regularly since September, this may be a nice change of pace from the traditional style.

The recipe below makes nearly a gallon of soup (perfect for a big group!). It halves or even quarters fairly easily, so feel free to adjust accordingly.

Black Bean Soup
2-3 Hours, Mostly Unattended
Makes 1 Gallon
A Spoonful Original, Inspired by Mark Bittman

  • 1 ½ lbs. black beans, dried
  • ¼ cup olive oil
  • 3 onions
  • 4 large cloves garlic
  • 2 large (33 oz.) cans diced tomatoes
  • 3 cups brewed coffee
  • 3 Tbsp. chili powder
  • 1/3 cup molasses
  • 3 Tbsp. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbsp. salt
  • 1 Tbsp. cinnamon
  • 1 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 9-12 cups water

1. Fill a stockpot half full of water and soak the beans overnight. Drain and set beans aside.
2. Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Dice the onion and garlic, then sauté for 5-8 minutes, or until onions become translucent.
3. Add the tomatoes and their juices, coffee, chili powder, molasses, brown sugar, salt, cinnamon, cayenne pepper and drained black beans. Add 4 cups of water and bring the mixture to a boil.
4. Reduce to a medium-low simmer and allow to cook, stirring occasionally. Add an additional 1-2 cups of water whenever the chili begins to cook down.
5. Check the beans occasionally for doneness. Continue to simmer and add water until the beans are cooked through (should be slightly firm, but not at all hard or crunchy).

Tips and Tricks:
  1. There’s a definite taste difference with dried beans – give it a try if you have the extra time to soak them. However, if you choose to substitute canned for dried beans, skip step 1 and add the beans at step 3. Add the water in step 3 one cup at a time until the chili is the proper consistency. Be sure to drain the beans and omit the salt until you’re able to taste the chili.
  2. The amount of water you’ll use depends on how thick you want the chili to be. If you’re nervous about adding too much, add less at a time and keep a closer eye on the chili as it cooks to make sure it doesn’t dry out.
  3. Cilantro and sour cream or queso fresco make fantastic toppings!

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