Most people know that chili lovers fall into two categories: those who use beans and those who don’t. There are also those who say that chili should contain chunks of meat, not the ground variety.
When it comes to meat, it doesn’t really matter to me. However, beans are a must. For that matter, I can go for a chili that’s vegetarian as well as one full of meat.
And during Lent, if you’re looking for an alternative to fish, a meatless chili is just the ticket.
Here’s a recipe from Crescent Dragonwagon, who has been writing about bean cuisine for 40 years, dating back to “The Bean Book,” published in 1972, when she was just 18.
In her latest,”Bean by Bean: A Cookbook” (Workman, $15.95 paperback), Dragonwagon writes about how the perception of beans has changed in the ensuing years and how the number of readily available varieties has exploded. Here’s a recipe from that book, a bean-based chili loaded with complex flavors.
1 pound dried black beans, picked over, rinsed and soaked
10 to 12 cups vegetable stock or broth (see note)
2 bay leaves
1 ancho (dried poblano) chili, stemmed
1 fresh jalapeno pepper, stemmed
Freshly ground black pepper
1/3 cup dark raisins
¼ cup olive oil
2 large onions, chopped
1 green bell pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 jalapeno pepper, stemmed and chopped (see note)
1 poblano pepper, stemmed, seeded and chopped
1 tablespoon cumin seeds
2 teaspoons coriander seeds (see note)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 teaspoons ground coriander
½ teaspoon dried oregano
¼ teaspoon ground red (cayenne) pepper or to taste
¼ teaspoon anise seed
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons sweet Hungarian paprika (see note)
1 tablespoon chili powder, preferably hot
3 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1 15- to 16-ounce can chopped tomatoes
¼ cup tomato paste
1 to 2 ounces unsweetened chocolate, diced
2 tablespoons creamy peanut butter, preferably natural
1 tablespoon tahini or 2 tablespoons freshly toasted sesame seeds
1 chipotle chili in adobo, stemmed
2 teaspoons adobo sauce
1 teaspoon to 1 tablespoon agave syrup or honey (optional)
Cook the beans. Drain soaked beans and rinse well. Place in a large, heavy pot; add enough stock to cover them by 1½ inches. Add bay leaves, ancho chili, whole stemmed jalapeno and a generous grinding of black pepper to taste.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook, covered, for 1 hour. Add the raisins. Continue cooking until the beans are nearly tender and the raisins have more or less disintegrated, 30 to 60 minutes longer.
About 20 minutes or so before the beans are done, spray a large, heavy skillet with nonstick cooking spray. Place it over medium heat, add olive oil and, when it’s hot, onions. Saute onions until they start to soften, 3 to 4 minutes.
Stir in bell pepper, chopped jalapeno and poblano; saute for 2 minutes. Add the cumin seeds, coriander seeds, ground cumin, ground coriander, oregano, cayenne, anise seed, cinnamon, paprika, chili powder and a tiny pinch of cloves. Reduce the heat slightly and cook, stirring constantly, for 1 to 2 minutes. Add garlic and cook, stirring, until it just becomes fragrant, about 30 seconds. Remove from the heat.
Scrape the sauteed ingredients into the simmering beans. Deglaze the saute pot with a little bean stock, stirring to loosen any browned bits from the bottom of the pan. Return this liquid to the beans.
Add the tomatoes and their juice and the tomato paste to the bean pot and stir well. Simmer for another 10 minutes, then maintain at a simmer while you continue with the recipe.
Place chocolate, peanut butter, tahini, chipotle and adobo sauce in a food processor or blender. Add a generous ladleful of the simmering beans (including the whole ancho and jalapeño, if you can find them) and process to make a thick, highly seasoned paste.
Scrape the paste into the bean pot, turn the heat down as low as possible and add a generous portion of salt to taste. Simmer slowly, partially covered, until the seasonings are well blended, about 20 minutes longer.
Just before serving, pick out the bay leaves. If desired, mash a couple of ladlefuls of the beans against the sides of the pot to thicken the chili. Taste for seasonings and adjust if necessary, adding agave syrup or honey if more sweetness is desired. Serve immediately or let come to room temperature, then refrigerate, covered, overnight and reheat very gently the next day.
Yield: Serves 10.
Approximate nutritional analysis per serving: 340 calories, 12 grams fat (2.5 grams saturated), no cholesterol, 14 grams protein, 48 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams sugar, 13 grams fiber, 915 milligrams sodium, 93 milligrams calcium.
Note: A 12-ounce bottle of beer can be substituted for 1½ cups of the stock. Seed the chopped jalapeno that’s used in the saute for a milder chili. If you don’t have coriander seeds, increase the amount of ground coriander to 3½ teaspoons. Substitute ½ teaspoon smoked paprika for ½ teaspoon of the sweet paprika, if desired.