I never expected to publish this chili.
It’s the clear-out-the-cupboard no-recipe recipe I’ve been making for years. You know the kind. Its starts like any soup or stew with the holy carrot-celery-onion mirepoix trinity softening and slumping in a slick of oil. The vegetables dance with a handful of spices, swim in a tomato sea, and cozy up to some beans. A sprinkle of cheese and you’re ready to face the cold.
Back when I was just starting to cook, I was pretty timid with my chili: the spices came pre-mixed in a seasoning envelope. Gaining confidence, I started to doctor the mix. A little extra chili powder. A sprinkle of coriander. Ooooh, red pepper flakes.
Pretty soon I did away with the mix altogether. There were failures, one so spicy it left me crying but, too stubborn to throw away the batch, I ate the whole pot, tears and all. There were success. But most of all, there were decent versions, good enough for sustenance and warmth against a winter’s day, but nothing particularly remarkable. With each batch, I dutifully jotted down my steps, my ingredients, my quantities. And then that sheet of paper sat on my desk or my coffee table or my kitchen counter, eventually drowning under a pile of other recipes that were more likely to make it onto the blog.
But this year, just as the November air grew brisk and I switched over my closet, I happened upon a spice combination that made this memorable enough that I wanted to remember it. The scribbled notes stayed at the top of the pile. And then I made it exactly the same way a week later. There are three different heats – chipotle in adobo sauce, cayenne, and hot paprika – that build on one another. With a nod towards the Middle East I added sumac, which gives the chili a sourness to counteract the sweetness of the tomatoes. While we’re on the topic of tomatoes, don’t skip the tomato paste. Its concentrated flavor adds a meaty, or dare I say umami, quality to the chili, especially if you add it early on with all the spices and allow it to cook for a few minutes before adding the liquid ingredients.
Two hours later (most of the time is simmering), you have a simple, but perfectly simple dinner. And lunch. And lunch again. And dinner the next night.
Vegetarian two-bean chili
The starting point for this chili was a recipe from Whole Foods. It’s worth it to buy a whole can of chipotles in adobo sauce – chop up the whole can and then freeze in ice cube trays whatever you have left over. I do the same with tomato paste. I like to serve this chili over brown rice or whatever grain I have in my pantry (these days I’m into freeke), and to top it with aged cheddar. This recipe makes a lot of chili, but it freezes really nicely.
Makes approximately 12 cups
3 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onion, chopped
2 large carrot, chopped
3 stalk celery, chopped
4 cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 T finely chopped chipotles in adobo sauce
2 T tomato paste
2 t ground cumin
1 t chili powder (I used cayenne)
1 t hot paprika
1 t sumac
1 1/2 t salt
1 can (28-ounce) diced tomatoes, with their liquid
2 cans (15.5-ounce each) red kidney beans, drained
2 cans (15.5-ounce each) black beans, drained
Stir. Heat the oil until shimmering in a medium heavy-bottomed pot over medium heat. Add the onion, carrots, and celery and cook until soft, stirring, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and stir for 2 more minutes, being careful not to let the garlic burn. Add tomato paste, chipotle, spices, and salt and stir to blend, cooking for another few minutes.
Simmer. Quickly pour in the tomatoes and then one tomato can of water. Using a wooden spoon to scrape up any bits and pieces stuck to the bottom of the pot. Simmer uncovered for 45 minutes. Add beans and continue to simmer for another 30 minutes. If the chili gets too thick, add some extra water and cover the pot.
Serve. Serve over rice or another grain (I used freekeh) and top with shredded aged cheddar.