Spicy heirloom-bean chili

With so many cookbooks, food publications and websites to choose from, I normally don't pay much attention to recipes in women's magazines. (Having said that, I will admit that the tres leches cake at the bottom of this post is one of my most popular dinner party desserts and it came from InStyle magazine).

But in last month's issue of Domino, I saw this recipe for a spicy heirloom-bean chili. Its use of unsweetened cocoa and Greek yogurt enticed me and the whole dish just looked so pretty in a white, rustic pot. Plus, I'm a sucker for beans and this recipe required heirloom ones that I'd need to order from one website and two specific chili powders that I'd need to order from another. I'm sure many of you are thinking you would have stopped right there. Too much work for a simple vegetarian chili, right?

I was intrigued.

Not to mention that Judith, my one and only vegetarian friend, was coming over for dinner in a few days. This seemed like the type of dish she'd really appreciate. The recipe advised a mixture of dry heirloom beans, so when I went on the Rancho Gordo website to place my order, I selected three: black nightfall -- described as dense and fudgy, the sweet and meaty santa maria pinquito, and the nutritionally loaded tepiary. Then I went to Penzeys to order ancho chili powder (made from the most commonly used peppers in Mexico) and aleppo chili powder (a Turkish crushed chili that has an ancho-like flavor with a little more heat and tartness).

Unfortunately, neither shipment arrived in time for my dinner with Judith. (Daniel and I made this coconut-curry soup from Food & Wine and this Thai mango salad, both of which I highly recommend, instead).

The beans and spices showed up a few days later, the same night my Mom was supposed to come over for dinner. I ran the recipe by her not sure if she'd be interested in a vegetarian chili. She seemed ok with it, but pushed me to throw in some sausage too. I stood strong and said no. Now that she's reading Skinny Bitch and flirting with the idea of going vegan, I bet she's happy the chili was meat-free.

So, after all this work -- ordering spices and beans online, waiting for them to arrive, soaking them overnight, then spending a few hours in the kitchen cooking them, I'm sad to report that the chili was just so-so. Even topped with a hearty dollop of Greek yogurt and a sprinkling of cilantro, something was missing. (Sausage, maybe?). Daniel and I sliced sharp cheddar on top and that definitely helped, but overall, we were all underwhelmed by the dish. It was definitely good, but not as complex and earth-shattering as I expected.

Luckily, Daniel and I had invited our friends Karlyn and Doug over for brunch the next day. It wasn't until a few hours after eating the chili that we finally decided what we'd make for them: huevos rancheros! We were sure that our lackluster bean chili would surely shine in more vibrant breakfast scenario. As a stand alone meal, it was kind of boring. But as a supporting player in a main meal? Score.

After a night in the fridge, the chili's flavors had become much more pronounced. Served with a fried egg, toasted tortilla, chunks of salty avocado, melted cheese and fresh salsa, the heirloom beans really came alive. Suddenly, I loved this chili and the amazing breakfast it helped us to create. In fact, we loved it so much that Daniel made it again the next day for April and Josh who were visiting from Philly. And the next few days after that until all the chili was finally gone.

I still have a lot of heirloom beans left. I could try a revised version of the chili and see what Judith thinks. Or I could just whip her up a batch to have with fried eggs, tortillas, salsa and avocado. Something tells me she'll prefer it that way too.

Spicy-Heirloom Bean Chili
Serves 6
COOKING TIME: 1 hour, 20 minutes (excluding soaking time)

* 2 cups dry mixed heirloom beans
* 2 tbsp. salt
* ½ cup olive oil
* 3 yellow onions, diced ¼"
* 6 garlic cloves, minced
* 1 tbsp. aleppo chili powder
* 1 tbsp. ancho chili powder
* 1 tbsp. ground cumin
* 1 tbsp. dried oregano
* 1 can (28 oz.) crushed tomatoes
* 1 chipotle pepper, chopped (from 7-oz. can)
* 1 tbsp. unsweetened cocoa powder
* Greek yogurt
* lime wedges
* chopped fresh cilantro

Place beans in a large bowl, and cover with 4" cold water; let soak overnight. Drain beans, place in a large pot, add salt, and cover with 2" water. Bring to a boil; reduce to a simmer, cover and let cook until the largest bean is tender (about 45 minutes). Meanwhile, heat oil in a separate large, heavy-bottomed pot over high heat. Add onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until they begin to turn golden, about 12 minutes. Stir in garlic and cook 2 minutes. Add chili powders, cumin and oregano, and cook, stirring, for 30 seconds. Add 1 cup water, then stir, scraping the bottom of the pot. Add tomatoes, chipotle pepper and cocoa, and stir well to combine. When mixture comes to a boil, reduce to a simmer; cover and cook for 20 minutes (or until the beans in the other pot are done). When beans are ready, drain them and add to the tomato mixture. Cover and cook on low heat, stirring occasionally, for 40 minutes. Serve with Greek yogurt, lime wedges and chopped cilantro.

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Anonymous said...

Lia, I thought the chili was delicious, especially with the yogurt on top, which I didn't want to add, until you said I should experiment and at least try it. Once a vegan, I may not be eating yogurt anymore! Mom

Judith said...

Lia, I am really your only vegetarian friend? And I'm not even a real vegetarian. You have obviously done a good job of surrounding yourself with meat-eaters. I know I don't have the patience to put this chili together (I would never order the beans or special chili powders, and I am partial to canned beans), so it doesn't break my heart that you don't give it five stars. But huevos rancheros sounds delicious. I think I may need to hear more about that.

Lia said...

Mom: I'm glad you liked the chili, although I think you would have liked the huevos rancheros a lot more!

Judith: You really are my only vegetarian friend! Unless I'm forgetting someone, but I don't think so.. We'll have you over for huevos rancheros after your trip. You'll love them!

Anonymous said...

This is crazy! I heard the owner of Rancho Gordo on Sirius Radio and decided to order about $50 worth of beans. I love beans and was going to the store to pick up the chili to make the beans tomorrow. The depth of the recipe sounded wonderful.

Glad I read this and will revise the recipe a bit.


Lia said...

Anonymous: I'm curious to hear how your chili turns out. Let me know!

James said...

Wow.. this looks so delicious. I am so excited to try Spicy-Heirloom Bean Chili. Thanks for recipe.


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