Beef and Three Bean Chili

It’s getting colder here in New York City, so I started craving chili and stew again. I grew up in Texas where chili is a standard for campers and an economical option for home cooks. But for thirteen of my twenty-five years in the Lone Star State, I was a vegetarian and mostly ate rice and beans. When people talk about Texas chili, I have to ignore the canned memories from school and chain restaurants and think back to something my mom made when I was little. This is as close to that memory as it gets.

This recipe is a sort of throw-in-what-you’ve-got approach to feeding beef cravings in a bean-lover’s body. Like most one-pot meals, you can make it vegan by simply leaving out the meat and pumping up the veggies. I chose black, kidney, and white beans this time, but you can switch it up with adzuki, pinto, or garbanzos too. Pick some beans you like and add in something you haven’t eaten recently.

Beef and Three Bean Chili

Serves 6 to 8 hungry folks

Ingredients

  • 1 large onion
  • 1.5 pounds ground chuck
  • handful of carrots
  • 1 green or red bell pepper
  • 6 cloves of garlic
  • 1 can black beans
  • 1 can kidney beans
  • 1 can white beans
  • 28 ounce can of chopped tomatoes
  • 6 ounce can of tomato paste
  • 6 dried chipotle peppers
  • 1/4 cup chili powder
  • small handful of dark chocolate chips
  • 1 tablespoon of brown sugar
  • cumin seed or ground cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ~2 tablespoons olive oil
  • ~1 tablespoon tamari
  • ~1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar
  • kosher salt
  • cilantro (optional)
  • thyme (optional)
  • oregano (optional)
  • chili flake or cayenne (optional)

Method

Chop the onion. Warm a large pot over medium heat and add a big glug of olive oil. Sauté the onions for about 10 minutes until they’re clear, adding a couple of shakes of cumin seed along the way.

While the onions are cooking, peel and dice the carrots; chop the bell pepper; and boil a cup of water to rehydrate the chipotle peppers. Once the water is boiling, pour it over the peppers into a small glass container. (I have a hot water kettle, so I pour the water over the peppers into a mason jar or measuring cup.) Let that steep for a while and keep the pepper water.

Once the onions start to brown, add some kosher salt to keep them from burning and add the beef to the mixture. Add more salt, maybe three big pinches, and break the beef chunks apart. Once the beef is cooked through, taste it and make sure it’s salty enough on its own. It should taste good before you add everything else. Add in the carrots and bay leaves, and cook them over medium heat for a few minutes until they soften.

Smash or dice the garlic. Open the beans, rinse them, drain them, and add them to the mixture. Add in the tomatoes, tomato paste, chili powder, garlic, bell pepper, chipotle peppers, and about half of the chipotle pepper water. I also like to add other spices here if I have them, like coriander, oregano, thyme, and red chili flake. These are all optional.

Bring the chili to a high simmer, and then turn it down low and cover for at least thirty minutes. You can let it simmer for a good long while, adding more salt, chili powder, and pepper water until it’s the right consistency and flavor.

Once everything softens and tastes good, finish the chili by mixing in the chocolate, brown sugar, tamari, and apple cider vinegar. It should be flavorful, bright, and smoky. If you want to spice it up even more, you can add a dash of cayenne pepper or minced jalapeños.

When you can’t stop eating the chili out of the pan, it’s time to eat the chili! I serve mine in big bowls over white rice or corn chips, with a little sprig of cilantro. You can also make cornbread ahead of time if you feel like baking. Enjoy!