While the calendar page has already flipped to March and spring is a mere three weeks away, I can’t help but grasp onto these waning days of winter. Before we know it — and long before I’ll be ready for it —the mercury will rise upwards of 80 degrees and the joy of eating heartier, rib-sticking comfort foods will fade.
Before that happens — before we turn our culinary thoughts toward grilling and berries and summer gardens — be sure to hit that slow cooker a time or two more.
Years ago, I had the snappy idea that — enough of the Nallys and the Hormels and the Staggs of the world — I was going to make a pot chili all on my own, mostly. The fact is, the very thought of turning dried beans into something edible was mystifying.
No matter how many recipes I’d follow, no matter how closely I adhered to the directions, no matter how long I’d cook them, making a pot of beans from dried invariably ended up like deliciously seasoned rocks. Thus, when I decided to make homemade chili, it began with opening a can of prepared beans.
When I moved to Central California — where just about every woman learns how to cook beans by the age of 9 — I realized I was a walking humiliation. (SIDE NOTE: I’m sure the men around here can cook beans by an early age, too; I’ve just never asked any.) There was no way a self-respecting, penny-pinching home cook would make chili from already prepared beans.
Luckily, my friend Yvonne Romero enlightened me on the finer points of hydrating dried beans. The trick: soak the beans in salted water overnight. Not only does this perfectly soften the beans, but something science-y happens during the soak that reduces the resulting gassiness factor. (You’re welcome.)
The following is a chili recipe I found years ago online and have adapted over time. While this version appears to have just less than 500 million ingredients, go with what suits your taste. I can promise my recipe here won’t be anywhere near spicy enough for some, but it is flavorful. Feel free to improve upon it as you will. Just do it soon — before winter escapes you.
For the beans:
• 1 pound bag dried kidney beans
• 6 cups water
• 1 large onion, coarsely chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, peeled and chopped
• 1 tablespoon salt
For the chili:
• 2 pounds ground beef
• 1 onion, chopped
• 2 cloves garlic, minced
• 2 tablespoons olive oil
• 1 can (14.5 ounce) peeled, diced tomatoes with juice
• 1 bottle (12 ounces) dark beer
• 1 cup strong brewed coffee
• 2 cans (6 ounces each) tomato paste
• 1/2 cup packed brown sugar
• 4 tablespoons chili powder
• 1 can (4 ounces) diced green chilies
• 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
• 1 teaspoon dried oregano
• 1 teaspoon ground cayenne pepper
• 1 teaspoon ground coriander
• 1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 1/2 teaspoon pepper
The night before: Put the dried beans, onion, garlic and 1 tablespoon of salt in a large pot. Completely cover the beans with water. Let the pot stand overnight. In the morning, drain, rinse and pick through the beans, removing any detritus or weird beans.
For the chili: Heat the oil in a skillet over medium heat. Saute the onion, garlic and ground beef until the meat is browned. Drain off the fat.
Transfer the meat to a large pot, and add all the rest of the ingredients (beans last), mixing well. Let the whole thing simmer over low heat for 11/2 to 2 hours. Flavor to suit your palette.