Make Ahead

Slightly Smoky Mixed-Bean Chili

December 29, 2010
Photo by Ryan Dausch
Author Notes

Quite simply, this is the dish my children request most frequently.
This chili was based originally on a recipe from a Sunset Magazine Vegetarian Cookbook for Layered Chili. At the time, 3 cans of prepared beans were adequate for my small family. Later on, I encountered Deborah Madison's version for Black Bean chili, which called for toasting spices and whole dried peppers and grinding them to lift the flavor. Being rather lazy, I simplified those instructions quite a bit, simply adding my blend of spices to the sizzling mix of onions and garlic already in the pan. As my family grew, I added more cans of beans to the preparation, till the cost in terms of cash outlay and the effort of opening 8 or 9 cans in the rush to get dinner on before the school bus arrived (as I said, I'm lazy) outweighed the flavor benefit. So I experimented with the more lazy, leisurely approach of soaking and cooking a mix of dried beans--big pillowy kidneys, black turtle, small Adukis, pictorial Anasazis and pintos. It is I suppose more effort, but can be done in stages. I don't bother soaking overnight, a few hours will do. Don't skip the yummy garnishes. They freshen up the flavor of this rich stew. Serve with: rice; guacamole; yogurt; sliced scallions; shredded cheddar; lime wedges; salsa; shredded lettuce. —creamtea

Test Kitchen Notes

WHO: Creamtea is a longtime Food52er who loves the movie Babette's Feast. She lives in New York.
WHAT: A deep, complex chili that's wonderfully hands-off.
HOW: Cook your beans (whichever you've got!). Sauté your onion and garlic, add your beans, tomatoes, orange, and spices, and simmer for around a half hour.
WHY WE LOVE IT: We love how creamtea's recipe calls for whatever beans you have around; it makes it easy to throw together whenever the mood strikes. The orange provides that hit of acid that chili needs, and the combination of herbs and spices gives it a complex smokiness. Plus, it's vegetarian (and, depending on your garnish, vegan)! —The Editors

  • Prep time 30 minutes
  • Cook time 2 hours 45 minutes
  • Serves 6 to 8
  • For the beans
  • 5 cups assorted dried beans, such as Anasazi, pinto, black, adzuki, pink and red, sorted and rinsed well, soaked in ample salted water for 3 or 4 hours or overnight
  • 1 small whole onion
  • 3 fresh bay leaves, twisted along their spines to crack them slightly
  • For the chili
  • 1 large (or 3 small) Spanish onion, chopped
  • 4 tablespoons olive oil
  • 5 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon plus 1 teaspoon ground chili, or to taste
  • 1/2 teaspoon chipotle chili powder, or to taste
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, lightly toasted and then pounded in a mortar and pestle
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 large can fire-roasted tomatoes. (I use Muir Glen). Otherwise, you could use whole, diced, or petite-diced, according to your preference
  • 1/2 naval orange, skin and pith removed, coarsely chopped
  • 1 teaspoon salt or to taste
  • Rice as an accompaniment (see my brown-rice pilaf within my recipe for Sephardic Megedarra -- if you start it at the same time you saute the aromatics here, it will be done just about when the chili is done)
  • Guacamole (see my recipe for Plain and Simple Guacamole and maybe increase by 1 avocado + extra lime juice and garlic)
  • Plain or goat's milk yogurt
  • Sliced scallions or minced white onions
  • Shredded cheddar
  • Fresh mild goat cheese, crumbled
  • Lemon or lime wedges
  • Refrigerated-type salsa (or homemade: chopped tomatoes, fresh jalapeno, seeded & minced, diced onion, minced garlic and a squeeze of lime)
  • Chopped fresh tomatoes (optional)
  • Shredded iceberg lettuce (optional)
In This Recipe
  1. For the beans
  2. Drain beans of their soaking liquid and place in a large kettle with whole onion, and bay leaf. Fill pot with fresh filtered water to more than cover the beans—1 to 2 inches above the surface of the beans should do. Season cooking water with salt—enough that you can taste it. Bring the water gently to the boil, stirring occasionally. When water boils, turn heat to medium low and simmer beans until tender, about 1 1/2 to 2 hours. Older beans will take longer. You will probably have to top off the beans with more water as they cook. You can remove a few beans from the pot and cut through the center with a sharp knife to test for doneness.
  1. For the chili
  2. In a heavy-bottomed pan, sauté onions until slightly softened; make an opening in the sautéing onions and add a little more oil and the minced garlic, allowing it to sizzle a bit before stirring into the onions. Sauté mixture until onions are translucent. Quickly add the spices and herbs and stir once or twice into the onion mix to bring out the fragrance then remove from heat before they scorch. Add to the pot of beans along with the canned tomatoes (squeeze over the pot to break them up before adding if they are whole), and orange pieces. Simmer mixture for 1/2 hour or so until flavors blend. Taste for salt and seasoning and adjust. May be made a day ahead for best flavor.
  3. Serve over rice with choice of garnishes: guacamole, yogurt, scallions, minced onions, shredded cheddar or creamy goat cheese, lemon or lime wedges, chopped tomatoes and lettuce.

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