Saturday, February 20, 2010

Chili beans, Texas-style

I tend to value authenticity in my cooking. If I want to cook adobo, I'll look for a Filipino recipe. If I want to make rendang, I'll look for an Indonesian (or Malaysian, I suppose) recipe. If I want to make chili, I'll look for a Texan recipe. I know there are a lot of versions of chili, but Texans seem pretty adamant: no tomatoes, no beans. Usually, I can agree with that--we made a great pot of all-beef chili a few weeks ago. But now it's Lent, and Florence isn't eating meat, so chili beans it is! (There are no pictures because my camera is out of batteries, and I haven't quite mastered the clunky uploading setup yet).

Chili Beans, adapted from Homesick Texan

1 large yellow onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 pound (~2 cups) dried pinto beans
4 dried Anaheim chiles
2 ancho chiles (dried poblanos)
1 chipotle chile, dried or canned
Dark chile powder
Oregano (preferably Mexican)
Cocoa powder
Hot chile powder (Cayenne powder and Korean pepper powder are good options)
Cornstarch (since I have no masa harina)

Core and seed the dried chiles (especially the chipotle) and toast them in a cast-iron skillet. Open a window or get a fan, since the chiles will smoke and it will burn your nose and throat. When they're blistered or you can't stand the smoke anymore, fill the skillet with water and cover it for 20-30 minutes.

While the chiles are soaking, brown the diced onions in a Dutch oven in bacon grease or neutral oil (not olive). When they're turning reddish-brown, add the garlic and turn down the heat so nothing burns. Drain the chiles (discard the water) and purée them in a food processor with enough fresh water to make it smooth. Add the chile purée to the onions and garlic, and turn the heat back up. Sauté it all together for a couple minutes, then add the beans and four cups of water, or enough to cover the beans by 1-2 cm. Season with about four tablespoons of dark chile powder, one or two tablespoons of oregano, and two tablespoons of hot chile powder to start. Don't add salt yet, since the beans will take longer to cook if you do.

Bring the beans to a boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 30-45 minutes. Taste and correct the seasoning, and add a tablespoon or so of cocoa powder. It sounds weird, but it's not sweet and it will give the chili a great depth of flavor. Cover the pot again and simmer until the beans are as tender as you want, probably 1-2 hours. Add salt if necessary, although I didn't have to. Scoop out 1/2 cup of stew broth and mix with 2 tablespoons cornstarch until smooth, then set aside. Turn up the heat on the beans and boil until the water is about level with the beans, then turn off the heat. Stir the water/cornstarch mixture into the chili beans--the stew will thicken as it cools down.

Serve with rice, or (more authentically) cornbread!

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