Vegetarian Black Bean Chili

Sea of Black Bean Chili

Autumn is coming and one of my favorite things to make in this season is Black Bean Chili from The Greens restaurant in San Francisco.  I’ve never eaten at The Greens myself, but my friend Megan was a chef there a few years ago, so I picked up the restaurant’s cookbook from my local library and thought this recipe looked good.  Little did I know that this is one of their signature items.

One of the things that I love about this recipe is that, rather than using chili powder from the store, you grind the spices.  For me this was a real eye-opener into what chili really is and how I can take more personal control over the way I spice my food.  If you don’t have one already, you’ll want to buy an inexpensive coffee grinder (I got mine for $10) that is devoted only to spice grinding.  In a pinch you could use a blender or a food processor, but it might be hard to get a very fine grind with these.

This recipe freezes very well and I usually like to double these amounts and then freeze half.  BTW, this recipe packs a wee bit of heat, so if you don’t like a little warmth in your mouth after a bite of chili you can scale back on the cayenne and/or chipotles.

You will need:

2 cups dry black turtle beans
1 bay leaf
4 teaspoons cumin seed
4 teaspoons oregano
4 teaspoons paprika
½ teaspoon cayenne pepper
1 negro or ancho chile
3 tablespoons peanut oil
3 yellow onions, ¼ inch dice
4 garlic clove, coarsely chopped
½ teaspoon salt
1 ½ pounds canned tomatoes with liquid, chopped
1 to 2 teaspoons chopped chipotle chile
1 tablespoon rice wine vineger
4 tablespoons fresh cilantro, chopped
2 poblano or ancho chiles, roasted, peeled and diced
½ cup muenster cheese, grated
½ cup crème fraiche, or sour cream

Sort through the beans and remove any small stones. Rinse them well, cover them generously with water, and let them soak overnight.

Next day, drain the beans, cover them with fresh water by a couple of inches and bring them to a boil with the bay leaf. Lower the heat and let the beans simmer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.

Heat a small heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, and when they begin to color, add the oregano leaves, shaking the pan frequently so the herbs don’t scorch. As soon as the fragrance is strong and robust, remove the pan from the heat and add the paprika and the cayenne. Give everything a quick stir; then remove from the pan — the paprika and the cayenne only need a few seconds to toast. Grind in a mortar or a spice mill to make a coarse powder. Preheat the oven to 375°F.

To make the chili powder, put the dried chile in the oven for 3 to 5 minutes to dry it out. Cool it briefly; then remove the stem, seeds and veins. Tear the pod into small pieces and grind it into a powder in a blender or a spice mill.  Here’s a shot of the toasted ancho chiles (2 because I doubled the recipe):

Ancho Chiles

And here we have the ground ancho chiles on the left and the ground spice mixture on the right:

Ground Spices

Heat the oil in a large skillet and sauté the onions over medium heat until they soften. Add the garlic, salt and the ground herbs and chili powder and cook another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, their juice, and about 1 teaspoon of the chipotle chile.

Onions, Tomatoes, Garlic, Spices

Simmer everything together for 15 minutes then add this mixture to the beans, and, if necessary, enough water so the beans are covered by at least 1 inch. Continue cooking the beans slowly until they are soft, an hour or longer (I like to give myself several hours), or pressure cook them for 30 minutes at 15 pounds pressure.

Chili Simmering

Keep an eye on the water level and add more, if needed, to keep the beans amply covered. When the beans are cooked, taste them, and add more chipotle if desired.  Season to taste with the vinegar, additional salt if needed, and the chopped cilantro.

Prepare the garnishes. If you are using fresh green chiles, roast them over a flame until they are evenly charred. Let them steam 10 minutes in a bowl covered with a dish; then scrape off the skins, discard the seeds, and dice.

Serve the chili ladled over a large spoonful of grated cheese and garnish it with the crème fraîche or sour cream, the green chilies and a sprig of fresh cilantro. Feel free to get creative here and garnish the chili as you like (bacon would take this out of the vegetarian realm, but would be phenomenal). This chili is great with tortilla chips or cornbread.

Bowl of Black Bean Chili