If you have known me for any length of time – or more specifically, if you have ever dined in my household – you have probably eaten my black bean chili. This is my go-to recipe, a trusty old standby that never disappoints. I have no idea where this recipe originated, but my friend Catherine made it for me years ago and I’ve been making it ever since. I often wonder how the combination of so few (and simple) ingredients can be SO good, but it never fails. I have never made a batch of this chili that I didn’t like.
The other night, I ended up throwing together a batch of this chili in a hurry. You see, I hadn’t planned on making dinner. Nich’s mom and stepdad were in town for the day, and we had all planned on going out to dinner together once they were done with their Portland errands and appointments (My in-laws – Meri and Jerry – live in Prineville, so we don’t get to see them often). Their errands took longer than expected, and put them a few hours behind schedule. I knew that they’d be eager to eat quickly – as they still had a 3+ hour drive ahead of them. I figured that a home-cooked meal would probably be a lot nicer than a fast food dinner, so I set about making my trusty black bean chili. Its cheap, and hearty, quick, and good.
They arrived at our house sooner than I expected and so I was mildly panicked that the soup wasn’t done to my liking. As with most things, this soup tastes better the longer you cook it. I was very apologetic, but alas they consumed the soup happily. (I need to take more cues from Julia Childs, who made it a point to never apologize for her food mishaps. She says that as a cook or hostess, one should not stumble through life second-guessing every meal you put on the table. Rather, know when you’ve made a mistake – but don’t make a big fuss – and learn from that mistake.)
Admittedly, this wasn’t the best pot of black bean chili I have ever made. It simmered for maybe 20 minutes and I usually like to let it simmer for 45 minutes to an hour. But I will say, there was a secret ingredient that saved the chili: one dried chipotle pepper. I don’t usually put chipotles in this particular chili, but Nich has been on a chipotle kick lately and suggested that we throw a chipotle in for kicks. I figured…why not? It ended up being a great decision – it gave the chili a smokiness and such a depth of flavor (and all credit goes to the husband on that one).
All in all, it was a successful pot of chili. And it was a lovely – but short – visit with my in-laws. And, do you notice anything different about my black bean chili photo? It was properly lit! Meri and Jerry knew that I have been struggling with finding good light in our house for my food photography – so they gave me a tripod and a professional light! I am just giddy about it. That very night, Nich and I set up the light and toyed around with it a bit. I had some extra chili so we managed to take a few pictures (you can also thank Nich for the avocado styling). I’m still new to this ‘real’ photographer stuff, but I am eager to learn. And I can already tell that good lighting is making all the difference. So, thank you to my wonderful and generous in-laws. It means so much that you support my food-blogging endeavors!
Black Bean Chili
4 cans of (organic) black beans (drain 3 cans & reserve the juice of 1 can)
1 can of plain tomato sauce
1 can of fire roasted tomatoes (you can roast your own, but this is much quicker! You could also use fresh tomatoes, but I like the taste of the fire roasted. Specifically, the Muir Glen brand)
1 medium yellow onion – cut into 1/2 inch chunks
1 large red bell pepper, cut into chunks
1 – 2 Tablespoons of Cumin
1 Tsp Cayenne Pepper
1 – 2 Tablespoons of Chili Powder
Salt & Pepper to taste
1 dried Chipotle pepper (*optional)
Heat a small amount of olive oil in a large pot over medium heat. Add in the chopped onions and 1 Tbl of the cumin and let cook on medium/low for a couple of minutes, until onions are getting soft. Add in the chopped red pepper and sauté for a few more minutes. If you are using the chipotle pepper, you can add it at this time.
After a few minutes, add in the black beans (and juice of one can), fire roasted tomatoes, and tomato sauce. Stir well. Add in cayenne, chili powder and a bit more cumin (I recommend adding a small amount at first, and then tasting every 15 minutes or so to adjust seasonings. I use a LOT of chili powder and cumin in this recipe). Let the chili simmer on low heat for 45 minutes to an hour. Stir occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan.
When serving, ladle into bowls and top with grated cheese, sour cream, and green onions (non-vegan version) or with avocado and cilantro (vegan version). And, of course, this chili is great with cornbread.