Black beans, red kidney beans, lovely soft blobs of tomato, and ground meat all shimmering together in tomatoey sauce with an aroma of chili powder and cumin. It was gorgeous and so tasty. An island neighbor, Gerry Wolf, made this and served it with corn chips on the side. I kept looking at it as I ate and wondered, ‘Why do I like this chili so much?’
It came down to having two different colored beans, which was so pretty, and enough tomatoes left in large enough pieces that you could discern their roundness. Then I learned it was made with ground turkey instead of beef, even though I couldn’t tell that from looking at it, or even tasting it. It was wholesome and handsome without making a big deal out of it.
Chances are that kidney beans and black beans are in your pantry right now, canned or dry, along with canned stewed tomatoes. If you don’t have these on hand, seriously consider picking them up because they are very handy and take a long time to get to their best-by dates. It might be you’ve stocked your freezer with ground meat: turkey or chicken or beef. Or even venison, seeing that it is hunting season.
Otherwise, this chili is just like any other. If you don’t have canned beans, you can soak dry beans overnight and cook them up until they are nearly tender. If your schedule is tight, canned beans make a lot of sense; if you are working from home, or your cash flow is more of a trickle, dried beans are cheaper. Start with a little onion fried in oil until it is soft. If you like garlic, add a clove or two minced up. Brown the meat in with the onion, then add the tomatoes and beans. After those have cooked together for a while, add the seasoning: chili powder, more dried chili flakes if you like the heat, some cumin and oregano. Salt and pepper. All to taste.
Don’t get hung up on details here. More or less of one bean or the other won’t matter. If you don’t have stewed tomatoes, use a can of diced ones. If a half pound of ground meat is all you have, use that. If you have a pound and half — well, good for you; put it all in. If you are a vegetarian, leave the meat out. I recommend two cups each of bean and tomatoes, but since can sizes are variable, round it up or down to the nearest whole can, and try to keep them more or less equal to one another.
Serve it on rice or crunched up corn chips (the ones in the bottom of the bag), or alongside cornbread. Put cheese on top or not. Make a lot and freeze some for a quick meal on another day.
Sometimes I think chili is more of an idea than a recipe, and homemade chili is a better idea. I ended up with a packaged version that someone gave me, which in the spirit of waste not, want not, actually tried to eat. Ghastly. Splodge-like, gluey; I have no idea why I thought it would be worthwhile.
Let’s hear it for toothsome, wholesome, and beautiful homemade food.
P.S. Lots of us will have smaller than usual Thanksgivings this year if family and friends decide not to travel during a pandemic, or decide it is too risky gathering in big groups. Most of us will want to cook something that makes it feel like Thanksgiving. If you have a dish that says “Thanksgiving” to you and your family that you will make no matter what, would you share it with us?
Multi-Bean Chili with Stewed Tomatoes
Serves 4-6, or more depending on appetites
1 onion, chopped
1 pound ground turkey, chicken, beef or venison
2 cups cooked black beans
2 cups cooked kidney beans
2 to 3 cups stewed tomatoes
Chili powder, to taste
Cumin, to taste
Red pepper flakes, optional, to taste
Oregano, to taste
Salt and pepper
Put enough vegetable oil in a large pot to just cover the bottom. Add the chopped onions.
Cook the onions until they are soft, and add garlic and cook another minute or two.
Add the meat and brown it with the onions.
Add the beans and tomatoes and cook them all together for several minutes, adding a little more water or a little tomato sauce if needed to keep the mixture from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Add the chili powder, cumin, red pepper flakes, oregano, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook together for at least another half hour. Long and slow cooking is best.