Whenever it gets cold and gross and I am looking for something simple and hearty, I always head for chili. I love this recipe because you can make it in a crock pot, you can throw in whatever you want, and it is always delicious. And it makes good left overs. It’s also inexpensive. Some cans of beans (or beans saved from your garden), a pound or so of ground beef, and onion, you’re good. Maybe $7 for the whole thing. And if you are really going for the gold, you can add in some cornbread, the jiffy mix is 39 cents.
Legumes, along with cereal plants, are some of the first plants domesticated by humans. We evolved with them. While other legumes, like peas and lentils, are native to Europe and Asia, what we refer to as “beans” were brought to Europe in the 15th century (as were most of the best plants). They originated in the Americas, and as we know, they were a staple in indigenous diet. Gardening lore says that the Native Americans grew the trinity of indigenous foods–corn, beans, and squash–together. The beans twined up the corn stalks, and the squash covered the ground to keep the weeds down. While I have not yet tried anything outside of peas and green beans, I have read in many places that beans are a delight to grow in your garden–they are so easy and store so well. We are planning on good variety ourselves this year. I can say that they are a delight when they first come up in the spring. One day you put them in the ground. About a week later you see a little bit of green breaking the surface. Then the next morning there are these giant seedlings standing proudly with their huge leaves (for a seedling) spread for the sun. They are a celebratory plant, I’ve decided, with the way they miraculously pop up. I spent a good amount of time leaned over the edge of my garden box, just marveling at them.
Beans are also a wonderful source of fiber, if you desire to stay regular. It helps to clean out your system. It also means that it will keep you fuller, longer. Foods with this characteristic are also good for people with diabetes, because of the way the metabolize and turn to sugars. Other benefits include iron and protein (important for you veggies out there), Vitamin B, and healthy carbs, along with virtually no fat. Unlike veggies, beans do not lose much of their nutrition when they have been canned. That means that there is not a nutritional reason to choose fresh beans over dried or canned ones (flavor may be a different thing, if you’re in season). The most surprizing thing I found about beans is that, gram for gram, they have 10 times amount of antioxidants of oranges! So it’s no surprize that they have been shown to be highly effective at fighting cancer and heart disease.
Beans are being used to fight world hunger as well. The combination of their outstanding nutrition, their ease to grow and store, their tolerance to many different climatic conditions, and how inexpensive they are, makes them an invaluable part of fighting hunger in the developing world. If you combine beans with a grain (like rice or barley) and a fresh fruit or veggie, you have a complete meal for not much money.
Making this today re-taught me several good lessons: (1) no matter how much you want to, do not close your eyes while you chop the onions. Blind + sharp knife + slippery onion + fingers = blood. (2) Check to make sure that you have the plastic thing with holes on your herb jar. Otherwise a jaunty dash will turn into a tablespoon dumped in and then requiring to be scooped out.
This recipe is just a suggestion, it’s guidelines. You can really use anything that you want in the general category. Just experiment and you will find what you like. It can be vegetarian if you don’t add in meat. You can also make it into what we called “Tamale Stew” when I was a kid. You can buy big cans of tamales in the grocery store (at least you can in Texas, I haven’t tried in Colorado). Just break them up and put them in, and don’t forget to put in all the sauce!
Snow Day Chili
- Beans. Whatever beans you have. I usually get 1 can of black, 2 of kidney, 1 of chili beans (aka seasoned pinto beans, make sure it’s low sodium), 1 of white, and what ever else sounds good. Today it was mostly pinto, because that is what I had.
- 1 lb or more of meat. It can be ground beef (what I usually use), stew meat, elk, lamb, any game, whatever you want.
- 1 onion, chopped
- 3-4 cloves minced garlic (or garlic from a jar)
- 1/2 tsp minced ginger (I use it from the jar)
- 1/2ish tsp chili powder (more or less depending on your taste)
- 1/2 tsp cumin
- 1/4 tsp coriander
- Couple of dashes of cayenne pepper (or more, if you want it spicy. You can also use Tabasco or similar)
- Couple of dashes of ground cloves (cinnamon or nutmeg might also be interesting. This is the first time I’ve used cloves in chili. They called to me.)
- 1/4 tsp tarragon
- 2 bay leaves
- 1/2 tsp oregano
- Salt and pepper to taste
- interesting options: beer, red wine, bbq sauce, jalapenos or other pepper, broken up tamales, you name it.
- Serve with squares of cheddar cheese, corn bread, tortillas, rice, fritos (aka frito pie–the legend), brown sugar, more hot sauce, and always serve with a spoon.
- Brown the meat on the stove top. If you are making this in a pot on the stove, just brown it in the same one. If you are doing the crock pot, do it in a pan. Trust me, the taste and texture is way better than if you just put the raw and/or frozen meat in the crock pot. Don’t forget to season with some salt and pepper.
- Once your meat is mostly done, put in your onions, garlic, and ginger and brown.
- Mix together the meat and beans and seasonings in your cooking vessel of choice. Cook on low in your crock pot as long as you like. In a pot, cook on very low for a few hours, or as little as 30-45 min at med temp. Just make sure that you don’t burn the bottom.
- If it doesn’t seem to have enough liquid you can add a little, but not too much. This is thick chili, not soup.