Smoky three-bean chili

I’m normally pretty bad at resisting the lure of processed food. (I’m currently typing this blog post with one hand and eating honey mustard pretzels with the other.) But there is one consistent exception. One of my favorite food websites, The Kitchn, recently ran a blog post titled “How My Freezer Replaces Canned Soups.” I read it and found myself nodding vigorously the whole time. I may be pretty lazy most days, but I’ve pretty much stopped trying to convince myself that a can of soup is a satisfying dinner. It’s freezer soup all the way these days.

I’ve written about this before–how I love stocking my freezer with the building blocks of meals. It’s a habit I got into when I was living alone, working long days and commuting over an hour each way. At any given point, my freezer usually has some homemade chicken or turkey stock; a couple different kinds of soup, stew, or curry; and a double batch of tomato sauce. (Lately I’ve been adding little containers of sweet potato filling to my stash as well.) If I remember, I’ll take a portion out of the freezer the night before I want to eat it and let it partially thaw in the fridge; if I forget, I’ll run hot tap water over the frozen container just until the contents release from the sides. It takes nearly as little time to reheat frozen soup as canned, and it’s just as quick to eat.

This is the point at which my boyfriend would accuse me of being philosophically opposed to canned soup, and claim that I’m judging him when he chooses to eat it. That’s really not it at all, though; if it works for Sam as a quick and filling meal, then I’ll happily keep cans of his favorite soups in the house. But for me, canned soup no longer really registers as food. When I eat a can of soup for dinner, I’m never really full afterward; my body doesn’t seem to register it as a meal, and I find myself hungry again in less than an hour. It’s just so much more filling and satisfying to eat something I made myself and tailored to my own tastes.

This chili is a great example. I’ve had bean chili out of a can more times than I can count, and most of the time it’s perfectly okay. But to have my very own three-bean chili squirreled away means I’ll actually enjoy the meal when I heat it up. This is a chili made to my specifications: smoky and brick-red, studded with chunks of sweet potato and shot through with enough heat to make my nose run. I froze some leftover cornbread alongside, so that I could have a wedge of something crumbly to stick in my bowl. I also love adding some big chunks of avocado and a scattering of scallions on top, for buttery smoothness and oniony crunch. But even without the extra toppings–even just scraped out of a freezer container and microwaved–this chili is miles away from the stuff in the can.

smoky three-bean chili

Smoky Three-Bean Chili (serves 4-6)

Adapted from Cooking Light

Note: I have a decent spice tolerance, and I like a full tbsp of chipotle here. To my taste, it makes the chili solidly spicy, but not mouth-searingly so. If you want a less-spicy chili, you could easily scale back the chipotle, or omit it altogether; if you do, increase the smoked paprika by 1 tsp for every 1 tsp of chipotle you skip.

2 tbsp canola, peanut, or vegetable oil

1 red, orange, or yellow bell pepper, seeded and diced

1 poblano (pasilla) pepper, seeded and diced

1 yellow onion, diced

Salt to taste

4 large or 6-8 small garlic cloves, minced

1 tbsp minced chipotles in adobo, or to taste (see note)

1 tsp tomato paste

2 tsp chili powder

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp sweet smoked paprika

1 medium sweet potato (about 1/2 lb), peeled and cut into 1/2-inch cubes

1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes

2 cups vegetable broth or water

1 (15 oz) can red kidney beans

1 (15 oz) can black beans

1 (15 oz) can pinto beans

Diced avocado for serving

Thinly sliced scallions for serving

In a large pot, heat oil over medium heat. Add bell pepper, poblano pepper, onion, and a pinch of salt and cook, stirring frequently, for 6-8 minutes, or until the onion is translucent. Add garlic, chipotle, tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, and paprika, and cook for another 30 seconds to a minute, or until the mixture is fragrant.

Add sweet potato, crushed tomatoes, and broth or water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to keep the liquid at a steady simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for 20 minutes.

While the chili simmers, drain and rinse the beans. After 20 minutes, add beans to the pot and continue to simmer, stirring occasionally, for another 25-30 minutes, or until the sweet potato is tender and the chili is thickened to your liking.

Remove the chili from the heat and season with salt to taste. Ladle into bowls and top with avocado and scallions. Serve hot.

Make ahead: Like most chilis, this will only get better with time. It will keep, tightly covered, in the fridge for up to 3 days, or in the freezer for up to 4 months.

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