Three-bean pumpkin chili

This chili started with a not-so-spectacular sugar pumpkin. It arrived in our CSA, cute as a button, and I could tell as soon as I picked it up that it wasn’t a winner. It felt light for its size, and a good pumpkin should feel heavy. When I roasted and pureed it, my instincts were confirmed: the flesh was starchy rather than sweet, and the pumpkin flavor was muted. I’d been planning to make pie, but I knew at first taste it’d be a dud.

Still, the puree had some of the lovely earthiness I expect from freshly roasted pumpkin. What about a savory use? I’d been to the Half Moon Bay Pumpkin Festival a couple weeks before and tried pumpkin chili for the first time. For something sold out of a concession tent in a styrofoam bowl, it was pretty good–the pumpkin made a nice match for the beany warmth of the chili. But I wished with every spoonful that it was spicier, gutsier, more like my favorite bean chili. So when I found myself with a batch of boring pumpkin puree, I decided to try marrying the two chilis.

If it’s possible, I think I like this version even better than the original I based it on. The pumpkin gives the whole thing some backbone, adding sweetness and depth to balance the intense smoky heat. It also helps thicken the chili, creating a rich gravy-like sauce. The chili is ready after as little as an hour of simmering, but if you have the time, let it go for closer to three hours–the long simmer really takes the flavor from good to glorious. The whole thing is wonderfully rib-sticking, perfect for chilly nights like the ones we’ve been having in the Bay Area recently.

This is fabulous with any kind of pumpkin, homemade or canned. I know I’m not the only one to end up with a bland roasted pumpkin, and this is the perfect use for less-than-stellar puree. I ended up adding a bit of sugar at the end to compensate for the lack of sweetness in my pumpkin; this is totally a taste-and-adjust situation. Or you could just use canned puree, which provides plenty of sweetness and makes this a meal you could whip up from the pantry.

pumpkin chili

Three-Bean Pumpkin Chili (serves 4-6)

Adapted from this recipe

Note: If you want to roast and puree your own pumpkin, there are great instructions here. One small sugar pumpkin should do the trick for this recipe.

2 tbsp peanut, canola, or vegetable oil

1 medium yellow onion, diced

Salt to taste

4 large or 6-8 small garlic cloves, minced

2 tsp chili powder

2 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp sweet smoked paprika

1 3/4 cups homemade pumpkin puree OR 1 (15 oz) can pumpkin puree

2-3 tsp minced chipotles in adobo, to taste

1 tsp tomato paste

1 (15 oz) can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed

1 (15 oz) can black beans, drained and rinsed

1 (15 oz) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed

1 (28 oz) can crushed tomatoes

2 cups water, plus more as needed

1 (3 inch) cinnamon stick)

Granulated sugar to taste

Diced avocado for serving

Thinly sliced scallions for serving

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

Add beans, crushed tomatoes, water, and a couple pinches of salt. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat to keep the liquid at a bare simmer. Simmer, uncovered, for 1 to 3 hours, until the chili has thickened and tastes the way you want it. If simmering longer than 1 hour, keep an eye on the pot and add the occasional splash of water if it’s getting too thick.

Remove the chili from the heat; remove and discard the cinnamon stick. Season with salt and sugar 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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