Yes, I know, chili is probably not the recipe you were expecting, now that the weather has finally turned a corner, and at least in D.C. those last few piles of mucky snow are being overtaken by the pale green shoots of early-spring’s crocuses and daffodils. Chili is a cold-weather food, best eaten in the frosty darkness of winter.
At least that’s what I used to think until I concocted this recipe a few months ago. At its heart, it’s a Cinncinati-style chili courtesy of some ground beef and tomato sauce. The addition of some diced red pepper, yellow corn, and black beans, however, give it a colorful, confetti-like vibe while also lightening it considerably, making it splendid for warmer months as well.
A perfect weeknight recipe for busy families emerging from the winter doldrums. What more could you ask for?
Well, how about the fact that it can be made on a moment’s notice entirely from healthy pantry and refrigerator staples. With the exception of the ground beef, all of the ingredients are foods that store well in the fridge (red peppers) or pantry (onions), or are the type of convenience foods (canned beans, frozen vegetables) that are unadulterated by added sugar, salt, and fat. Even the ground beef can be bought in advance and stored in the refrigerator. You’ll just need to be sure to use it or freeze it before it’s expiration date. (Alternatively, you can omit the ground beef altogether and make a vegetarian version of the chile.)
My recipe is based on one I found a few months ago in Fine Cooking while looking for a way to use up some ground beef that was languishing in my refrigerator. That recipe seemed very good, but I wanted to make it a more weeknight-friendly. I did so by reducing the number of ingredients in order to eliminate some of the prep work. I also streamlined the cooking process by sautéing all of the ingredients in stages in the same pot. (The original recipe directed the ground beef to be browned in batches and removed from the pot, only to be returned to the pot later. This seemed complicated and unnecessary.)
One step from the original recipe that I did keep is to thicken the chili by puréeing some of the black beans in a blender and then adding the purée along with the remaining whole beans to the pot. I thought that was an absolutely brilliant idea. Beans can be wonderful thickening agents, and since black beans are already a part of this recipe, using some of them to thicken the chile seemed to be no brainer. However, if you don’t have a blender, or you don’t want to dirty the one you have, then you can skip this step. The chile won’t be as thick as if you had puréed some of the beans, but it will still be delicious.
The result is an absolutely delicious, all-in-one weeknight meal that can be enjoyed now and later.
2 tablespoons olive or canola oil
1 large onion, chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 red pepper, stemmed, seeded, and chopped
2 to 4 garlic cloves, minced or put through a garlic press
1 tablespoon tomato paste (or 1 cube of frozen tomato paste)
1 8-ounce can of low-sodium tomato sauce
2 cups beef broth (homemade or lower sodium store-bought)
2 15-ounce cans of black beans, rinsed and drained
1/2 cup water
1 cup frozen corn
1 tablespoon chile powder
1 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground turmeric
1 teaspoon ground pepper
1/2 teaspoon salt
Grated Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese, chopped fresh jalapeño, toasted pepitas
Warm corn tortillas
1. Heat the olive oil in a large Dutch oven until it starts to shimmer. Add the onion and 1/2 teaspoon of salt and saute over medium heat until the onion is softened and starting to brown, about 10 minutes. Add the red pepper and garlic and saute another 5-10 minutes. Add the tomato paste and spice blend and cook, stirring constantly, until the mixture becomes fragrant, 1 to 2 minutes.
2. Add the ground beef to the Dutch oven, breaking it up with a spoon, and then stirring occasionally until it is browned, about 5 minutes. Add the tomato sauce and beef broth, stir to combine, and then turn the heat up until the mixture comes to a boil. Immediately reduce the heat to a simmer.
3. Meanwhile, puree 1 cup of the beans and the 1/2 cup water in a blender or food processor. Stir the pureed beans together with the remaining whole beans and the frozen corn into the ground beef mixture. Bring the the pot back to a simmer and then cover, stirring occasionally, for 30 – 60 minutes. If the chile gets too thick, thin it with a little water.
4. Top with one or more garnishes, if desired, and serve with warm corn tortillas on the side.
*You can use any combination of chile powder and pre-ground spices and those that you grind yourself in a spice or coffee grinder. You can even create your own multi-purpose spice blend, such as the one here, and use it to flavor your chile instead of the blend described above. Just be sure not to skip the step of sautéing it with the tomato paste in step 1 as this makes the spices more flavorful and pungent.
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