Last weekend, while it was still unseasonably warm here in New York, I bought a bag of mixed soup beans at the farmers market and set out to make chili. (I found the beans—beautiful beans!—through a great new initiative called the Greenmarket Regional Grains Project.) I wondered if it was too warm, that chili was the wrong thing for the weather. But then a cold, icy front blew in on Monday and it turned out that chili was a smart move.
My go-to recipe, which was on Buzzfeed a while ago, is like most chili recipes in that you can approach it with loose attention to the rules (well, don’t quote me on that, because I know there are strong opinions on this subject). I always grind up the vegetables, which makes for a luxe, velvety consistency because of caramelized goodness, and use chunks of squash that offer some nice juicy texture against the beans. This time I used a combination of ancho and guajillo chilies that go into the garlic-ginger paste, and left out fresh ones (didn’t have any), and went with red wine instead of beer. It’s a very good batch. I’ve posted my slightly revised recipe at the bottom of the post.
My book Bowl, which will be out in March, began several years ago because of a transformative bowl of vegetarian ramen at Chucko here in Brooklyn. It featured a rich, complex, steaming broth that fogged up my glasses, a tangle of fresh wheat noodles, chunks of sweet and juicy vegetables like squash and cabbage, and a soft egg that gloriously melted into the whole thing. That inspired me to start making ramen at home, which in turn, led me to some of the other classic, similarly comforting dishes of Asia like bibimbap and pho. These were such wonderful recipes to be immersed in and at some point I realized that the commonality was the vessel itself, as I was also making some of the grain-based all-in-one bowls that are currently in vogue.
So with a book called Bowl, that celebrates the vessel and the comforting and healthy meals that can be enjoyed from it, it seemed obvious to team up with a maker of bowls! I’m pleased to announce that ceramics designer Jono Pandolfi, who makes some of the most gorgeous ceramics I’ve ever seen (for many of New York’s top chefs and for Food52’s exclusive line) is offering a set of four bowls to one lucky person who preorders Bowl! All you need to do is order the book before March 7, 2016 and forward the order confirmation to firstname.lastname@example.org. A winner will be picked at random. More details over here. I’m excited for this book—I think you’ll like it.
My Vegetarian Chili, 2016
Lately I prefer to cook the beans separately from the chili, in just enough water to cover and adding more as necessary, and I’ve tweaked my original recipe here to reflect that—I think that this allows the beans to cook better. As with all chili, it improves as it sits for a day or two.
1 pound mixed, medium-sized beans: cannellini, kidney, navy, cranberry, etc.
6 tablespoons olive oil
2 dried guajillo chiles
2 dried ancho chiles
1 tablespoon whole coriander seeds
2 teaspoons cumin seeds
2 teaspoons fennel seeds
1/4 teaspoon white peppercorns
1 large onion, roughly chopped
3 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
2 bay leaves
8 plump garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
2 tablespoons peeled and chopped ginger
3 tablespoons brown sugar
1 cup dry red wine
One 28-ounce can whole tomatoes and their juice
4 cups cubed (3/4-inch dice) winter squash, such as butternut, acorn, or kabocha (about 1.5 pounds)
Suggested garnishes: Grated cheddar, Cilantro leaves, Sliced scallions, Yogurt, Cooked grains
1. Soak the beans overnight (or minimum 4 hours) in plenty of cold water. Drain. Transfer to a pot, add just enough water to cover them as well as a 2 tablespoons olive oil, then set over high heat and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat and simmer, adding a bit more water as necessary, until all the beans are creamy and tender. Towards the end of the cooking time, season with salt. Remove from the heat, but do not drain.
2. Cover the dried chilies with hot tap water and let stand for about 20 minutes, until soft and pliant. Strain and reserve the soaking liquid. Trim off the stems then split in half lengthwise. Trim out the seeds and ribs, the coarsely chop the chilies.
3. Put the coriander, cumin, fennel, and peppercorns in a small skillet and place over medium-heat. Toast, swirling frequently, until fragrant, just a minute or two. Transfer to a mortar or spice grinder and coarsely grind.
4. Combine the onion and carrots in a food processor and pulse until everything is finely chopped but not liquefied. Heat the remaining 4 tablespoons oil in a large pot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat, then add this carrot-onion mixture, ground spices, and bay leaves. Cook, stirring periodically, until the mixture begins to caramelize and stick to the bottom of the pan, about 15 to 20 minutes.
5. Meanwhile, combine the rehydrated chiles with the garlic, ginger, and fresh chilies in the food processor. With the motor running, pour in a few tablespoons of the chili water, as needed to achieve a smooth paste. This may take up to a minute depending on how finely you chopped the chilies to begin with.
6. Add the chili-garlic-ginger mixture, brown sugar, and salt to the vegetables. Cook for about 5 minutes more, stirring a few times, until thick and dark and a little sludge-ey. Pour in the wine and scrape up any browned bits. Then add the beans and their cooking liquid, the remaining chili soaking liquid, the squash, and lastly the tomatoes—first straining the tomato juice into the pot, then fishing out the whole tomatoes from the can and crushing them with your hands one by one into the pot (careful not to squirt juice on yourself). Add additional water so that the beans are just able to swim freely. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, partially cover the pot, and cook for about an hour, until the liquid is reduced, the squash is soft, the broth is rich and thick, and the craggy pieces of tomato are really velvety and good. Season with salt as you go. You may need add additional water as it cooks. Serve with garnishes as you like.