As the weather turns cooler, hearty soups, such as this black bean chili, become the centerpiece of lunches I serve to groups on retreat. I first developed this recipe when I cooked at Café Kardamena, a store-front natural foods restaurant in St. Paul, Minnesota, more than 25 years ago. It was a great seller then, and continues to be well received. Like most soups and stews, it deserves a good bit of simmering time, but it has the advantage of being a one-pot meal. Serving it with a variety of enticing garnishes on the side makes it an engaging meal for your guests, as each can customize the chili to their own taste. While most chilis feature meat as the main deal, this one stars sweet potatoes, a nutritional powerhouse. All chili goes well with something corny: chips, warm tortillas or cornbread are classic and good accompaniments. And a cool Corona or Dos Equis wouldn’t be wrong either.
Photo: Black Bean Chili garnished with Salsa, Guacamole, Crema and Cilantro. I added chopped green onions to the cornbread (I’m revising my cornbread recipe, and hope to post it soon).
BLACK BEAN CHIILI
Your local Mexican market is a good source for ingredients such as New Mexican chili powder, nopales and pasilla peppers.
Yields 6-8 servings
1 small white or yellow onion, peeled and diced
1-2 cloves garlic, peeled and minced
2 cups peeled and diced sweet potato (1 10-ounce sweet potato)
pinch of salt
1 small red bell pepper, seeded and diced
1 small pasilla pepper, seeded and diced
1 small pad of nopale cactus, scraped and diced**
1 tablespoon chili powder (preferably New Mexican, which is mild, use less if you have a stronger chili powder)
2 teaspoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons chopped cilantro
3 cups diced, canned tomatoes (or 2 15-ounce cans)
2-4 cups vegetable stock or water (as the chili cooks down, add vegetable stock or water as needed to yield chili of the consistency you prefer)
3 cups cooked black beans, including the liquid (or 2 15-ounce cans)
2-3 teaspoons umeboshi vinegar, to taste
2-4 teaspoons soy sauce, or to taste
1 tablespoon lime or lemon juice, or to taste
a drizzle of tabasco sauce (optional, add only if the chili doesn’t seem piquant enough)
1-2 tablespoons liquid sweetener, rice syrup, barley malt syrup, honey, etc. (optional)
salt and pepper, as needed
Garnish with some or all of the following: lime wedges, chopped red onion, salsa fresca, guacamole, tofu sour cream, Mexican sour cream, grated cheese, cilantro sprigs.
1. Heat a roomy, thick-bottomed soup pot. Drizzle in a little olive oil. Add the onions and garlic and sauté over medium high heat 1-2 minutes.
2. Add the sweet potato and a pinch of salt and sauté a minute more. Then add the red bell pepper, pasilla pepper, the nopales and the chili powder and cumin and sauté another minute.
3. Add tomatoes and 2 cups of the soup stock or water. Bring just to a boil, then simmer on low heat 30-40 minutes, or until the veggies are very tender. Add the black beans, umeboshi vinegar and soy sauce. Simmer 10-15 minutes more.
4. Remove about half the chili to your blender bowl, and blend briefly. Return the contents of the blender back to the soup pot.
5. Stir, taste and add liquid sweetener, if needed, for the proper flavor balance. To bring flavors alive, add fresh lime juice, preferably, or lemon juice. When you feel the chili is nearly done, stir in the chopped cilantro. Taste and adjust seasoning, adding soy sauce, lime juice, umeboshi vinegar, tabasco sauce or sweetener as needed.
5. Serve in large soup bowls with bowls of the various garnishes on the side.
** Fresh nopales cactus are popping up more and more frequently in mainstream markets. I wrote about them here, but if you can’t find them, leave them out or substitute green bell pepper.