When I was a kid growing up in Tehama County in the 1950s, we ate a lot of beans. My mother was a child of the Depression, and she was fond of pointing out: “We only had meat a couple of time a week when I was growing up. Sunday my dad would knock off a chicken from the backyard for the preacher or church brothers or sisters that were coming for dinner, and midweek maybe a pot roast or stew.” As I recall we had pinto beans, great northern beans, and above all (my mom’s family was from the South) black-eyed peas. All were helped with the omnipresent can of bacon fat that lived next to most stoves. It never seemed to grow empty, and it never seemed to grow rancid, although now I am not so sure about the latter.
The only chile I recall eating was from a little can that came from a display of little cans with a heater that used to be behind the counter in many restaurants. You would pick out a can from the line-up and they would heat it for you. I have grown to love chile in all its permutations, and this recipe for black bean chile is one of my favorites. It has complex flavors and is easy to make.
Black Bean Chile1 lb black beans 1 28 oz. can diced tomatoes 7 oz. can chipotle chiles with adobe sauce ½ yellow onion, small chop 3 cloves garlic, minced 1Tbs whole cumin, pan-roasted 1 Tbs paprika ½ tsp cayenne 1 Tbs wine vinegar 1 bunch cilantro salt to taste
Sort the beans for rocks and dirt, rinse, and put in a big pot covered with water to soak overnight.
The next morning, cook the beans until they are soft.
While the beans are cooking, sauté the onions and garlic until they are soft. Set aside.
When the beans start to get soft, add the onions, garlic and tomatoes.
Put the cumin in the frying pan heat until it just starts to smoke and pop, then grind in spice grinder.
Puree the can of chipotles and set aside.
When the beans are cooked, pour off some of the liquid, reserving it because you may need to add it back to the chili to get the right consistency. It should be a little soupy.
Add the paprika, cumin and cayenne.
Add 1 Tbs of the pureed chipotles. I like to use two to three Tbs, but I like hot, spicy food.
Chipotles are hot, so proceed with caution, but they add a great smoked flavor.
Take about a cup and half of the tomato-bean mixture and puree it, adding some of the bean water you reserved. Add back to pot. Mince cilantro, add to taste.
Add the wine vinegar — this cuts through some of the heat and adds another flavor.
Salt to taste.
Sour cream goes nicely with this, and so does coleslaw.
Lee Riggs is a Zen priest living in Shasta County who cooked and baked for many years at San Francisco Zen Center. He is a devoted gardener. His simple credo is that butter is better and that you should be able to taste the hops in beer.