One of winter's great culinary offerings are long, cold days, meant for warming drinks and easy cooking. The best kind is putting in a little work on the front end and letting the pot and stove do their magic.
I'm a sucker for all types of bean stews and chilis. With friends who keep me stocked with ground elk and moose, I also make meaty versions. But the heart of this chili, aside from the ground chili powder — try to find a good one from New Mexico — are the beans themselves. Rancho Gordo and Bob's Red Mill are two favorites as far as quality and heirloom beans; canned are also good, quick, and easy but to me the ritual of soaking beans and then setting them in a pot to cook for longer than not is a pleasure. Fry up some tortillas or make some cornbread or biscuits as they simmer.
If you choose to substitute canned beans for the dried, see the notes below, including decreasing the cooking time and the amount of liquid. I often throw in extra vegetables, like potatoes, turnips, winter greens; if you want a meaty version of this, sauté some ground beef or moose or elk before adding the beans.
Easy winter bean chili
Makes 6 servings
1 pound dried beans, such as pinto, red kidney, cannellini, small Navy beans, rinsed and picked through or 2 (15-ounce) can beans
1 tablespoon olive oil or vegetable oil
1 small carrot, cleaned and diced
1/2 yellow onion, peeled and diced
3 to 4 cloves garlic, smashed and roughly chopped
1 tablespoon red chili powder, such as New Mexico
1/2 teaspoon ground cumin
1/8 teaspoon ground cinnamon
5 to 6 cups vegetable broth, chicken stock or water (*Important: reduce amount to 2 to 3 cups if using canned beans)
1 (14.5-ounce) can diced or crushed tomatoes
1 teaspoon fine grain salt (start with 3/4 teaspoon if using canned beans)
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1/4 cup packed fresh chopped cilantro or parsley or chives (optional)
1 fresh orange, halved and cut into quarters (optional, but highly suggested)
Garnishes: chopped red onion, lime wedges, chopped fresh jalapeño,; shredded cheese, hot sauce
Cooked rice, tortillas, cornbread or biscuits, for serving
Add dried beans to a large bowl and add enough water to cover; let soak overnight. Quick version: Pour boiling water over and let soak 1 hour. Drain beans; set aside. If using canned beans, rinse and set aside.
Heat oil in a large, heavy-bottomed soup pot over medium-high heat; add carrot, onion, garlic, chili powder, cumin and cinnamon. Stir and let cook about three minutes, being careful not to burn the spices, which will make the spices bitter. (If adding meat, add before the spices; stir, cook to brown the meat, about 7 minutes.)
Add beans and about 5 cups of water (2 cups if using canned), stir and bring to a boil. Skim froth, reduce heat to a gentle boil and let simmer, partially covered, about 45 to 50 minutes or until beans are almost tender; stir occasionally, mashing some of the beans on side of pot for creaminess; also, make sure there's enough liquid in the pot to cover the beans by about 2 inches as they cook.
NOTE: If using canned beans, add tomatoes at this point and reduce cooking time to about 25 minutes.)
Add tomatoes, stir and let simmer, partially covered, another 20 minutes or until beans are tender. Taste and add more salt, pepper or garlic, if needed. Stir in fresh herbs, if using, or squeeze the juice from two quarters of a fresh orange. Serve hot, with optional garnishes on the side.