Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Chili, the overachiever's version

So I was contemplating what could cook all day while I was away, and decided that chili would be a good choice.  And since the contemplation was occurring a full 38 hours before dinnertime, I decided to be an overachiever and for the first time in my life, make chili from dried kidney beans rather than canned.

Why did I have this brilliant idea?  Probably because I have been thinking about sodium, and how we get too much of it thanks to processed foods.  I can't tell you how many hundreds if not thousands of cans of beans I have opened and served in my lifetime, in chili or pasta or casseroles or whatever.  But since I started reading the nutrition labels more carefully, I have been appalled at how much sodium comes in those cans, even if you rinse the beans enthusiastically.

And since this pot of chili had to be started the day before anyway, and since it had to cook quietly by itself all day anyway, why not make it from dried beans?  It would even take less time to dump a bag of beans into a pot than to open four or five cans, rinse and drain them.  (You don't have to soak the beans first, no matter what it says on the back of the package; just put them in a pot of water and turn on the heat.)

The good news is that everything cooked beautifully while I was gone.  The bad news is that without the handy canned sodium, the chili was kind of blah, even though I had used more garlic and chili powder than I would have normally used. 

But we doctored it up at the table with sea salt and a little extra chili powder, and it tasted fine.  Will I use this method again?  Probably, when I think to start cooking the day before and if I have a bag of dried kidney beans on hand. 

By the way, in case you don't have a tried-and-true chili recipe, mine is highly improvisational but delicious.  It calls for a pound or so of ground beef, browned and broken up; two or three onions; and more beans than tomatoes.  Cook it all together for at least a couple of hours, the longer the better.  Of course the key ingredient is chili powder, and I order mine from Penzey's.  I like the regular blend rather than the hotter mixtures, because I think their heat tends to blot out the actual complex taste of the non-pepper ingredients.  I also add minced garlic, but you don't need that.  And in the last decade or so I have stopped using the spoonful of sugar that Ken's mother insisted was necessary.

PS -- Chili is always better with some cornbread on the side.  I use a small box of Jiffy mix and make it in a nine-inch-square pan, which gives you a cake no more than a half-inch thick.  I used to love it with honey but since I gave up sugar I eat it plain, and guess what -- it still tastes great. 

We would probably be surprised to discover that a lot of the discretionary calories in our diets that have become habit aren't all that necessary after all.  Ask yourself, as you're putting the honey on the table, or the sugar in the chili, or whatever fat or sugar trope you indulge in, whether you could go without tonight.  Or at least start eating the cornbread without the honey; you can get it out of the fridge later if you think you really need it.  I bet that half the time you won't.

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