I met my first black bean while traveling in Guatemala. Along with Orange Crush soda, I was hooked from the first bite. Black beans were cooked with a few spices and served alongside every meal. Sauteed plantain slices were a usual accompaniment.
There is chili and there is chili. Chili used to mean Texas style with meat and beans. Enter the vegetarians and the use of dried black beans, as called turtle beans, an integral part of Central American and Cuban cookery. They are easily found in the dried bean and rice section of the supermarket.
Black bean chili was born and it has become probably the most beloved of all vegetarian dishes. You cook the chili from scratch with dried beans, rather than canned, then add pan-toasted spices and lightly sauteed vegetables. It cooks all day, then at the end you add the tomatoes and salt, acid ingredients that would make the beans tough if added first thing.
Rich, dark, flavorful, vegetarian black bean chile is easy to make and even more of a delight to devour. It is not a spicy-hot chili so everyone loves it. Black beans are no longer a regional food, but part of the American culinary repertoire. They cook evenly and are easy to digest. The appealing flavor is unlike any other bean and wildly popular.
I was introduced to this version at Green’s vegetarian restaurant in Fort Mason on the docks in San Francisco in the 1980s. You can buy it to-go at the bakery and sit outside on the edge of the docks overlooking the bay to eat it with some fresh Tassajara bakery whole wheat or cottage cheese dill bread. It is still a daily offering and one of the best chilis every concocted.
Cooker: Large Round or Oval
Machine Setting and Cook Time: Low Heat: 8 to 12 hours
- 1 pound (2 1/4 cups) black turtle beans, picked over and soaked overnight
- 1 bay leaf
- 1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder, or New Mexican chile powder in combination with ancho chile powder
- 6 cups water, to cover
- 1 tablespoon cumin seed
- 2 teaspoons paprika
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or oregano leaves
- 3 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 green bell pepper, seeded, stemmed, and finely chopped
- 4 cloves garlic, chopped
- 1 tablespoon chopped canned chipolte chile en adobo
- One 14-ounce can chopped tomatoes with juice, or 4 large fresh tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped
- 1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
- 1/2 cup chopped cilantro
- Grated Muenster cheese
- Sour cream
- 6 cilantro sprigs
Drain the beans, place in the crock with the bay leaf and chile powder, and cover with 3 inches of water. Turn on the cooker to LOW to begin cooking while preparing the rest of the ingredients.
Heat a large cast iron, or other heavy metal, skillet. Add the cumin seed, paprika, cayenne, and marjoram or oregano, shaking the pan to lightly toast, about 2 minutes, until they are a shade or two darker. Pour into a mortar to grind the herb leaves into a coarse powder.
Place the oil in the skillet and saute the onion, pepper, and garlic until soft. Add the onion and spice mixtures, and chipotles to the beans in the crock and stir. Cover and cook on LOW 8 to 10 hours.
Add the tomatoes and juice, and salt to taste. Recover and cook another 1 to 2 hours. Stir in the cilantro at the very end.
Serve in bowls, layering the cheese on the bottom and the sour cream on top with a sprig of cilantro, if you like.
Excerpted from Not Your Mother’s Slow Cooker Cookbook, by Beth Hensperger and Julie Kaufman. (c) 2005, used by permission from the Harvard Common Press.
Recipe and text copyright Beth Hensperger 2015
Please enjoy the recipe and make it your own. If you copy the recipe and text for internet use, please include my byline and link to my site.