The Best Black Bean Chili

When I told Chanie that I was making black bean chili, she responded ” Whats your black bean chili recipe? always interested in a good chili….” I described how I made my chili, but I was left with a lingering feeling of guilt for holding out on her a bit.

The recipe I posted is how I usually make chili nowadays: canned beans, canned tomatoes, and seasonings. I have a similar recipe that I make for a crowd with canned small red beans, canned tomatoes (or salsa), tomato paste and seasonings. Both these recipes are easy and good.

But . . . . But, there is a vegetarian chili that is superior that I should really share with you.

It comes from Margaret Fox, an icon in the Northern California food scene. She was famous for her black bean chili, and the recipe appeared in her late 80’s cookbook Morning Food (reprinted in paperback in a revised version in 2006). It is classic Margaret Fox: unpretentious food with unexpectedly complex flavor. Foodie trivia: when Julia Child visited the restaurant, she ordered the black bean chili.

It is much more time consuming than my easy chili recipes, but most of that time is passive, waiting for the dried beans to cook. The active cooking time is not so great.

What makes this chili superior? First, it relies on dried rather than canned beans. Second, it calls for using whole cumin seeds and for toasting the cumin seeds and dried oregano to bring out their flavor. There is also a judicious use of sauteed vegetables and seasonings. These details require more effort than just dumping together canned beans and tomatoes, but there is a big flavor payoff.


Black Bean Chili
Adapted from Margaret Fox’s Morning Food, as reprinted in Woman’s Day Magazine sometime in the very late 80’s. This recipe makes a large batch, perfect for big families or company. Serves 8.

First, prepare your black beans:
4 cups (26 ounces) black, sorted and rinsed and placed in a large pot
12 cups water (6 cups of water for the first soaking and 6 cups for cooking the beans)

Put the dried beans in a pot with about 6 cups of water, or enough to cover by several inches. Bring to a boil. Cover, remove from heat and let stand for an hour. Drain and bring to a boil with the remaining 6 cups of water. Simmer for an 1 to 1 1/4 hours, or until tender. If the water level goes below the top of the beans, add more water to cover. Note: over versions of this recipe online (such as this version from the LA Times, call for boiling the beans just once, covered with several inches of water, in a covered pot, for  1 3/4 hours. In 2006, Margaret Fox revised the 1989 version of Morning Food, and this may be her revised instructions.

Drain the beans, reserving 1 cup of the cooking broth. Add the reserved cup of bean broth back to the pot of beans.

Meanwhile, while the beans are cooking, toast the cumin seeds and saute the vegetables:

In a large non-stick skillet over medium heat, stir the cumin and oregano 4-5 minutes, until fragrant:
2 Tbl. cumin seeds
2 Tbl. dried oregano
Note: in the revised version of this recipe, the cumin seeds and oregano are toasted in  a pan in a 325 degree oven for 10 minutes.

Add to the skillet the oil, onions, bell pepper, paprika, cayenne pepper, salt, and garlic, cooking over medium-high heat, uncovered, for 8-10 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the onions are tender:
1/2 cup olive oil
2 cups finely chopped onion (2 large)
1 1/2 cups finely chopped green bell pepper
1 1/2 Tbl. paprika (smoked paprika might be nice here)
1 tsp. cayenne pepper (I use 1/4-1/2 tsp.)
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. minced garlic

When the onions are soft, add the mixture to the pot of beans, along with the tomatoes and jalapeno peppers:
28 ounces canned crushed tomatoes
1/3 cup finely chopped jalapeno peppers (about 2 peppers; I use about half this amount and I make sure to remove the pepper seeds and veins to make them less spicy)

Simmer the chili for 20 minutes, uncovered. Adjust seasoning.

Toppings:
8 ounces shredded Monterrey Jack or Cheddar cheese
sour cream (Greek yogurt is fine)
1/2 cup chopped scallions
1/4 cup chopped cilantro

The instructions for serving are to put 1/4 cheese in each bowl, top with a generous cup of chili, then a spoonful of sour cream and a sprinkle of scallions and cilantro.

Bonus: The recipe appears in the LATimes online, but you can also find the recipe at Savoring the Seasons, a food blogger who actually remembers eating this chili at Margaret Fox’s restaurant in the 80’s.

Margaret Fox was also famous for her chocolate Amazon cake and her spicy buttermilk coffee cake.

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4 Responses to “The Best Black Bean Chili”

  1. Leora Says:

    I have a small crockpot, and my bean soup often comes out a bit like chili after all the kids have scooped up the top broth.

    Maybe I should buy a larger crockpot for pareve soups…

    Toasting the cumin seeds probably adds a nice flavor, whether chili or soup.

    • pragmaticattic Says:

      Yes, the toasted cumin seed is so different from the plain ground, it is almost a different spice. Well worth buying the whole seeds for recipe that call for the ground.

  2. JamieAnne Says:

    Looks great! I love black beans!

  3. Lauren Says:

    I’ve never toasted cumin before. Sounds like I need to! I really like smoky-spicy black beans.

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