In my fantasy recipe-writing league, I’d cover everything, a million questions you hadn’t even thought to ask yet. Every recipe would work on a stove, slowly braised in the oven, on a grill, in a slow-cooker, a pressure-cooker, on a train, in a car, or in a tree. You could make the vegetarian carnivorous, the carnivorous paleo, the gluten-full gluten-free, the sour cream could always be swapped yogurt which could always be swapped with buttermilk, or milk and lemon, or soy milk and vinegar. We’d find a way to put kale in everything. You could use flat-leaf parsley instead of cilantro (because cilantro is the devil’s herb, naturally) or none of the above, because green flecks = grounds for dinnertime dismissal. We’d make food that your picky spouse, your pasta-eating kid, and your pesky fad-dieting house guests would applaud at every meal, and all of those promises made by food writers greater than myself in tomes more epic than this blog of food bringing people together for the happiest part of everyone’s day would be made good on at last.
Of course, I’d also write about one recipe a year. Despite understanding this, sometimes I get carried away with The Dream of this kind of recipe-writing. I make Lasagna Bolognese with homemade noodles (but you can use store-bought), homemade bechamel (but you can use ricotta; just don’t tell me about it), and bolognese with milk, wine or both. We make Hot Fudge Sundae Cake for crazy people (everything, down to the cookie crumb filling, homemade) or for people with a life (everything, down to the cookie crumb filling, store-bought). We make Lazy Pizza Dough on three different schedules, whatever your orbit demands that week. And in this episode, I found as many ways as I could dream up to make a three-bean chili, so nobody would have an excuse not to make it.
Why chili? Because at least around here lately, one day it is spring and we are all like this puppy in the field and the next day there’s a pelt of snow and we are not having it. It’s sandals, no, Sorels weather, and I can’t figure it out. Chili, to me, bridges the gap — it can be treated as heavy and hearty as the thickest stew or be scooped with tortilla chips for a perfect summer dinner.
I made a three-bean chili several years ago, when this blog was a wee young thing, but the recipe had a limited reach. What I’d really always wanted to do was make it from dried beans but couldn’t find a recipe-like structure to even gently guide me in the right direction. I mean, surely this is the kind of food that’s just made for a slow-cooker or pressure-cooker? So, I finally struck out on my own with it. Nine days later — hey honey [and also anyone else that doesn’t run fast enough when they see me approaching them with take-out containers today], guess what’s for dinner again tonight?! — I achieved almost all of my goals. You can make it with dried beans or canned. You can make it with dried chiles or fresh or just mild peppers. You can make it with a lot of or a little tomato. You can skip the chili powder if it’s not your thing. You can make it on the stove, in a slow-cooker and I’m going to outline how you can make it in a pressure-cooker too (even though I failed to get it tested in my brand-new but not mastered yet one). You can soak your beans but there’s no need to. You can even use canned beans.
The only thing you cannot do it serve it to a Texan. I’m sorry, Texas. I love you and I love my friends from you and it is out of this love that I need to warn the non-Texan population that you do not take kindly to people putting tomatoes and beans in your chili. Ah, well. My fantasy recipe-writing league and I will try again soon.
More Chili: With beans, beef and sour cream and cheddar biscuits. A really quick version with beans and beef. The previous three-bean chili, but I like this one better.
Good Reads: Are back by popular demand! Being productive at work is vastly overrated.
One year ago: Spinach and Smashed Egg Toast
Two years ago: Banana Bread Crepe Cake with Butterscotch
Three years ago: Apple Tarte Tatin, Anew
Four years ago: Romesco Potatoes
Five years ago: Caramelized Onion and Goat Cheese Cornbread
Six years ago: Caramel Walnut Upside-Down Banana Cake
Seven years ago: Risotto al Barolo
Yield: About 9 cups chili; 8 smaller servings or 4 to 6 large ones
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 medium onion, chopped small
1 to 2 peppers of your choice (see Notes, below), finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 1/2 teaspoons table salt or 2 1/2 teaspoons kosher or coarse salt
1 12-ounce bottle beer
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes, fire-roasted if you can find them
1 1/2 cups mixed dried beans (see Note)
3 1/2 to 4 cups water
To serve: Lime wedges, sour cream, diced white onion, cilantro, corn or flour tortillas or tortilla chips or rice
Heat oil in the bottom of a medium-sized heavy pot or Dutch oven (if finishing it on the stove), in the pot of your pressure-cooker (if using one) or in a large skillet (if finishing in a slow-cooker). Once warm, add onion and cook for 5 minutes, until translucent. Add any fresh peppers and cook for 3 more minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, cumin, oregano and salt and cook for 2 minutes, until browned and deeply fragrant. Add beer and scrape up any bits stuck to the pot. Boil until reduced by half, or, if you’re nervous about alcohol content, until it has all but disappeared.
If finishing on the stove: Add tomatoes, dried beans, any dried or rehydrated-and-pureed chiles and the smaller amount of water. Bring mixture to a full boil and boil for one minute, then reduce heat to a very low, gentle simmer, place a lid on your pot, and cook for 2 1/2 to 3 hours, until the beans are tender, stirring occasionally. Add the last 1/2 cup water if mixture seems to be getting dry, though I didn’t need it in most of my tested batches. If a slightly more sloshy chili wouldn’t bother you, you can add it from the get-go.
If finishing in a slow-cooker: Scrape onion, spice and beer mixture into a slow-cooker and add tomatoes, dried beans, any dried or rehydrated-and-pureed chiles and the smaller amount of water. Cook on HIGH for 6 to 7 hours, until beans are tender. You can add the last 1/2 cup water if needed, but probably will not find it necessary.
If finishing in a pressure-cooker: Follow the directions from your pressure cooker manufacturer. I failed to get this fully tested in my new one (boo) but estimate that it will take 20 to 22 minutes on high.
Serve as-is or with fixings of your choice.
- Peppers: The most important decision you make about your chili is, unsurprisingly, in the chiles themselves. If you’re cooking for people who don’t like spicy food, I recommend just using 1 bell pepper or 1 fresh poblano, which is very mild. 2 fresh jalapenos will give you slightly more heat. 2 small dried chiles, depending on which you use, will give you a bit more of a kick, as will 1 to 2 chipotle en adobo peppers from a can. If you need help choosing a dried chile, Serious Eats has a great guide to the properties of each here. To best incorporate the flavor of dried chiles into your chili, cover them with a bit of boiling water until they’re soft, then puree them. If this sounds like too much work, you can cook them with the dried beans for decent heat flavor infusion.
- Chile powder: If you’d like the clear flavor of your dried chiles to come through, you can skip the chile powder in part or entirely.
- Tomatoes: This makes a fairly tomato-y chili. If that’s not your thing, halve the suggested tomatoes, using only a 15-ounce can instead.
- Beer: Use whatever type you’d like here. I used Dos Equis; I think a Negra Modelo would also impart a nice, deep flavor.
- Beans: I use a mix of three beans here, usually 1/3 dried kidney beans, 1/3 black beans and 1/3 pinto beans, but I had a bag small pink Rosa de Castillo beans from Rancho Gordo around so I used them instead. I find that these three beans, surprisingly, take about the same time to cook, but if you’re nervous one will take longer than the others, you can soak it in water while preparing your other ingredients. Even 30 minutes should even up the cooking times.
- To pre-soak your beans: This recipe doesn’t call for or require pre-soaking but pre-soaked beans will cook faster. How much faster depends on how long they are soaked for, but you can estimate that beans soaked for 6 hours or overnight will approximately halve suggested cooking times, regardless of cooking method. If pre-soaking beans, do so in the 3 1/2 to 4 cups of water listed in the recipe, and use the remaining soaking liquid as the water in the recipe.
- Using canned beans instead: 1 1/2 cups dried beans will yield approximately 3 to 3 3/4 cups of cooked ones. To use canned or already-cooked beans instead, you’ll want to use 2 to 3 15-ounce cans of cooked beans and then — this is important — skip the water. Simmer all of the ingredients except the drained and rinsed beans for 20 minutes, then add the beans and simmer it 10 minutes more. If the mixture looks dry, add 1/4 cup water and simmer for another few minutes.