It’s time for the first chili of the season! This chili is a meditative, multi-step process that feels perfect on the cusp of October. It’s a fairly versatile recipe, so feel free to switch up the vegetables based on what you have in your fridge. You won’t want to skimp on making beans from scratch, however, as the deep aromatics create the foundation of this stew.
For the Beans:
1 pound pinto beans, washed and picked over for stones, soaked for at least
4 hours or overnight in 2 quarts water
1 medium onion, cut in half
4 large garlic cloves, minced
1 bay leaf
1 teaspoon salt
For the Chili
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 onion, finely chopped
1 large carrot, cut in small dice
1 poblano pepper, diced
2 large garlic cloves, minced
3 tablespoons mild ground chili
1 tablespoon toasted ground cumin
1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes OR 3 cups chopped tomatoes
1 teaspoon dried oregano
2 tablespoons tomato paste dissolved in 1 cup water
2 cups diced winter squash (about 3/4 pound)
Salt to taste (smoked Maldon is great here)
For the beans
1. Place beans and soaking water in a large, heavy pot. Add halved onion and bring to a gentle boil. Skim off any foam that rises, then add garlic and bay leaf, reduce heat, cover and simmer 30 minutes.
2. Add salt and continue to simmer another 1 to 1 1/2 hours,
until beans are quite soft and broth is thick and fragrant. Taste and adjust
salt. Using tongs or a slotted spoon, remove and discard the bay leaf and the
onion as best you can. For the best flavor refrigerate overnight.
For the chili
1. Heat the beans on top of the stove in a large soup pot or Dutch oven.
2. Heat the oil over medium heat in a heavy nonstick skillet and add the onion, carrot and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until the vegetables are tender and beginning to color, about 8 minutes. Stir in the garlic, stir together until fragrant, 30 seconds to a minute, and add the ground chili and cumin. Cook, stirring, for 2 to 3 minutes, until the mixture begins to stick to the pan. Add the tomatoes and oregano, and salt to taste. Bring to a simmer and cook, stirring often, until the tomatoes have cooked down and the mixture is beginning to stick to the pan, about 10 minutes. Stir in the tomato paste dissolved in water and bring back to a simmer. Season with salt to taste and simmer, stirring often, for 10 minutes, until the mixture is thick and fragrant.
3. Stir the tomato mixture into the beans. Add the winter squash and bring to a simmer. Simmer, stirring often, for 30 to 45 minutes. It is important to stir often so that the chili doesn’t settle and stick to the bottom of the pot. It should be thick; if you desire you can thin out with water. Taste and adjust salt.