When the slithy winter wind is working its knobbly fingers up under the siding of your house, when a trip to the corner shop is a major expedition requiring equipment usually reserved for professional adventurers, when everything you can see out your window—road, hills, water, sky—is one shade of grey or another, it’s good to have something warm and rib-sticky cooking on the stove. Winter depression is a way of life in St. John’s, and if you’re not eating well, it’s only going to get worse.
The problem is it’s awfully hard to get together the wherewithal to make a pot of anything when it feels like the cold, marble sky is falling in on you. But you can’t just lie there on the couch eating plasticky food out of plasticky containers. You’ve got things to do, papers to write, fundraisers to attend, albums to finish. Gardens to plan! Vacations to book! And you won’t be able to do it without some real food in your belly.
What you need is a Big Pot of Chili.
The Big Pot of Chili is a wondrous thing. Loved by college students, dads, hot-sauce aficionados, and folks on tight budgets alike, it costs virtually nothing and is nourishing, tasty, and freezable. I specify “big” pot, but, in fact, it is impossible to make a small amount of chili. I’ve tried it, and I’ve failed. Chili expands to fit the space available. It’s the goldfish of suppers.
Aside from the volume factor, chili also offers a high satisfaction-to-effort ratio. Really, all you’re doing is opening a few tins and throwing them on top of some onions and spices, then leaving the whole mess alone for a while. The only ways you can possibly shag it up are: by burning it (which can be avoided by keeping the heat on low and giving it a stir every so often) and by adding too much heat (in which case you just throw in another tin of beans.) Foolproof!
Chili is also one of those foods that’s nutrient-rich without tasting all healthfoody. Beans are about the best thing in the world for you, packed with fibre and protein and loads of minerals. The tomatoes, sweet potatoes and bell peppers in this recipe are full of antioxidants and vitamins to help you fight off seasonal fluishness.
If you make your chili vegetarian-style, you’ll add even more fibre and minerals, and the whole thing will be almost fat-free, which might matter if you’re feeling doughy and over-snacked. I’m into using quinoa [KEEN-wah] because it’s one of the most nutritionally awesome foods in the known universe. It’s full of protein and amino acids and iron, and it’s also kind of adorable. When you cook the wee tiny grains, they pop into these darling, chewy little nubbly bits, and they have tails that spiral out. Super cute. You can get quinoa at the bulk store and in natural foods shops.
Of course, if quinoa’s not your thing, you can always brown up some ground chuck and toss it in there. Nothing wrong with sticking with tradition.
Either way, you’re getting a pile of nutrients into you.
What are you going to do with a Big Pot of Chili? It’s all fine and good if you’re feeding a family of eight, but what if there’s only one or two of you? Well, there’s much to be said for making a huge batch of something early in the week you can pick at as the days wear on. Chili, like most stews, tastes even better after sitting overnight, the flavours mingling and melding in the darkness of the refrigerator. You can always divide it up into servings and freeze it, to be reheated later. You can eat it in a bowl, straight up, or use it for a filling for burritos or quesadillas. You can throw it in an omelette and call it “huevos rancheros,” throw it in a casserole dish with some polenta on top and call it “tamale pie,” or throw it in a frock and call it “Betty.”
Well, probably not that last bit. But everything else, yeah.
CHILI FOR ALL
Makes 8 servings. I make this fairly mild to suit a certain four-year-old’s palate, but feel free to bump up the chili powder and crushed chilies to taste.
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, crushed
1/2 – 1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon cumin
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 – 1 teaspoon crushed chilies
1/2 teaspoon cocoa (unsweetened, not hot chocolate mix!)
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/3 cup strong brewed coffee
1 cup chopped red bell pepper
1 cup peeled, chopped sweet potato (1/2 – inch dice)
1 540-ml tin black beans, rinsed
1 398-ml tin dark red kidney beans, rinsed
1 796-ml tin diced tomatoes
1 cup tomato juice (or v8 if you’ve got it)
2 cups cooked quinoa (or 2 cups cooked brown rice, or about a pound of ground beef, browned and drained)
juice of 1/2 lime
In a rather large pot over medium heat, sauté onion in olive oil until nearly translucent. Add garlic and sauté a few minutes more, stirring. Reduce heat to low and add spices, cocoa and salt. Stir until nicely fragrant, then add coffee and stir it all into a paste. Add chopped vegetables and beans, then tomatoes and tomato juice. Stir in your quinoa (or rice, or ground beef) and bring everything to a gentle simmer. Cook on low until sweet potatoes are soft, about 30 minutes. Chili burns easily; make sure you stir the pot frequently, and keep the heat as low as possible. Before serving squeeze in the lime juice.
Serve topped with sour cream or yogurt, or with grated cheese, or with diced avocado and toasted pumpkin seeds.
To cook quinoa:
Rinse 1 cup quinoa well to remove the bitter coating on the grains – I use a colander lined with a cotton napkin. Put the rinsed grains in a small, covered pot and add 2 cups cold water. Cover, bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low. Cook, covered, for about 15 minutes.
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