I love this time of year. I’ve written about it before, this affinity for August, when we’re just on the cusp of fall, when you notice one day that the leaves on the trees along your street have just started turning the smallest hint of golden. When the temperature finally falls below 90 degrees for more than a day. When the rains come a little more steadily and the heat breaks and kids start going back to school and so do I.
It’s a season that motivates me to pack lunches and buy three-ring binders and dividers and highlighters and get seriously organized. And on rainy days when the high tops out around 77 degrees, I am motivated to make chili.
The other thing that motivates me? A bag of chili peppers, ripening more and more by the day. They came in my CSA almost two weeks ago, and I had to use them before they turned into an experiment in ripening and dehydration. So I searched the Internet for chili recipes. We had a few limitations going in. The biggest: I don’t like beans.
Chili is usually made of meat and beans and some veggies. Not just any beans though: kidney beans. Big, red, stubborn kidney beans that refuse to stay off your spoon, no matter how you try to pick around them. Kidney beans that give a dull pop when you chew them, their skin breaking hesitantly to give way to a flesh that is, shall we say, thick and unyielding. Kidney beans are tough and slightly grainy and the real reason why I hate beans (baked beans run a close second; don’t get me started). So at first we thought, hey, we’ll use lentils. But lentils can be a little fussy when it comes to acid/salt content in the broth (the proportion needs to be correct so the lentils don’t go tough…. like kidney beans). I was honing in on slow-cooking my chili in my Dutch oven, so I didn’t want lentils to fall apart. And then, lo and behold, a web forum told me the best substitution: cannellini beans.
Now, if you’ve looked at a can of cannellini beans lately, you may notice what I noticed: they’re also called white kidney beans. What the what? These beans are nothing like their red cousins. These beans cook down like a dream, softening into a creaminess that is downright pleasing to someone like me who hates the beans. I pressed on, secure in my affection, and focused on a goal.
This chili recipe I came up with can really be best explained in a Romeo and Juliet-esque metaphor. If Chili and Pot Roast were star-cross’d lovers, from houses divided by family scorn, in fair Verona, where we lay our scene, and then a well-meaning friar named Paula Deen married them in secret and helped them elope to Mantua (my Dutch oven), this chili recipe of mine would be their love child.
Back to School Chili
3-4 lbs rump or chuck roast, fat trimmed away, and cut into 1/4″ pieces
4 slices bacon
1 medium red onion, chopped
Handful chili peppers (I used poblano, anaheim, and cubanelle), roasted, skins and seeds removed, chopped roughly
5-6 cloves garlic, minced
2 sweet yellow or orange peppers
1 large can of crushed tomatoes
One bottle of beer (I used Stella)
1 cup brewed coffee
1-2 cans cannellini beans (I used one can because, as Amanda says, we like our chili “lightly beaned”), drained and rinsed
1/2 teaspoon each of the following spices: cinnamon, cloves, allspice, cayenne pepper
1 tsp ground corriander
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1. In a large cast-iron skillet, cook bacon until crispy. Remove strips to a plate lined with a paper towel. Crumble them when cool enough to handle. Set aside.
2. Add beef pieces to the bacon drippings in skillet, cooking a few minutes on each side, until lightly browned. Remove beef pieces to Dutch oven. (I had to do this in batches; that’s okay.)
3. Add onions to skillet and cook over medium heat until translucent. Add chopped chili peppers and saute a few more minutes. Finally, add garlic and cook one minute, making sure not to brown the garlic. Pour mixture into Dutch oven.
4. Deglaze skillet with half the beer, scraping the bottom of the skillet with a wooden spoon or plastic spatula to remove the bits. Pour the beer mixture into the Dutch oven.
5. Add the rest of the beer, coffee, can of crushed tomatoes, sweet peppers, and beans to the Dutch oven. Add seasoning and bacon crumbles and stir to combine. (If it looks like it’s too thick and not liquidy enough for your taste, add a couple tablespoons of water. That’s just a matter of preference.)
6. Cover and bake in a 300 degree oven for 3 hours or until beans and sweet peppers are tender.
Garnish as you like: cheese, sour cream, onion, garlic salt, Fritos, noodles, you name it! It makes great leftovers (for those back to school lunches I mentioned), and is a great way to try and get a taste of fall while getting through the last bits of summer.