January 7, 2013

Vegetarian Black Bean Chili

During winter my appetite turns to soups and stews, and one of my favorite meals is a flavorful black bean chili, from the great Deborah Madison in her The Greens Cookbook. It is hearty and deliciously spicy, but what gives it a special flavor is a small amount of canned chilpotle chili, which are jalapeno chilies which have been smoked; the slight smoky taste is unusual and enticing. The recipe seems long, but it's quite easy, especially if you take a short cut and don't toast and grind whole spices. I do that, but the flavor probably won't suffer if you skip it and use ground cumin and chili powder. This is a very warming meal with a piece of cornbread and a dollop of sour cream.

2 cups black turtle beans, soaked overnight
1 bay leaf
4 teas cumin seeds
4 teas oregano leaves
4 teas paprika
1/2 teas cayenne
1 chili negro or ancho chili for chili powder, or 2 to 3 Tbs chili powder
3 Tbs vegetable oil
3 medium onions, diced into 1/4 inch squares
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 teas salt
1 1/2 lbs ripe or canned tomatoes, peeled, seeded and chopped; juice reserved. (I use one of my full jars of home canned tomatoes, which is over 2 lbs, which is why the photo looks tomato-y.)
1 to 2 teas chopped chilpotle chili
about 1 Tbs rice wine vinegar
4 Tbs cilantro, chopped (I don't have cilantro in winter, so leave it out)
For garnish: grated muenster cheese, green chilies, creme fraiche or sour cream, sprigs of cilantro

  1. Soak beans overnight in plenty of water. Next morning, drain, put them in a large saucepan covered by a couple of inches of water, and bring to a boil; then lower the heat and let them simmer as you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
  2. Heat a small heavy skillet over medium heat. Add cumin seeds; when they begin to color, add the oregano, shaking the pan so they don't burn. When the fragrance rises, remove from heat and add the paprika. Stir and remove from the pan. Grind in a spice mill or mortar. (I have a small coffee mill dedicated to spice grinding.)
  3. If you are using the ancho or chili negro, preheat oven to 375º. Put the chili in the oven until it dries out, 3 to 5 minutes, then cool it briefly. Remove stems and seeds and grind in spice mill.
  4. Put the onions and oil in a large skillet and cook over medium heat until the onions soften. Add garlic, salt, ground spices, and chili and cook 5 minutes. Add tomatoes and their juice, and 1 teaspoon of the chilpotle chili. Simmer for 15 minutes, then add to the beans. Add water if needed to have liquid 1 inch above the beans. 
  5. Cook everything slowly until the beans are soft, an hour or longer. Add water if needed, though this should be quite thick when done. When the beans are done, taste for salt, and add more chilpotle chili if you'd like. Add the vinegar and cilantro.
  6. Serve in bowls over a spoonful of grated cheese, topped with sour cream and other garnishes if desired. 


  1. if you cannot find the canned chipotle chiles there is always a dash to taste of the wonderful Tabasco Chipotle pepper sauce for flavor

  2. My rural supermarket had them in their small international section, so I assumed they're not too hard to find, but your suggestion sounds like a good alternative, karen.

  3. Hello, Altoon. I'm a fan of your wonderful blog and just had to say that this is one of my favorite recipes from the Green's cookbook. I made it tonight. Thanks for reminding me of it.

  4. Thanks for the comments, Ravenna and bill; it seems lots of people love this chili.