Updated October 2011.
Once upon a time, a woman named Mary entered a chili contest, a benefit event for one of her causes, and she enlisted the help of her sister and two friends to come up with a signature chili.
She'd seen a recipe for a black bean chili in a magazine, and we started from there. (Cat's out of the bag now...I was one of the recruits.) We worked on our recipe, tweaking a bit, having fun, and — in a stroke of genius — adding some pasta at the end, until we all were pleased with it.
On the day of the contest, I prepared a large vat of our concoction, which we named South End Deep Root Chili in honor of the mega-toothache Mary had on the day we first tested our recipe. Off she went to the contest. There were nine other entrants, all of whom had made traditional chili.
The cook at the station next to Mary's came over for a taste.
"That's not chili," he proclaimed. "It's going to win, but it's not chili."
And win it did. The prize was a crockpot, which the four of us agreed to share (!). I don't know what became of the crockpot, but the chili has become a house favorite, and that's the primary reason canned black beans are always in my pantry. (I stock dried beans, too, and I'll write about them at a later date, but for this chili the canned beans work well.)
Black beans — a.k.a. turtle beans, black Spanish beans, Tampico beans, or Venezuelan beans — are native to Peru, and were introduced to Europe in the 15th Century by Spanish explorers returning from their voyages to the New World. Portuguese traders brought the beans to Africa and Asia, which explains their popularity in the cuisines of almost every culture. An inexpensive source of good protein, black beans are important in the cuisines of Mexico, Brazil, Cuba, Guatemala and the Dominican Republic.
Black beans' high dietary fiber content makes them a good choice for those with high cholesterol or blood sugar control issues. Research now shows that the darker the seed coat of the beans (and how much darker can you get than black?), the higher the level of antioxidants. They're also rich in iron, tryptophan, manganese, folate — and a one-cup serving provides 172% of the recommended daily amount of molybdenum, which breaks down the sulfites found in prepared foods and red wine.
Canned black beans have many uses, from salad to soup, to feijoada, the national dish of Brazil. However, for Moros y Cristianos, the famous Cuban black beans and rice dish, start with dry beans, so you can control the texture and the saltiness of the finished dish.
South End Deep Root Chili
This recipe, which appeared in my cookbook, South End Cooks: Recipes from a Boston Neighborhood, is unconventional but delicious, and like all chili recipes, proportions are not important. Serves 8-10; can be halved, or doubled.
1-1/2 cups unsweetened apple juice
4 cups diced onion
1 cup diced celery
1 cup diced carrots
6 Tbsp minced garlic
4 tsp ground cumin
10 tsp chili powder, or to taste
4 cans black beans, drained, rinsed and drained again
28 oz vegetable stock (or chicken stock)
4 tsp lemon honey (or 4 tsp plain honey + 2 tsp fresh squeezed lemon or lime juice)
1 small dried chili pepper, crushed, or hot sauce to taste
1 28-oz can diced or chopped tomatoes, with juice
1/2 cup orzo (or other tiny pasta)
1/4 tsp salt (taste first if using storebought stock)
Black pepper to taste
Monterey Jack cheese, grated (for garnish)
Sour cream (for garnish)
Preheat a large heavy pot or Dutch oven on medium-high heat. Add apple juice and bring to a boil. Add onions and sauté, stirring, for 2 minutes.
Add celery, carrots, garlic, cumin and chili powder. Continue stirring for 3 minutes. Add black beans, stock, honey, lemon, chili pepper and tomatoes. Cover and bring to a boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for 15 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure the beans don't stick.
Add orzo, salt and pepper, and continue cooking, covered, stirring frequently, until the orzo is cooked (8-10 minutes).
Serve hot, topped with Monterey Jack cheese and/or sour cream. Can be made ahead; cool, cover and refrigerate.
More recipes in The Perfect Pantry:
Moros y cristianos
Quick and easy black beans and rice
Vegan black bean and sweet potato stew
Turkey mole chili
Football season chili
Other recipes that use these pantry ingredients:
Crockpot black beans with cilantro, from Kalyn's Kitchen
Quick black beans with cumin and oregano, from Orangette
Amazing black bean brownies, from 101 Cookbooks
Karina's sweet potato black bean enchiladas, from Gluten-Free Goddess
Quick and easy refried black bean dip with tomatoes, onions and cilantro, from Farmgirl Fare
Disclosure: The Perfect Pantry earns a few pennies on purchases made through the Amazon.com links in this post. Thank you for supporting this site when you start your shopping here.