Growing up, I didn’t like chili. My father made a version with ground beef and chunks of tomato, which, as a child, I abhored. (Now I like it just fine, Dad!) Then, later, when I was a young adult, my brother introduced me to his favorite chili, a more sophisticated version that included Italian sausage and chunks of beef with a smoothly textured, complexly flavored sauce. It was good. Yet I still didn’t quite get what all the chili fuss was about. Until I moved to Chicago. And learned about winter.
Since moving to Chicago I’ve fallen in love with several chili recipes, most but not all vegetarian. This recipe, which Lynn Alley titled “My Favorite Chili,” is my current favorite. At first it seems a bit intimidating, because it calls for whole spices. But don’t be scared off. It’s easy enough to grind your own spices. I just let my coffee grinder do double duty with a thorough wash before and after. Here’s my version of Lynn Alley’s favorite chili.
2 cups dried beans (I usually make this with cranberry or pinto beans, but you could probably use any kind. This time I used Lila, from ranchogordo.com. It turned out fine but I prefer cranberry beans.)
6 cups water
6 allspice berries
1 stick cinnamon
1/2 t. dried Mexican oregano
1/2 t. cumin seeds
1/4 t. aniseed
1/2 T. coriander seeds
2-5 dried chilies
1 thumb-sized piece kombu
1/2 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
1/4 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
1 – 2 T. chili powder
1/2 c. diced red bell pepper
1/2 c. fresh or frozen corn kernels
pepper jack cheese, cilantro, and Greek yogurt, for garnishes
1. Wash the beans and put them in the insert of your slow cooker with the water. Grind the spices and add to the beans along with the kombu and the dried chilies, either whole or, if you want some extra heat, crumbled. Cover and cook on low for 6-8 hours, or until the beans are tender. (If you are going to be away all day, add the ingredients listed in step 2 and cook for 8-10 hours. It will be fine.)
2. Add the diced onion, garlic, tomatoes, cocoa powder, and chili powder. Continue cooking for another 2 hours.
3. About 1/2 hour before you’re ready to serve, add the red pepper and corn kernels .
This chili tastes best if you make it a day ahead. It also freezes well. Indeed, this makes an enormous amount of chili, so I generally freeze the majority for later use. Because I feel somehow safer knowing I have chili in the freezer. But it’s perfectly delicious the same day, especially when you come home to it after a long day at work. Speaking of which, if I know I’m going to be gone all day (which I usually am), I brine the beans overnight (https://dreamsofmyfava.com/2013/01/05/brining-beans/), and then add all of the ingredients except the red bell pepper and corn at start. Then I cook on low for 10 hours. Brining prevents the beans from toughening, which can happen if you add tomatoes or other acids early in the cooking process.