Black Chili (Chicago, December 27, 2011)

The following is a guest post by Cesar

I am not exactly sure how the idea of black chili got into my head, since I have never made it before in my life. In fact, up until the moment it occurred to me (this afternoon), I wasn’t sure the dish even existed. A quick Google search returned links to recipes, but I refrained from reading them at length. I was pretty sure I could experiment enough to come up with what I could call black chili. The need to make something new took over me. I do have an existing relationship with white chili, and perhaps that’s why. White chili, the less acidic cousin of chili con carne, has become one of those dishes that I can make without a single bit of effort. It’s as easy as whistling. Navy, Great Northern beans, ground turkey and kale — hand those ingredients to me, and I can return within the hour with a bowl of white chili. So what was it about making black chili that piqued my interest?
Perhaps my upcoming travels to Madrid and Berlin are pressing me with the notions of wonder and the unknown at a subconscious level. By simply asking myself, “Does using a black bean make it black chili?” I was asking myself questions that probed my own notions of what it means to make something new.
I made up my black chili recipe using some of the ingredients I favor in my white chili recipe, namely beans, garlic, onion, and kale. Though some recipes I spotted online for black chilies called for tomatoes, I omitted them to curb the dish’s acidity and to also keep the color of the broth dark. Negro como un mole, is the soft mantra I told myself with this dish as I prepared it.
Black chili has a sharper, brighter taste than my white chili, so don’t let its moody color deceive you. This chili is a bit of a hybrid, after all. It calls for black beans, which are most favored in Mexican cooking, but in the end, it remains a blend of flavors that make it uniquely American. Black beans and extremely spicy foods will be hard to come by in Europe, and perhaps this is a way for me to build a memory of tastes from home before I begin my travels with Matt.
Notes: The use of seared red meat is meant to provide lots of flavor and fullness from the fat, but it can be made meatless as well, as long as you caramelize the onions and the garlic properly. This recipe being chili, I know you will ask if canned beans are okay. They are fine, but you’ll lose the brightness of the finished dish. If you choose canned, I recommend La Preferida brand.
* * *
Black Chili
1/2 onion, diced
4 cloves of garlic, diced
1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
1 teaspoon of dried piquin pepper (or any other dried chili to taste)
1 pinch cumin
1/2 teaspoon white vinegar
Olive oil
A medium bunch of Lacinato Kale (other varieties like Russian and curly are also fine)
1 cup of dried black beans
1/2 lb sirloin steak
Cook the beans with 5 cups of water, a tablespoon of salt and a dash of vegetable oil for 40 minutes in a pressure cooker. If you don’t have a pressure cooker, you can also cook the beans following the soaking method, but be sure to only add salt for seasoning.
Once the beans are fully cooked lower the heat to a simmer. Make sure the steak is at room temperature. Heat up a griddle to a very high temperature. Place a drop of olive oil to see if it smokes, to make sure it’s hot enough. Sear the steak on both sides, making sure its surface turns a rich golden brown and the middle remains red or pink. Set aside and let sit for 10 minutes.
On the same pan, place a drop of olive oil, and place the garlic and onions to cook on medium heat. When they are golden brown and translucent, remove them from the heat and place in the pot of black beans.
Finely dice the kale, using the stems. Place in the pot and stir on medium-low heat. Using a sharp knife, dice the steak into very small pieces, and stir in the pot. Add the dried chili powder, cumin and vinegar. Continue to stir, and season with salt to taste. Continue to simmer for 20 minutes. Serve hot with a garnish of fresh kale. Add ribbons of Oaxaca cheese or oyster crackers, or eat alone for an all-in-one meal.

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