Friday, February 27, 2009

Another Easy Dinner - Pastured Beef Chili with Red Beans and Rice

Last time I posted about how I couldn't think of anything to make for dinner but pulled through at the last minute with a great, improvised macaroni and cheese. So today was the same intro as last time, bored cooking, with nothing in season in February, restricted by my desire to eat seasonally and locally, I couldn't think of anything to make for dinner. So what are the chances ... I hit a home run again.

I definitely don't want to be repetitive, but as it is so rare for me to make up a recipe, and even rarer for it to taste good, AND thinking of easy mid-winter meals is so hard, I thought I'd share again.

We'd been eating almost no meat for the last few weeks, and we still have quite a bit in the freezer from Sun Prairie Beef, so I thought I should do something with ground beef. One of the few vegetables I still have left from the Abbondanza fall CSA is dried beans. I guess that counts as a serving of vegetables. What was starting to come together in my head was a rather meager chili of ground beef, red beans, onions and canned tomatoes.

I started browsing cookbooks looking for a recipe using these ingredients. It seemed like a simple, classic combination, but everything I came across was more involved than what I wanted and used beef stew meat rather than ground beef. I decided to just make it up as I went along.

I cut the onions two ways, I wanted a base of diced onions, but I also wanted some larger pieces that stood out in the final chili, at least I'd feel like I was eating a vegetable. I threw together a few spices, primarily cumin seeds, and some fresh herbs I had in the fridge, leftover from something else. I didn't add much chili because I am feeding a baby, feel free to add more.

One more note, I'm not a huge fan of beans, but the heirloom beans from my CSA are out of this world. I didn't realize beans could taste that good. I'm not familiar with this kind - Abbondanza calls them Mexican red. They're incredibly smooth and creamy. If you live in this area or can find dried, local beans in your area, I'd seriously recommend seeking them out. They're worth the extra effort.

By the way, this isn't a soupy chili, in fact it looks a little dry in the picture, but it was nice and moist. Add some of the bean cooking liquid if it seems dry.

Finally, I happened to have some wilted cilantro (coriander for my two Irish readers) and homemade yogurt to garnish. An elaborate feast in 45 minutes (not counting the bean soaking time).

Easy Beef Chili with Read Beans and Brown Rice (serves 6)

  • 1.5 c dried red beans
  • 1 ham hock or bone from pork shoulder (optional, I had this leftover waiting for a rainy day)
  • 1.5 c. brown rice
  • 1 tsp. cumin seeds
  • 1/2 tsp. coriander seeds
  • 1/4 tsp. fennel seeds
  • 1/2 dried ancho chili
  • 1 dried red chili, other variety depending on heat level preferred
  • 2 Tbs. olive oil
  • 2 medium onions, 1 diced, 1 cut into 1/2 in. wedges
  • 3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 lb. ground beef, ideally 100% grass fed
  • 1 tsp. fresh thyme
  • 1 tsp. fresh oregano
  • 1 28 oz. can whole tomatoes
  • 1 c. chicken stock or water
  • salt and pepper to taste
  • cheddar cheese, grated
  • handful fresh cilantro leaves, roughly chopped
  • plain, whole milk yogurt
Rinse and soak the beans in at least 2 inches of cold water. I only soaked them for six hours, but my beans are from this year. If they're older than that, you will probably need to soak them overnight.

Put the beans and the bone in a heavy pot covered with at least 2 inches of fresh water. Bring to a boil, then lower to a gentle simmer. Cook until tender, about 45-60 minutes, then set aside.

Heat 3 1/4 c. water and a heaping 1/4 tsp. salt in a small saucepan. Once boiling rapidly, add the rice, bring back to a boil. Lower heat to a simmer and cover. Cook for about 45 minutes.

Meanwhile, toast the cumin, coriander and fennel seeds in a pan on medium low heat until darkened and nutty smelling, about 3 minutes. Grind in a mortar and pestle, along with the chilies.

Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy skillet on medium low heat. Add all of the onions and the garlic to the pan and cook gently until soft and starting to color. Add the beef, cooking and breaking up with a spoon until browned. Add the ground spices, chilies, and herbs and cook for a minute, then add the tomatoes and stock. Bring to a boil, then lower to a simmer. Use a spoon to break up the tomatoes. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

From here, cook as long as you have time. I didn't feel like waiting, so I cooked it for about 20 minutes. Before then, the flavors didn't taste very blended. I suspect that it will taste better if you cook it a little longer.

Drain the beans and stir into the chili, adding a little of the bean cooking liquid if it seems dry. Remove from the heat. Check the seasonings one final time. Serve the chili over the rice and garnish with cilantro, cheddar cheese and yogurt.

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