Sunday, October 19, 2008

Recipe: Damn Good, Thick and Rich, Anasazi Bean Chili

In 1986 I was shopping to outfit the kitchen I would be sharing with my then future second ex-wife. I happened upon a cast iron dutch oven and was immediately filled with images of that cast iron pan filled with hot bubbling delicious, rich, spicy, hearty chili. In my mind, I saw the black of the pan and the rich reddish chili steaming in it with another pan filled with cornbread next to it. I picked it up and looked it over. I loved the heft and substance of the thing. It also didn't hurt that as I child I remember my grandmother always making me johnnycakes on an ancient cast iron griddle. Hey, I'm a romantic, SO WHAT?

Well, I bought that dutch oven and after I was married, I left it in one cupboard or another for the next 10 years! Ok, I may have made stew in it once-MAYBE. One day however, I was making my first filet mignon and I used it to roast the steaks in. From that point on, I started using it as much as possible. In fact, it started me on a love affair with cast iron. "Love" in the practical and innocent definition of the word, not the creepy call-the-police kind of way. Today, I cook almost exclusively in and on cast iron. My collection includes an assortment of pans both antique and contemporary including a wok, friers, dutch ovens, griddles, comals, fry pans of every conceivable size, etc. For my money, if you're willing to do a little maintenance, cast iron is the best cookware you can buy and the stuff will withstand everything short of a direct hit by a thermonuclear weapon.

Getting back to the subject at hand, today I make all my chili in that pan I bought back in 1986. In fact I hope my daughters enjoy cooking as much as I do so that they can cook their family meals in the same pans and then pass it down to their children. I'd like my cast iron pans to become a family heirlooms because cooking is love and love is an energy and things like cast iron pans absorb energy and if enough chili and other things get cooked in these pans by people who love each other over a few generations, I firmly believe that my cast iron cookware could be the nucleus of a future world peace and previously unknown era of brotherly and sisterly love. You couldn't do this with a new fangled pan, they just don't last. Especially that coated non-stick nonsense-YUCK! Stay away from plastics and teflon people, it's all bad.

All I'm saying is that you should consider some cast iron in your collection of pans. There are certain things like chilis and stews that just benefit from the even heating these pans offer.

If you have any antique pans though, send them to me, they're no good for you-really!

In the recipe below, I call for the use of ancho chiles and a chipotle hot sauce. These give this chile a rich and hearty flavor and a tiny hint of smokiness. I also use Anasazi beans which are not easy to come by. Hey, food can be an adventure you know? These are an heirloom variety of beans.

The Anasazi were a tribe of Native Americans that predated the Navajo, Pueblo and other tribes from the same area. There's some mystery in there that I don't have time to go on about, but they're long gone. They were an agricultural tribe, among the things they grew were these fine beans. (they're pretty too, Google 'em and see). If I'm to believe what I read (and I want to) these beans were basically extinct. Then one day some archaeologist was looking for the fossilized bones of an extinct pachyderm and he came across an Anasazi pot sealed with pine pitch. Inside were these very beans. When they planted some to check their viability some of them grew and today we are fortunate enough to have them again thanks to some dedicated heirloom growers and consumers (like me, yo!). It's like eating history. Well, not history as in old meat or fruit cake, but you know what I mean!

Damn Good, Thick and Rich, Anasazi Bean Chili

1 TBS peanut oil
3 lbs. beef (cut into 1/4" to 1/2" cubes)
1-1/2 cups onion (chopped fine)
8 cloves garlic (chopped fine)
3/4 tsp garlic powder
4 cups chicken broth
1/2 cup tomato sauce
3 TBS cumin seeds (ground)
10 1/2 TBS chili powder
2 large ancho chilies (soaked until soft, deseeded and minced)
2 tsp salt
1/2 tsp meat tenderizer
4 cups of cooked beans (pinto, etc. I use Anasazi Bean)1/2 tsp light brown sugar
2 tsp chipotle hot sauce1 cup sour cream
1 cup nacho and Monterrey Jack cheese (shredded)
3 green onions (sliced)

Set a large cast iron dutch oven over medium heat. Add 2 cups of the chicken broth and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer and add the onions and garlic and simmer for 10 minutes.

Add the tomato sauce, and all dry spices except for the meat tenderizer and sugar. Stir together thoroughly. Continue to simmer on low.

While chili mix is simmering, place another cast iron pan over high eat. Add the peanut oil and brown the meat in small batches. Sprinkle each batch with a little meat tenderizer and set aside.

Add the browned meat and final two cups of chicken broth to the simmering chili mixture, continue on a low simmer for 2 hours. Stirring occasionally.

Add the beans and mix in well. Continue simmering for 30 minutes.

Remove from heat. Stir in the light brown sugar and the chipotle hot sauce.

Serve topped with shredded cheese, sour cream and sliced green onions.

Damn Good, Thick and Rich Anasazi Bean Chili by Henry Krauzyk from Chop Onions, Boil Water.

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