from The Greens Cookbook, 109-110.
There is nothing in this recipe, as it appears in Madison’s book, about cooking the beans over a campfire. Nor does she call for any meat in it. But this rich stew of black beans and chilies adapts well to rough handling, especially for a recipe that comes from such a venerable vegetarian cookbook.
When I bought The Greens Cookbook in 1987, I hadn’t yet been tapped by the Chez Panisse fairy. I thought more in the old Craig Claibourne way of thinking: the dish, the outcome, the ends rather than the means. Madison’s recipes looked like a scattershot of bytes and characters upon the page. I couldn’t take it in — yet. Many of my friends were using the book, but not me.
And then this year I decided to give it a try. Now that I’m working my way through it, I have to tolerate the amused smiles of all the friends who know the collection of recipes inside and out, as if it were a playlist of greatest hits.
This past weekend, to accompany a slow-grilled 7-pound pork butt I made these beans to cook over a wood fire. They were a sensation at the dinner party, but I was the only one who continued to ask, “where have I been all these years? Why haven’t I been cooking with Deborah Madison?”
The chili recipe:
2 cups black turtle beans, soaked overnight
1 bay leaf
4 teaspoons cumin seeds
4 teaspoons dried oregano leaves
4 teaspoons paprika
Shadowcook: Or smoked paprika, also known as pimentón.
1/2 cayenne pepper
1 chili negro or ancho chili, for chili powder, or 2 to 3 tablespoons chili powder
Shadowcook: If you don’t grind the chili yourself, use a good quality ancho chili powder.
3 tablespoons corn or peanut oil
3 medium yellow onions, diced into 1/4-inch squares
4 cloves garlic, coarsely chopped
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 pounds ripe or canned tomatoes, peeled, seeded, and chopped; juice reserved
1 to 2 teaspoons chopped chilpotle chili
About 1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
4 tablespoons cilantro, chopped
Garnishes: 1/2 to 3/4 cup muenster cheese, grated
Green chilies: 2 poblano or Anaheim, roasted, peeled, and diced, or 2 ounces canned green chilies, rinsed well and diced
1/2 cup crème fraîche or sour cream
6 sprigs cilantro
Shadowcook: I confess I added 1/2 pound of bacon to the list of ingredients. Heretical, I know.
Sort through the beans and remove any small stones. Rinse them well, cover them generously with water, and let them soak overnight. Next day, drain the beans, cover them with fresh water by a couple of inches, and bring them to a boil with the bay leaf. Lower the heat and let the beans simmer while you prepare the rest of the ingredients.
Heat a small heavy skillet over medium heat. Add the cumin seeds, and when they begin to color, add the oregano leaves, shaking the pan frequently so the herbs don’t scorch. As soon as the fragrance is trong and robust, remove the pan from the heat and add the paprika and the cayenne. Give everything a quick stir; then remove from the pan — the paprika and the cayenne only need a few seconds to toast. Grind in a mortar or a spice mill to make a coarse powder.
Preheat the oven to 375 F. To make the chili powder, put the dried chili in the oven for 3 to 5 minutes to dry it out. Cool it briefly; then remove the stem, seeds, and veins. Tear the pod into small pieces and grind it into a powder in a blender or spice mill.
Shadowcook: I used 2 tablespoons of good ancho chili powder, which was hot enough for me and my guests.
Heat the oil in a large skillet and sauté the onions over medium heat until they soften.
Shadowcook: This is where I introduced bacon. I diced the bacon and fried the bits first before adding the chopped onion.
Add the garlic, salt, and the ground herbs and chili powder, and cook another 5 minutes. Add the tomatoes, their juice, and about 1 teaspoon of the chilpotle chili. Simmer everything together for 15 minutes; then add this mixture to the beans, and, if necessary, enough water so the beans are covered by at least 1 inch. Continue cooking the beans slowly until they are soft, an hour or longer, or pressure cook them for 30 minutes at 15 pounds’ pressure. Keep an eye on the water level and add more, if needed, to keep the beans amply covered.
When the beans are cooked, taste them, and add more chilpotle chili if desired. Season to taste with the vinegar, additional salt if needed, and the chopped cilantro.
Prepare the garnishes. If you are using fresh green chilies, roast them over a flame until they are evenly charred. Let them steam 10 minutes in a bowl covered with a dish; then scrape off the skins, discard the seeds, and dice.
Serve the chili ladled over a large spoonful of grated cheese, and garnish it with the crème fraîche or sour cream, the green chilies, and a sprig of fresh cilantro.
Though served in a bowl and eaten with a spoon, this chili is a great deal thicker than most soups — thick enough in fact to be served on a plate right alongside fritters or cornbread. It also, however, can be thinned considerably with stock, water, or tomato juice, to make a much thinner but still very flavorful black bean soup. When thinned to make a soup, it can be served as part of a meal rather than a meal in itself.