Monday, January 2, 2012

Things I learned while making chili tonight

Today while I was grocery shopping, I spied a bag of masa flour and, on a lark, I pitched it into my cart. I planned to make a white chili for dinner and determined to make corn tortillas to go with it. Nearly instantly, I started jonesing for a tortilla press. I had visions of perfectly round disks of masa dough baking up on my cast iron griddle pan. I went to 3 places trying to find a dang tortilla press. I couldn't believe I was so passionately on point for a dreaded uni-tasker. I transitioned to visions of Alton Brown frowning in my general direction. Still, I persisted until it was clear I wasn't going to find a tortilla press and, moreover, I started feeling kind of ridiculous. So I went home. I mixed 2 cups of masa flour with a pinch of salt and a cup and a halfish of water, mixed it up into a dough, divided it into 16 little balls, and flattened each between two cutting boards. Then I used my trusty rolling pin to flatten the discs further before tossing them onto the hot griddle. My tortillas may have had raggedy edges, but they were darned tasty. And that's all the tortilla recipe (or gadgetry) I have to give. Here's my recipe for white-bean chili. Instructions for purists will be included alongside the instructions for those who have less time.

White Bean Chili
1 Tablespoon canola oil (or less. As little as you can get away with, actually.)
1 large white or Spanish onion
4 large cloves garlic
About half a teaspoon of salt
4 cans (15 oz) of white beans (white navy or canellini), drained and rinsed.
(or 1 smallish package of dried white beans, soaked overnight, drained, then simmered until tender and drained)
2 small cans of roasted hatch or ortega chiles
(or 4-6 hatch or ortega chiles, roasted over a gas burner, sweated inside a paper bag, then skinned, seeded and chopped. Scrape the skin off; don't rinse. Rinsing will wash away flavor.)
Vegetable broth (I use boxed veggie broth. Make our own if you have time and inclination.)
Beer (lager, or another light-colored brew)
White wine vinegar
Masa flour
White or green pepper
Chopped fresh cilantro
Lime wedges
Jack or pepper jack cheese if you want it. Grated.
Tortilla chips, you saucy thing.

Chop the onion into fairly small pieces. Heat the oil in a dutch oven over medium-high heat, then add the onion, stir, and cook until translucent. Meanwhile, mince the garlic with the salt to make a paste. Add the garlic-salt mixture to the onion in the pot. Stir and cook until fragrant, about 2 minutes. Add the beans and peppers. Stir to combine. Then add veggie broth and beer until the chili is fairly liquidy. Add a splash of vinegar -- the acid will brighten up your chili. Season with cumin and pepper. Now take a heaping soup spoon of masa flour and place it in a small bowl. Add enough water to make a loose batter, and stir until smooth. Add this to your chili in the pot, and stir  thoroughly to combine. Bring to a simmer. Taste and adjust seasoning. Lower heat and simmer, stirring occasionally to prevent sticking, for about half an hour. The masa will thicken your chili nicely. Meanwhile, make your tortillas according to the recipe on the masa flour package. If you've never made tortillas before, don't be intimidated. They are super-simple.

Turn off heat under chili pot. Stir, then ladle into bowls. Top with chopped cilantro. I was in a vegan mood so didn't top with cheese, though the thought did cross my mind. So: if you have some jack or other white cheese, grate it up and toss some on top of your chile along with the cilantro. If you're really feeling dietarily naughty, throw on a crumbled up tortilla chip or 20. Serve with lime wedges and a beer.

Here's what I learned:
- You rarely need the gadgets you think you need to cook good food.
- This chili tastes great without the cheese and chips
- But nobody will judge you if you add the cheese and chips
- Beer always makes soup better (thanks to my dear friend Jim H. for the reminder)