Monday, November 1, 2010

Chili Comfort

Right about now, most of us probably need a little comfort. Perhaps you’re mourning the loss of the last of the leaves still clinging desperately to increasingly skeletal trees. Perhaps the autumn weather has finally blown in with a vengeance (or a tornado). Perhaps a raging blizzard sneaked up on you and blew away your plastic swimming pool. Whatever the comfort you might need, a bowl of sweet and spicy chili ought to do the trick.

This is a vegetarian concoction stuffed with butternut squash and pinto beans and spiced with a chipotle chile, cumin, coriander and smoked paprika. I’m always looking for more exciting ways to use winter squash, and it was about time to try a new chili recipe. I might be taking some liberties in calling this chili and not just stew. I based it on two similar recipes in different issues of the same magazine, and one called it “stew” while the other called it “chili.” Since I used it as a sort of tailgate-style comfort for all the silliness of televised professional football (prima donna players, bad officiating, analysts who won’t admit that certain teams or players aren’t as good as they thought, and color commentators, who can barely string words together into a coherent sentence, wetting themselves over superstars), I’m calling it chili.

This chili is a role model for the sweet and spicy flavor combination that I love so much. The butternut squash and corn are sweet and the chipotle chile is very spicy. The tangy tomatoes and splash of cider vinegar bring it together and the beans provide heft and body as well as a creaminess that matches the texture of the squash. The smokiness of the chile, cumin and smoked paprika kick this even more into comfort mode for me, since I can’t build a cozy fire in my apartment living room (legally.)

You could use just about any of the winter squashes for this recipe (except spaghetti squash), but I find butternut to be the easiest to peel and chop. Chipotle chiles can be very spicy, so if you want this to be milder, use less than a whole chile, or just replace it with a small amount of crushed red pepper flakes to taste (which won’t be as smoky). I buy chipotle chiles canned in adobo sauce and after I use the first one from the can, I freeze the rest, sauce and all, in a zip-top bag. When I need another chile, I just pry one out from the frozen mass or chop off a chunk. They last a long, long time.

Whether it’s sports or the weather or just a mediocre dinner repertoire that’s got you down, perhaps curling up with a bowl of Squash and Pinto Bean Chili can provide some consolation. That and the fact that the Yankees aren’t in the World Series this year.

Squash and Pinto Bean Chili
Based on recipes in Cooking Light magazine

2 tablespoons canola oil or vegetable oil
1 bell pepper, chopped
1 cup chopped onion
1 ½ teaspoon salt, divided
3 cups peeled butternut squash cut into ½ to ¾ inch cubes
3 cloves minced garlic
1 chipotle chile (canned in adobo sauce), finely chopped
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground coriander
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 (14.5 ounce) can diced tomatoes, preferably fire roasted (do not drain)
1 cup water
1 cup frozen corn
3 cups pinto beans (about 2 15-16-ounce cans) rinsed and drained
1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar

1. Heat the canola oil in a Dutch oven or other large pot over medium heat. Add the pepper, onion and 1 teaspoon salt. Saute about 5 minutes, or until the pepper and onion are just beginning to brown. Add the squash and sauté about 3 minutes more, or just until the squash is beginning to brown.

2. Add the garlic, chipotle chile, cumin, coriander, smoked paprika, and remaining ½ teaspoon salt. Cook about 1 minute, stirring constantly.

3. Add the tomatoes. Cook, stirring frequently, about a minute or so, or until the liquid begins to thicken.

4. Add the water. Bring to a boil, then reduce the heat. Cook at a gentle boil for about 30 minutes, or until the vegetables are tender, stirring occasionally.

5. Add the corn and pinto beans. Return to a gentle boil and cook 5 minutes more. Stir in the vinegar. Taste for salt and add more if desired.

Makes about 6 servings.

Other recipes like this one: Chorizo and Chipotle Chili, Chickpea Stew with Dried Apricots

One year ago: Black Beans with Beets and Oranges

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