I never told you about the espresso chili, about how divine it was, how (almost) everyone got a heaping bowl, and did everything but lick it clean.
I love that this recipe is a little eccentric, but after reading reviews of a similar recipe on Epicurious I was a bit hesitant to make this for a crowd. A few who had tried it were disgusted. Others adored it, recounting how it has become a regular staple and a hit at dinner parties.
With fingers crossed I stocked up on beans, lugged out our biggest stock pot, and went to work.
There are a few really delightful things about this recipe. It's incredibly simple, requiring basic ingredients and light chopping only. It's easy to double and store, and, as it turns out, terrific for a hungry and mostly vegetarian crowd. What I loved most, though, is how the flavors blend as the chili cooks.
I have a really terrible habit of sampling my recipes at every possible stage as I cook. This usually leaves me too full to properly enjoy the finished product, but I can never resist. After stirring the beans, coffee, tomatoes, sugar, and spices into the garlic-onion combo, I collected some broth on my spoon for the first taste. Disappointment. Watery, bland, but worst of all, bitter. Nervous that I'd be doing little more than serving a cup of bad joe to my friends, I dumped in a generous addition of sugar, and left the kitchen wanting to separate myself from what I was certain would be a disaster.
I returned to a warm and deliciously smelling kitchen. The chili had morphed into a gorgeous black stew, sweet and surprising. With time the flavors melded into a delicious blend. I didn't notice any repercussions from the sugar overdose, although more than one person asked, "What makes this so sweet?" Still, no complaints. Add "forgiving and flexible recipe" to the list of reasons why this is so great.
Experiment with this recipe. I stayed fairly faithful to the version printed here, adding only a few more tomatoes and onions, and that extra sugar. For the next time I'd like to add bell peppers or squash, or substitute the coffee for a mole-like chocolate version. Try serving it with polenta or a dense cornbread.
I'm sorry I don't have a picture to share, but I plan on making another batch very soon and I promise to document it.
Black Bean Coffee Chili
adapted from Mark Bittman's How to Cook Everything Vegetarian
3 tbsp neutral oil,
2 onions, chopped
2 tbsp minced garlic
3 c canned tomatoes, chopped (don't bother to drain their liquid)
2 c freshly brewed coffee, or 1 1/2 c freshly brewed espresso, or 2 tbsp espresso powder
2 tbsp chili powder
1/4 c dark brown sugar or 3 tbsp molasses
1 3-in cinnamon stick
2 cans of black beans (or 1 pound dried black beans)
salt and pepper to taste
Heat the oil over a medium high heat in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid. When hot, add the onions, and cook, stirring occasionally until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute. Stir in the tomato, coffee, brown sugar, cinnamon, and beans. Add water to cover. Bring to a boil and then lower the heat so the liquid bubbles steadily. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the flavors have blended, anywhere from 30 to 90 minutes (although the chili can sit longer on a very low heat to stay warm). Add salt and pepper to taste and adjust the seasoning.