Friday, January 14, 2011

Quick Pantry Chili (and bean-counting)

Ah, dried beans. I was going to buy black beans for a recipe in a new cookbook I have, but the store didn't have black beans. So I bought pintos. Because I wanted to make something with beans, and at that point I wasn't about to wander from store to store looking for black beans.

When I checked prices, the two-pound bag of pintos was so much a better deal that I had to buy that instead of the puny one-pound bag. Two pounds was under $2. I think the one-pound bag was something like $1.29. I'm frugal like that.

You following me yet? So I had a two-pound bag of dried pinto beans instead of black beans. I sorted, rinsed, and set them to soak overnight. I don't always do that, but if I have the time I soak them. Or I chuck 'em into the slow cooker. This time I soaked, and the next day, I cooked 'em.

You know how cheap those beans were? You know how much beans grow when you cook them? I had a lot of beans. I had my scale out and decided to weigh them after cooking. I got a little sloppy with scooping and weighing, so there was a little liquid in the beans, but the total was over 5 1/2 pounds of cooked beans.

So I thought, hmmmm... maybe I can use these beans for a recipe I'll post, rather than just slopping stuff together. But then I decided that I should also convert my dried cooked beans to cans, just in case people aren't going to cook their own. I mean, why not make it easy for everyone?

Okay, so a can of beans is 15 ounces. But wait, that includes the liquid. The weight of the beans is more like 10 ounces.

So then I started thinking about the cost. Because, you know, my mind wanders.

Where was I again? Oh yeah, price. A can of beans averages about $1. Sometimes they're cheap and on sale for cheaper, or you could buy a fancy brand for $2 per can. We'll ignore the super-premium ones that are even more expensive. Let's imagine you're being frugal but nothing is on sale, so you buy the $1 beans. And besides, it's easier math if it's $1 instead of 79 cents or $1.29 or whatever. And you get home and you have 10 ounces of actual beans after draining because you don't like bean goo.

So those canned beans cost ten cents per ounce. See how easy that math was?

Not so easy for my dried beans. I've got 5 1/2 pounds of beans which equals 88 ounces. Almost nine cans worth of beans. And I paid less than $2. So... I paid about 2 cents per ounce. Okay, eight cents per ounce savings doesn't sound like it's going to make a huge difference, but think about it this way. If I bought the beans in cans, it would have cost me about $9 instead of $2. So I saved $7 and didn't have to open nine cans. And to be honest, I think home-cooked dried beans taste better than canned.

If I liked canned beans better, the few dollars wouldn't be a big deal. But I like them better AND they're cheaper? Oh yeah, I'm all over it.

So anyway, the recipe. Since the scale was out, I weighed out 2 pounds of beans, which was about 4 cups and now we know that's about 3 cans of canned beans. Everything else I had on hand, because it was cold out and snowy and I wasn't about to go sliding around in my car when I had plenty of stuff to use.

Obviously, that leaves me with a lot of cooked beans. I have plans for them, don't worry.

Keep in mind here that although I'm calling this "chili" I know there are plenty of people who would disagree. Heck, plenty of people disagree with any and every chili recipe ever devised. If it makes you feel better, call it bean stew.

Seriously, though, when I was growing up, chili had elbow macaroni in it. I was a legal adult before I ever saw chili without macaroni. And even older before I knew about green chili or beanless chili. So my view of chili is somewhat skewed. But when it's cold and snowy, I tend to wander back to nostalgia-land with my recipes, and that means you're going to find tomatoes in the chili. Yes, I said it. Tomatoes. That's just the way it is.

Quick Pantry Chili

1 pound ground beef
1/2 medium onion, diced
1 tablespoon cumin
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon epazote (optional)
1 teaspoon Mexican oregano
4 cups cooked pinto beans (or 3 cans, drained)
1 can (14.5 ounces) petite diced tomatoes
1 can (10.75 ounces) tomato puree
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar

In a heavy-bottomed pot or dutch oven, begin  browning the ground beef on medium heat. If you haven't chosen the leanest of the lean, there will be plenty of fat, so you shouldn't need to add oil. If you did get super-lean meat, add just a touch of oil. Add the onions as soon as the beef begins to brown. Cook, stirring as needed until the meat is mostly browned, then add the spices. If you're worried about how strong these flavors will be start with half - or less - of the spices.

If you don't have epazote, don't worry about it, just leave it out or add a bit more oregano. If you don't have Mexican oregano, you can use regular oregano. After the spices are added stir to coat the meat, and continue cooking until the meat is cooked. Add the beans, tomatoes, and balsamic vinegar. Stir to combine, reduce heat to low, and simmer until flavors are well combined, at least 15 minutes, stirring as needed so the bottom doesn't burn. Taste and adjust the seasoning. You can cook longer, but keep an eye on the liquid and add water, if needed.

You can also put the pot in the oven at 325 degrees and  cook, covered, for up to an hour. Check the liquid level after an hour and add more, if needed.

Serve with extra hot sauces if there are fire-eaters in your family. I also like this with a dollop of Greek-style yogurt or sour cream.

3 comments:

Pam said...

Wow! A great price for a delicious dish. I love beans and you did them perfectly!

Cook said...

Hi Donna,
Oh!! Great fun. I too buy & use dry/bulk when ever possible. Please forgive me, but why do I see some Bean Bread on the way? I just have that feeling. As for the "Chili," I'm with you and grew up eating some very unusual things, alll called "Chili." Laugh if you like, but the very best remains "Mrs. Johnson's Chili." She was the cook at Brown's Point (WA) school, ca. 1958, when I was in third grade. Simple USDA stocks of ground beef, canned tomatoes, pre-soaked dried beans and onion (if she had any). And her own seasoning blend suitable for elementary school kids. Today, I grind my own beef, always soak beans from dry, season a bit (OK, a LOT) more than Mrs. Johnson did, and happily call it "Chili." I do not think it is misuse of the word, anymore than you do. It is the go-to, home version of a warm and friendly dish. and the prissy Food Police will get over it. You know I love the blog and the SE posts. Go for it, my friend!
-Craig

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