Black Bean & Sweet Potato Chili

This post contains two recipes which, when combined, yield a very nice pot of chili for four. I recommend doubling the bean recipe and setting half aside so that you can throw together quick dinners of tacos, huevos ranchers and the like throughout the week.

Spicy Black Beans

  • 1/2 pound black beans
  • 1 tablespoon lard, bacon drippings or other pork fat
  • 1 small onion, finely diced
  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and halved
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1/2 tablespoon dried oregano (or epazote if you’ve got it)
  • 2 dried chili de arbol (or substitute cayenne pepper to taste)
  • salt and pepper
  1. Add the beans to a large pot along with enough water to cover them by a few inches. Bring to a boil, turn off the heat and let them sit for an hour or more.
  2. Add the pork fat, onions, garlic, bay leaf and oregano. Bring back to a boil, reduce heat and let simmer for one hour.
  3. Add the whole peppers and salt and pepper to taste. Let simmer for another 30-60 minutes until the beans are quite soft and the cooking liquid has thickened. Remove bay leaf and chilis, transfer beans and cooking liquid to another container, give the pot a quick rinse, and move on to the next recipe.

Black Bean & Sweet Potato Chili with Hot Beef Sausage

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 4 links hot beef sausage, sliced into discs (If you can get your hands on Lewis Waite Farm‘s version, I recommend doing so because YUM. But any kind of spicy sausage would yield a great dish.)
  • 2 medium onions, diced
  • 2 tablespoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon sweet paprika
  • 1 teaspoon dried chipotle and/or smoked habanero powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon (Trust me on this; it’s your secret weapon.)
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
  • 1 batch spicy black beans (see above)
  • 2 large sweet potatoes, peeled and cut into small cubes
  1. Bring the oil up to medium heat in a large pot. Fry your sausage slices in two batches, allowing them to brown and crisp in places.
  2. Remove the sausage, lower the heat a bit and add your onions. (If there wasn’t much fat left from your sausage, you could add a little more olive oil at this point.) Saute until starting to soften, then add in the spices and cook stirring constantly for one minute. Do the same with the tomato paste.
  3. Dump your reserved beans and sausage into the pot along with the cider vinegar and enough water that everything is just submerged. Let simmer for 30 minutes, then add the sweet potatoes. Let simmer for another hour. You can add water as you go if needed, but the goal is more of a thick sauce than a broth. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper if needed.

Black Bean and Sweet Potato Chili

I served this garnished with thinly sliced scallions, avocado slices and some Greek yogurt to counterbalance all of that heat.

A Note on Chile Peppers

This week continues to be challenging. I didn’t make it home until around 9:00 last night, by which time I was ravenous. I keep corn tortillas on hand for just such a situation. A few tortillas, half a tablespoon of olive oil, a red onion, a sweet red pepper, a jalapeño, some feta and the less brown half of an abandoned avocado became my dinner in about 15 minutes.

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The tacos were tasty but, in my haste, I forgot a few key tips for working with chile peppers.

  1. Cut off the tip and taste to assess hotness. Each pepper is unique. I’ve had jalapeños as mild as a green bell pepper. I’ve had jalapeños that were scorching. Let’s just say that my lower lip is looking a little bee stung today.
  2. If the pepper is hot, minimize skin contact. When you cut a pepper, you release capsaicin, the chemical that creates that delicious hot feeling. The more you cut it, the more you release. Some folks recommend wearing plastic gloves. I used to think this was ridiculous–until I met some seriously hot habaneros while making black bean dip. My hands stung for about 24 hours and were tingly for a few days after that. I tried milk. I tried oil. I tried vinegar. I tried harsh detergents. Nothing but time worked. I have yet to buy gloves, but I do make an effort to only touch the outside of the pepper and let my knife do most of the work.
  3. If your hands do absorb the heat, BE VERY CAREFUL what you touch. You can generally gauge whether one of your fingers is tainted it by sucking on it a bit. You could also gauge this by removing your contacts or by touching some mucus membranes (think soft, fleshy pink parts), but I DO NOT recommend this technique.
  4. If you want to minimize the heat, remove the ribs (the white part on the inside) and the seeds. If you are in a hurry and do not bother with this, you may end up with some very zesty tacos. Obviously, if you really want to amp your dish up, go for the whole thing.
  5. Using multiple sources of heat will yield a more complex flavor. In the case of these quick weeknight tacos, I stuck to the jalapeño and some fresh-ground black pepper. But, when I’m making chili or some other slow-cooked dish with layers of flavor, I generally go with a combination of fresh and dried chiles, chile powder, and/or hot sauce.
  6. Use caution when cooking chile seeds. If you’ve got a soup or a stew or some kind of braise going on, no worries. If you’ve got a hot cast iron pan with minimal oil, you may end up burning the seeds. If you live in a small one-bedroom apartment with no cross ventilation, this could be rather unpleasant. Boys and girls, can you say “pepper spray”?