Recipe: Vegetarian Black Bean Espresso Chili

published Feb 23, 2010
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(Image credit: Joanna Miller)

Yesterday, Kathryn covered the basics of chili making and a great many variations. Today, we’re highlighting a very specific vegetarian chili preparation – one that ended years of searching for that perfect meatless recipe.

I’ve tried a great many recipes for vegetarian chili. Most of them were good and some were very good, but none of them delivered the specific qualities I crave in a bowl of chili – qualities that can be a bit elusive when you don’t start the process by browning a good amount of meat in the pot. Here they are:

1. Deep, rich flavor and color
2. Thick consistency (nothing watery!)
3. Minimal added vegetables

I love vegetables, but I don’t want too many of them in my chili. For one thing, they can add a lot of water, which affects quality No. 2. And, the more vegetables I add to a pot of chili, the more it begins to feel like a pot of soup.

That deep, rich flavor is perhaps the hardest element to come by in vegetarian chilis. I have made recipes with ridiculously long ingredient lists that call for just about every sauce in the refrigerator and half the spices in the cupboard. And yet, they still didn’t deliver.

But the first time I made this Bon Appétit recipe, it was a success on all three counts. The protein in this chili comes from the beans alone. There are no other vegetarian proteins or “meat substitutes.” You could certainly add them if you like, but I think the beans and the super-thick tomato sauce are enough to stand on their own. I usually use all black beans, but this time I mixed in some pinto beans I had on hand.

The secret to the deep flavor (and color) in this chili is the espresso powder. I suppose I can’t really call it a secret ingredient since it’s in the name of the recipe, but it’s really the key element that sets this chili apart.

The two-step simmering process is also important for building the flavors and creating that wonderful thick consistency.

Black Bean Espresso Chili
Adapted from Bon Appétit
serves 4

1/4 cup olive oil
3 onions, chopped
1/8 cup instant espresso powder
1/8 cup chili powder
1/8 cup ground cumin
1 28-ounce cans crushed tomatoes
3 tablespoons honey
3 large garlic cloves, minced
6 cups cooked black beans OR mixture of beans OR 3 15-ounce cans of beans
1 cup water
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
1/4 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
Pinch of ground cinnamon

Heat a heavy pot over medium-high heat. Add the oil. Add onions and sauté for about 8 minutes.

Mix in the espresso powder, 1/8 cup chili powder and cook for 1 minute.

Add tomatoes, honey and garlic. Bring to a simmer. Reduce heat to medium-low, cover and simmer for 30 minutes.

Add the beans, 1 cup water, salt, chipotle chili powder and cinnamon. Increase the heat to high and bring to a boil. Reduce heat and simmer, uncovered and stirring often, for about 30 minutes, or until mixture thickens a bit more.

Taste and adjust salt if necessary.

(Image: Joanna Miller)