Tuesday, June 16, 2009

This started off as a quick chili

Spring has come and almost gone. And I finally had another opportunity to walk to work (and home). It's 2.8 miles and takes me about 40 minutes each way, and it's a good workout. I need to wear hiking gear and change at the office, otherwise it's just way too sweaty.

All of which is just to say that when I do this, I have 80 minutes of unencumbered time to let my mind wander. I don't do earbuds. So -- no music, no NPR, no books on tape. Just me and my brain and whatever the scenery, sounds and smells happen to be. So sometimes, especially on the way home, I get to think about dinner.

I have a pretty good sense of what's in the pantry and what's in the fridge, so I can compose themes and variations in my head. And let the concepts emerge, percolate, simmer, and then when I get home, all I have to do is make it happen.

This started out as a simple, quick black bean chili. I'd done a very nice black bean chili from scratch at the cabin (post coming soon!) and I was eager to try something with black beans, even if they were canned, again. The canned black beans had been in the cupboard for months, as had the canned tomatoes. So those were a given. Seasonings I could make up -- probably cumin, maybe some others. Onions, garlic for sure. And there was this big bunch of mustard greens that Eleanor and I had picked up a few days ago. I figured that would make a good addition.

So I got a roughly chopped onion and a few cloves of garlic going in the olive oil as soon as I'd changed out of the walking clothes, had a long drink of water, and got my heart rate down to something manageable. AFter they started to sweat just a bit, I added a good teaspoon or two of cumin, another of fenugreek, and another of coriander, mixed them around a bit and then the drained black beans and a chili-infused diced tomato can and got them to simmering. That part was on auto pilot. And I added about 3/4 cup of the rest of the bulgur and about a cup of water...I figured that would add an interesting texture.

Then what? The greens. There were A LOT of greens. A BIG bunch. The last time I'd used them, I also had a lot, and they'd cooked down to almost nothing, so I figured they would just be a nice addition to this "chili". I pulled out the center rib and chopped them up and added them, covered, and waited for them to wilt.

While that was happening, I was pondering some additions. I recalled the idea of using fish sauce in small amounts in unusual places to add some umami, so went with about a half teaspoon (probably less, actually). Then, I'd been playing with seaweed a bit lately, and toasted a handful of laver to just smoking. This was probably too far, but they didn't taste burned, and they made a good addition. I could've probably used five times as much if I'd wanted them to be a little more dominant. Lesson learned -- don't put laver in the toaster oven and walk away. They go to smoking pretty quickly -- a lot quicker than the 5-7 minutes at 350 that the package suggests. Some salt and pepper rounded out the seasonings.

As you can see, calling this "chili" would be a stretch. It's greens. With some beans and tomatoes and other interesting flavors. The mustard had a nice bite, but not overwhelming, that went well with the built in chili flavor of the tomatoes. The fish sauce and laver added a nice umami element, but not overwhelming. And I added a few sunflower seeds at the table for crunch.

All told, a pretty good effort that I'd easily try again with mustard or any other kind of greens, different grains, and maybe some other flavors. Maybe some anchovies? Or smoked fish chunks? Or...pork of course....

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