Dinner

By Madeleine Ignon | May 23, 2011

Photo: Madeleine Ignon

Chili is mostly foolproof, hence its appeal. Plus, it feels like it can go with almost any time of year, especially in San Francisco where it’s warm and sunny one day and cold and overcast the next.

But oddly enough, I think I will always associate this recipe with Los Angeles. Every time I come home, my mom has this chili-her chili-on the stove in a big Dutch oven. Even a day or two later, it tastes delicious, warmed up with a slice of bread or cold on top of cottage cheese. It’s satisfying for the meat-eaters as well as the vegetarians (oh wait, I’m the only one in my family) and can feed a massive amount of people around our dinner table. Last week for a dinner party I made two pots at once and felt like I was a line cook in a mess hall about to feed a hungry army.

My mom’s trick of preparing the eggplant before you start cooking it is essential to the recipe, as is the chocolate, which gives it a delicious hint of Mexican mole flavor. I like to make this recipe often because it turns out a little differently each time, and it is fun to experiment with new ingredients. I added Guinness for the first time this time around and loved the flavor it gave to the mixture at the last minute.

Tip: Go for organic with the canned goods-it really makes a difference when the beans aren’t soaked in that gross syrup of sodium palmate and other preservatives. But either way, always rinse the beans before you use them.

*These are all very rough measurements. Taste the chili often as it simmers and add spices according to your tastes. If you like your chili spicy, try adding Tabasco sauce or red chili flakes.

  • 1 large eggplant, or 2-3 if you're using Japanese eggplant, cubed
  • 2 zucchini, sliced
  • 2 yellow squash, sliced
  • 1 1/2 large yellow onions, diced
  • 10 cloves garlic, minced or crushed
  • Olive oil
  • 2 cans diced tomatoes
  • 1 can pinto beans
  • 1 can red kidney beans
  • 2-4 cups vegetable stock
  • 1 square very dark, bittersweet, or baker's chocolate
  • 2 tsp chili powder
  • 1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
  • 1 tsp cumin
  • 1/4 tsp cinnamon
  • 1 tsp oregano
  • 1 tsp parsley flakes
  • 1/2 can or bottle of Guinness
  • Sea salt, to taste
  • Freshly ground pepper, to taste

Directions

1. Cube the eggplant and "salt" it-put the cubes in a large bowl and throw a lot of sea salt on top. Let it sit for about half an hour; this reduces some of the bitterness and makes it tender. The eggplant, after all, is functioning as the meat of the dish.

2. In a big pot, heat up about 2 tbsp of olive oil. When that is hot, add the minced or crushed garlic and the chopped onion. Saute until the onions are translucent, about 10 minutes. Add the salted eggplant, and stir occasionally until all the pieces are browned. Add about a cup of the vegetable broth.

3. Let the eggplant mixture cook, and meanwhile saute the zucchini and squash in a separate pan until they are browned. Add the zucchini and squash to the pot, along with the diced tomatoes. Stir and let cook for a few minutes, then add the beans, and all the spices. Add vegetable broth gradually as you let it simmer. It may not need all of the liquid if the liquid from the canned tomatoes added a significant amount, for example. Let it all sit for about an hour, or more if you have the time.

4. About half an hour before you're ready to serve, add the Guinness (again, as much as you think it needs for liquid), and the chocolate and stir.

5. Serve hot, with a dollop of sour cream, some shredded cheese of your choice, and fresh chopped cilantro. If you're feeling ambitious, whip up a batch of cornbread -the two are perfect together.

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