For Joe Yonan, the question “Should you put beans in chili?” is moot. The San Angelo native grew up on T-bones and Tex-Mex. The first thing he learned to cook was chicken-fried steak. Eight years ago, however, Yonan, the food editor for the Washington Post, went vegetarian. But he wasn’t about to live life without the occasional bowl o’ red.
“I realized that, rather than worrying about putting any beans in the chili, what if I just really went for it and built it all around the beans?” Yonan says. The recipe is in his new cookbook, Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking With the World’s Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein, With 125 Recipes, which came out in February. As everybody began stocking up on beans in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, the book became a quarantine cooking bible.
A few weeks ago, we interviewed Yonan and shared his recipe for Pinto Bean Tortilla Salad. Because we have stockpiled on so many beans, we thought we’d share his chili recipe as well. Yonan likes to call his it chile con frijoles, rather than chile sin carne, as he doesn’t want the dish to be defined by its absence of meat. But there’s still one sop to the Texas chili purist: you won’t find any tomatoes.
Texas-Style Bowl o’ Red Beans
Serves 4 to 6
I was once a chili purist, one of those Texans who say that real chili is little more than chile peppers and meat, plus seasonings. That’s why its original name is chile con carne. All that went out the window when I became vegetarian, and I embraced the anything-goes approach to chili making: beans, sure, but also sweet potatoes, tomatoes, and corn—even jackfruit. Then one day I found myself with a real hankering for that purist’s chili again and thought, “What if the only substitution I made was beans instead of meat?” I dusted off my favorite Texas bowl o’ red recipe—developed with the help of my brother, Michael—and got to work. This chili has the round flavors and slow-burning heat that I love, and I’ve made it for many a party. And when I switched from my Dutch oven to a pressure cooker, the dish turned from an all-day to a weeknight recipe; included are instructions for both. Serve with saltines or tortillas, grated cheddar cheese, chopped scallions, and sour cream, if you’d like. —Joe Yonan
6 dried ancho chiles, rinsed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
1 large yellow onion, chopped
4 garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 teaspoon sea salt, plus more to taste
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper, plus more to taste
2 tablespoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (pimentón)
8 ounces dried red kidney beans, rinsed
4 ounces dried black beans, rinsed
Cut or tear the ancho chiles into 2-inch-or-so pieces, discarding the seeds and stems. Place in a dry skillet over medium heat and toast for about 5 minutes, turning them occasionally, just until fragrant, without allowing them to char. Transfer to a blender, add 5 cups of hot water, and blend until smooth.
Heat the oil in a stove-top or electric pressure cooker or Dutch oven, uncovered, over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion and garlic and cook, stirring frequently, until the onion turns translucent, about 5 minutes. Add the salt, pepper, oregano, cumin, and paprika and cook, stirring, until very fragrant, about 1 minute.
Stir in the beans, along with the ancho mixture, plus more water as needed to cover the beans by 1 inch. If you’re using a pressure cooker, lock on the lid and bring the cooker up to high pressure. Cook for 45 minutes if using a stove-top model or 55 minutes for electric. Let the pressure naturally release, then open. If you’re using a Dutch oven, cover and cook over low heat until the beans are very tender, up to 4 or 5 hours, stirring occasionally and adding water if the beans seem dry on top.
Use a masher to lightly mash some of the beans in the pot, leaving some whole. Stir in more water to loosen, if necessary, and add more salt and pepper to taste.
Serve warm, with the accompaniments of your choice.
Adapted from Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking With the World’s Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein, With 125 Recipes, by Joe Yonan, copyright © 2020. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House.
This article originally appeared in the May 2020 issue of Texas Monthly with the headline “In the Time of Beans.” Subscribe today.