No, this photo wasn’t torn out of an old newspaper, though that was the effect I was going for. Sometimes when I don’t like the way a photo comes out, I imagine how it would look in some different era, such as the 70’s. Dark, washed out colors and a grainy texture can hide a multitude of photographic sins. Or maybe not. (Click on that link, take the tour, and come back here when you’ve finished laughing. I’ll wait for you….Okay, you’re back? Good. See, my photo’s not so bad after all!)
I’ve been playing around with this chili recipe for a couple of weeks now, trying it in two old-fashioned appliances that are becoming popular all over again, the crockpot and the pressure cooker. My crockpot had been sitting unused on my shelf for at least a year, so I decided to give it one more try… and that’s when I remembered why I’d much rather use a pressure cooker than a slow cooker.
Certainly there are some dishes that taste better with long, slow cooking, but most of the time I find that drawing out the time it takes to cook something doesn’t improve the flavor and actually hurts in recipes where ingredients should be added at different stages of the cooking process. Plus, I’m never completely sure when the beans that I start in the crockpot in the morning will be done. Every time I’ve used my crockpot, I’ve wound up adding more time or increasing the heat in an effort to make sure my beans are well-cooked. The pressure cooker, on the other hand, cooks time-consuming foods like dried beans so quickly that there’s time to spare for adding ingredients in stages and allowing them to blend together. And if more cooking is needed to soften up tough beans, it’s as easy as replacing the lid and bringing the cooker back up to pressure for a minute.
But I know there are people who love their slow cookers, so I’ve included crockpot instructions just for you–as well as stove top directions for those of you who use neither appliance. However you cook it, this white bean chili is truly delicious, if I do say so. Mildly seasoned (unless you opt to add more pepper), its flavor is made richer and deeper by caramelized onions, while masa harina added near the end thickens it and adds mellowness. Read the recipe carefully to learn my amazing, patented (not really) secret for speeding up the browning of onions.
- 2 cups dried great northern beans
- 5-6 cups vegetable broth
- 1/2 green bell pepper, chopped
- 1 seeded jalapeno pepper, finely minced (optional)
- 2 ribs celery, diced
- 4 cloves garlic, minced
- 2 teaspoons oregano (Mexican, if available)
- 1/4 teaspoon white or red pepper (add more if you like it hot)
- 2 teaspoons cumin
- 2 teaspoons mild chili powder (such as ancho)
- 2 onions, diced
- 1-2 teaspoons salt (or to taste)
- 1 14.5 ounce can diced tomatoes (fire-roasted taste best)
- 1-2 tablespoons masa harina (optional)
- Soak the beans overnight or use a quick-soak method*. Drain the beans and put them into a pressure cooker, crockpot, or large chili pot. Add the vegetable broth (5 cups for pressure cooking, 6 for crockpot and stove) and all ingredients through chili powder. Begin heating over high heat.
- Heat a non-stick skillet. Once it's hot, add the chopped onion. Cook, stirring and scraping the bottom of the skillet, until onion is golden brown, adding a tablespoon of water if necessary to keep it from sticking. (Tip: Add a couple of pinches of baking soda to speed up the caramelization.) Add the onion to the beans.
- For pressure cooking: Seal the cooker and bring to high pressure. Reduce heat and cook for 10 minutes at high pressure. Remove from heat and allow pressure to come down naturally. Check to make sure beans are soft, and if they aren't, return to high pressure for another minute. Once the beans are soft, add the salt and tomatoes and taste for seasoning. If necessary, add more cumin, pepper, and chili powder. Simmer over low heat for at least 20 minutes. Just before serving, add masa harina; stir well and simmer for at least 5 minutes to thicken.
- For crockpot: Cook until beans are completely soft, on high for at least 6 hours or on low for at least 8 hours (crockpots vary, so adjust times as necessary). Add the salt and tomatoes, check seasonings, and cook for at least another hour. Add the masa and cook another 10 minutes.
- For stovetop: Cover and cook on low heat until beans are completely tender, about 1 1/2 hours, adding water as necessary. Add the salt and tomatoes, check the seasonings, and cook for at least 20 minutes. Just before serving, add masa harina, if necessary to thicken; stir well and simmer for at least 5 minutes.