Sichuan Chile Chili

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I am home in sunny Southern California for the holidays, where I am being spoiled by my mom’s good eats, reading/napping while sprawled out on the couch, and moonlighting as a college admissions counselor for my sister. I’ve been eating like the world is ending, of course. I also somehow miscounted the days I’d be here and am short one day of clothing. Oops.

It’s very warm, here — 80 degrees, and I’ve been eating cold (noodle) salads. It feels a little unseasonable to look through my recent photos of hearty, rib-sticking, wintery foods that I cooked through the stormy weeks in the Bay Area. Not that I’d turn away chili or risotto, though, because, when in my life have I ever done that? Never.

I’ve been kind of obsessed with Sichuan peppercorns, the kind that leave a tingly, numb sensation in your mouth and around your lips if you’re a bit of a junkie like me. It makes the flavor ma la (numb-spicy) in Chinese, which I’d had in mapo tofu and not much else until recently. Commonly found in Asian groceries (or online, if that’s not accessible), if you are curious to try.

I’ve also been kind of obsessed with using the pressure cooker to make beans (exhibit Mediterranean potluck party), so it seemed obvious…. Sichuan chile chili! This giant pot of hearty beans and tomato with some zippy Sichuan peppercorns fed me for a week, and then I made it again to tweak the recipe, and it fed me for another week.

Sichuan chile chili

1 to 2 tablespoons of Sichuan peppercorns
vegetable oil (or other neutral oil)
1 onion
1 or 2 carrots
1 or 2 cloves of garlic
around 5 cups of cooked beans (pressure cooker instructions here)
1 14-oz can of crushed or diced tomatoes
chili powder (to taste, I used about a tablespoon)
1/2 to 1 cup of quinoa (optional)
salt & pepper
sour cream, cashew cream, sliced herbs as garnish (optional)

Grind the peppercorns until medium-fine. I used an old coffee grinder for this.

Heat up the oil in a large pot and toast the ground peppercorns until fragrant, on high heat.

Dice the onion and chop the carrot finely — or grate both, if you prefer a smoother textured chili. Finely mince the garlic.

Turn heat down to medium and add the carrots and onions, stirring occasionally. Add the garlic after a few minutes, and cook for a few additional minutes.

Add a can of tomatoes, beans, and chili powder and any other desired seasoning. You may also need to add a bit of water — the beans should be roughly level with liquid. Cover and let cook for as long as you can, but at least for 20 minutes or so.

Optional, but 20 minutes before serving, you can add quinoa to the chili, stirring frequently to avoid sticking to the bottom of the pot. I like adding it for texture/nutrition/using up my giant bag of quinoa. Bulgur works, too.