In the culture and cuisine of the Southwest, chili is serious business. But contrary to what many believe, good chili doesn't require "carne" (meat). The key to great chili is knowing how to harness the fiery flavor of a wide range of available chile peppers to make the dish exciting yet palatable. ("Chili" commonly refers to the dish made with "chile" peppers.) Red New Mexican chile peppers are traditionally tied in strings called ristras or are available as ground powder, and chipotles are ripe (red) jalapeños that have been dried and smoked. Experiment with different amounts until you find a level of heat intensity that you're comfortable with. Be aware that capsaicin, the active component in chile peppers that gives them their heat, is concentrated in the white tissue attached to the seeds. If you're using whole chiles, you may want to remove that white tissue if you don't want your chili too hot.
7 1/2 cups cooked beans, like pintos, anasazi, adzuki or kidney (roughly four 15-ounce cans or 1 pound dried beans, cooked)
2 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil
2 large onions, diced
1 dried or canned chipotle pepper
1 tablespoon mild red New Mexican chile powder, or to taste
1 tablespoon dried whole oregano
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1/2 teaspoon allspice
1 large can (28 ounces) crushed tomatoes, undrained
5 cloves garlic, mashed
Salt and pepper, to taste
Chopped raw onion
1. Drain beans in a colander.
2. Heat oil in a large Dutch oven or saucepan. Add the onions and sauté over medium heat until they are soft and golden.
3. Crush the chipotle pepper if using dried, or mince if using canned.
4. Add the chipotle pepper, red chile powder, oregano, cumin and allspice to the onions. Cook for 2 minutes.
5. Add the tomatoes and beans. Simmer for 45 minutes, adding liquid if the mixture gets too dry.
6. Add salt and pepper to taste, and more chile if you want a hotter dish.
7. Serve in bowls with warm tortillas. Garnish with chopped raw onion, chopped tomato and shredded lettuce.
Food as Medicine: Some studies indicate that capsaicin may enhance fat metabolism.