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Asian-flavored chili: New twist on an old favorite
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Asian-flavored chili: New twist on an old favorite

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I’ve been neglecting beans. One part of me knows that beans are healthy and that we should be eating more of them. Beans are high in protein and vitamins and other good things. When shopping, it’s so easy to reach for a bag of them. So why don’t I? Inertia of rest?

Joe Yonan to the rescue! His new book, “Cool Beans: The Ultimate Guide to Cooking with the World's Most Versatile Plant-Based Protein, with 125 Recipes,” inspired me to cook up some newly arrived dried beans I had stashed in my pantry. The result? This terrific Southeast Asian-flavored chili.

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One thing I do love about beans is how terrific they are in chili. I wanted a different chili from the typical meat-based recipes and felt that sweet, soothing coconut milk and pungent lemon grass and ginger-like galangal root would work together to make this chili pop with flavor.

For added oomph, I mixed in caramelized mushrooms and onions, carrots, rainbow chard — leaves and stems — canned tomatoes, sriracha, fish sauce, and red wine vinegar.

And because chili wouldn’t be chili without cheese, I top servings with shredded extra-sharp Cheddar. An American touch, for sure. For a bit of salty crunch, I suggest offering some saltine crackers.

Joe Yonan’s method of cooking dried beans is easy and foolproof. You can cook them a day ahead and stash them in the fridge for a day or two so they’ll be ready when you are to make this great chili.

Happy cooking!

Southeast Asian Chili

Makes 8 servings

Southeast Asian Chili with Beans gets its special oomph from coconut milk, galangal root, lemongrass, and makrut leaves. If galangal is not available substitute fresh ginger. For a lemongrass substitute use strips of lemon zest. One large lemon should do it. If makrut isn’t available substitute strips of lime zest from 1 or 2 large limes. (Makrut used to be called kaffir lime, but that name is no longer used because it is a racial slur). Mushrooms, onions, carrots and chard add familiar vegetable friends. If you want to keep this dish vegetarian, sub in soy sauce for the fish sauce and omit the cheese.

The Beans

1 pound dried beans, such as cannellini, flageolets, pinto, navy, or other

1 large shallot or 1/2 white or yellow onion, peeled

4 garlic cloves

2 bay leaves

1 tablespoon table salt

The Flavored Coconut Milk

1 can (14 ounces) coconut milk, full fat or lower fat

1 stalk lemongrass, cut into 1-inch pieces

3 or 4 slices (1/4-inch) unpeeled galangal or ginger

4 makrut leaves

2 tablespoons lemon grass paste

1 tablespoon sriracha sauce

1 tablespoon fish sauce

1 tablespoon red wine vinegar

The Vegetables

3/4 pound cremini or white mushroom caps, diced (1/3-inch; 3 cups)

3/4 pound peeled yellow or white onion, diced (1/2-inch; 3 cups)

2 large carrots, peeled and diced (1/2-inch; 2 cups)

1 bunch chard (about 1 pound)

1 can (28-ounces) diced tomatoes, Roma preferred, drained

Cooking and Seasonings

Butter and extra-virgin olive oil for cooking

Salt and pepper

1/2 teaspoon dried thyme, for the mushrooms

2 cups shredded extra-sharp Cheddar cheese

Saltine crackers, optional

1. For the beans. Rinse the beans under cold running water in a colander. Transfer the beans to a heavy 5- to 6-quart pot and add enough water to cover them by 2 inches. Add the shallot or onion, garlic, bay leaves and salt. Stir to combine.

Set the pot over high heat and bring the water to the boil. Boil the beans, uncovered, for 10 minutes. Reduce the heat to a simmer so that the liquid bubbles very slowly, and cover the pot. Cook the beans for 1 to 1 1/2 hours, until the beans are very tender. Check every 20 minutes or so to make sure the beans are covered with water. Add boiling water as necessary. Test the beans from a few different places in the pot for doneness. When cooked, discard the bay leaves. Taste the beans for salt and add more if needed. The beans may be used right away or you can cool them to room temperature and refrigerate them, covered, for a day or two in their liquid.

2. When ready to make the chili, prepare the coconut milk. Scrape the contents of the can into a 2-quart heavy saucepan and add the lemongrass, galangal or ginger, and makrut leaves. Cover the pot and set it over the lowest heat. You do not want the coconut milk to boil. It should get very hot with just a bubble or two breaking the surface every few seconds. Steep the seasonings in the coconut milk for about 45 minutes. Stir in the lemon grass paste, sriracha, fish sauce and red wine vinegar. Cover and set aside off heat.

3. To cook the vegetables. Heat 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil in a 12-inch skillet over medium heat. When bubbling hot, stir in the mushrooms. Cook and stir about 5 to 8 minutes, until the mushrooms are well-browned. Off heat, stir in the thyme, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper. Transfer the mushrooms to a plate.

Replace the skillet over medium heat and add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil. When bubbling hot stir in the onions. Cook, stirring frequently, about 10 minutes, until the onions are tender and caramelized in spots. Transfer the onions to a plate. Do not wash the skillet.

4. Bring quarts of water to the boil in a large pot over high heat and drop in the carrots. Cook 5 minutes at a rolling boil. While the carrots cook, cut the stems off the chard, trim off their ends, and slice the stems about 1/4-inch-thick. Fold the leaves in half the long way and cut away the remaining stem.

Remove the carrots with a slotted spoon and set them aside on a plate. Add the chard leaves to the boiling water and push down with a wooden spoon to submerge. Cover the pot and cook the leaves for 3 minutes. Drain well in a colander. Run cold water over the leaves to cool them. Squeeze the leaves firmly to remove most of the water. Whack the ball of leaves in a few places with a chef’s knife to make a few large chunks. Then whack the chunks again at right angles for a rough chop. Set the chard leaves on a plate.

To cook the chard stems, add 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil to the skillet and set the pan over medium heat. When bubbling hot stir in the sliced stems. Cook, stirring, for 5 minutes, until stems are crisp/tender. Add the chard leaves and carrots. Stir and cook 2 minutes more. Take the pan off the heat and season with 1/2 teaspoon salt and 1/4 teaspoon pepper.

Final Assembly and Serving

Drain the liquid from the cooked beans. You can save it to add to a soup. With the beans in their cooking pot, add the cooked mushrooms, onions, carrots, chard stems, chard leaves and drained tomatoes. Strain the seasoned coconut cream into the bean pot and stir well to combine. Set the pot over medium heat and stir occasionally until piping hot. Taste carefully and adjust seasoning with salt and/or pepper if necessary.

Ladle portions into heated bowls, sprinkle with some cheese, and serve with or without the saltines. Refrigerate leftover chili covered and reheat over medium heat before serving.

Greg Patent is a James Beard Award-winning cookbook author for “Baking in America,” a food journalist, blogger, and radio co-host for “The Food Guys” on Montana Public Radio. Please visit his blog,, and follow him on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook.


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