Dinner @ 226 - Black Bean Chili with Butternut Squash

We had quite a soiree for the Super Bowl this year. Actually, it was four adults and three children, one of whom isn't eating solids yet. But, two of the four adults love entertaining, menu-planning, and most of all preparing delicious meals. It becomes a problem when we get together. For this year's Super Bowl evening, our culinary ideas overfloweth and neither of us wanted to compromise. This is what resulted.

Steamed Mussels with White Wine and Fennel
Buffalo Chicken Wings & Naked Chicken Wings
Rubbed Smoked Ribs with Tangy Barbecue Sauce
Cabbage Slaw with lots of goodness
Black Bean Chili with Butternut Squash
Brown Butter Cocoa Brownies with Walnuts

FOUR adults, people. It was obscene, but everything was outstanding. It was one of those great evenings where everyone contributes something. No one gets stressed. No one cares when dinner gets to the table. There was little planning and absolutely no structure. There are casual conversations happening all over the house, and even outside, by the smoker. We sat as an alert audience to impromptu dance parties. We had happy (and hungry) babies, plenty of cold beers, and oh yeah, a football game.

The best part? The food was marvelous. Beckett ate his weight in mussels, which shocked everyone. The little man, though a big eater, has an unpredictable palate. He eats buckets of brussel sprouts, but turns his piggy nose up at toast that has burnt edges. Unpredictable, I tell you. But he owned the mussels on this particular evening. Picking the shell fish out of the savory broth, slurping out the meat and tossing the shells into the trash bowl. It was an odd scene to see a two year old be that fanatical. But, I loved every moment.

The adults got their hands on a few mussels, very few. The meat eaters gnawed on spicy smoked chicken wings while the dinner lazily came out to the table. The ribs had been relaxing in the smoker for eight hours and had a spicy dry rub, topped with a vinegar-based barbecue sauce. They were everything a restaurant could deliver and more. The slaw was crispy, cool, crunchy, and the perfect counterpart to the heat of the ribs. I made a fantastic black bean chili, you know, in case there were still empty bellies in the house.

This soup was silly though. After eating three pounds of various meats, lots of cabbage, and some seafood, and knowing there were brownies that involved brown butter waiting in the kitchen, the soup was sort of overlooked. I mean, everyone tried it, and even finished their bowls. But not with the same enthusiasm had I served it as an entree, with an avocado salad. The other silly thing about this soup is that it was three times more delicious the next day. I knew it was special when I tried it but it became totally irresistible while it cooled and lingered in the fridge overnight. The thick, spiced broth drenched these tender pieces of sweet butternut squash. The quinoa added a texture that I loved, and had never had in my regular black bean soup recipe. All I know is that I cleaned seven soup bowls on Monday night. And for a family of four, that's alot of soup.

Bon Appetit calls this Black Bean Chili, I'd rather think of it as a really special Black Bean Soup. Chili, it is not. But, feel free to call it whatever you want...it'll disappear either way. Also, I apologize for the lackluster photos. But when the food and the company is that lovely, it hardly crosses your mind to stop and take photos. So, the photos are of the leftovers...which weren't leftover for very long. If it is at all possible, make this soup the day before you plan on serving it. It gains so much flavor and balance on the second and third days, which incidentally makes it perfect party food.

Black Bean Soup with Butternut Squash - Bon Appetit Feb. 2011
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 onions, chopped
8 garlic cloves, chopped
2 1/2 chili powder
1 tablespoon ground coriander
2 14.5-ounce cans fire-roasted tomatoes
1 pound dried black beans, rinsed
2 chipotle chiles from canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced
2 teaspoons dried oregano (preferably Mexican)
Coarse kosher salt
1 2 1/4-pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded, cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
1/2 cup quick-cooking bulgur*
Sour cream
Coarsely grated hot pepper
Monterey jack cheese
Diced red onion chopped
Fresh cilantro
Pickled jalapeño rings

Ingredient info: Chipotle chiles in adobo can be found at some super markets and at Latin markets. Look for bulgur at super markets and natural foods stores.

Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add onions and cook until soft and beginning to brown, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Sprinkle chili powder and coriander over; stir 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes with juice, beans, chipotles, and oregano. Add 10 cups water. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low, cover with lid slightly ajar, and simmer until beans are tender, stirring occasionally, about 2 hours (time will vary depending on freshness of beans). Season to taste with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. DO AHEAD: Chili can be made up to 2 days ahead. Cool slightly. Refrigerate uncovered until cold, then cover and keep chilled. Rewarm chili before continuing.

Stir squash and bulgur into chili. Simmer uncovered over medium-low heat until squash and bulgur are tender, about 30 minutes. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Divide chili among bowls. Serve with sour cream, cheese, red onion, cilantro, and pickled jalapeño rings.

*I substituted about 1/2 a cup of quinoa for the bulgar, merely because that's what I had in the pantry. It worked beautifully.

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