Certain dishes are tied to very specific times in my life. Brown rice with pesto? College, eating at the dining hall, not caring for any of the veg options, and making a meal from the a la carte items. Celeste frozen pizzas? Kindergarten and the first few years of elementary school, when my mom ran an in-home daycare and would occasionally let us sit on blankets in the basement eating pizza and watching Star Wars. Popcorn with loads of different topping options? My first year in Madison, when my roommate Kristina and I would set up a “popcorn bar” and watch countless episodes of The Office.
Some dishes, though, are constants, growing up right along with me. My mom has made apple crisp with fresh-picked apples every autumn I can remember, only now she uses Earth Balance instead of butter. And my dad has always, always been able to whip up a mean batch of chili. It was kind of his thing when we were young; everyone knew Mitch would bring a delicious spicy chili to family parties. These days, he foregoes the ground beef and makes them plant-based instead. (I’m told he made a killer mushroom-based faux-meat filling this summer, but I didn’t get to try it!)
When S and I started dating, S wasn’t quite as facile in the kitchen as I was (not to mention that he ate meat at that point!). But he could do one thing I couldn’t: he could make a kick-ass chili. Once when my parents visited me in Madison, I made chili for lunch, but it was watery, bland, and generally an embarrassment compared to the chilis my dad makes. He very diplomatically did not call out my subpar chili-making abilities, but I felt ashamed nonetheless. So the next time S made chili, I watched him and learned his secrets for making a thick, filling chili: Don’t add water or vegetable broth. Use tomato paste. Add a little brown sugar or molasses. Brilliant. My chilis have never been the same.
And of course, once you know the rules, you can break them! This three-bean chili totally ignores the no-water rule, but only because the addition of uncooked millet necessitates adding a little more liquid for the millet to soak up as it cooks. You could, of course, eschew the millet and its attendant water and go for a more traditional chili. But then you’d lose out on the 21 grams of protein and hefty dose of iron that the 3/4 cup of millet adds to this dish… and you’d lose out on a unique spin on traditional chili.
Three-Bean Millet Chili
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 3 large cloves garlic, minced
- 1 red or yellow onion, diced (reserve about 1/4 cup for serving)
- 1 poblano pepper, de-seeded and diced
- 1 green bell pepper, diced (reserve about 1/4 cup for serving)
- 1 teaspoon chili powder (or more, depending on your tastes)
- 1 teaspoon salt
- 3/4 teaspoon Mexican oregano (but you can probably use regular oregano just fine)
- 1/4 teaspoon red pepper flakes
- Dash allspice
- 1/2 cup roasted red peppers, chopped
- 6 oz tomato paste
- 3 15-oz cans diced tomatoes (fire-roasted if you have ’em!)
- 15 oz water
- 2 tablespoons strong brewed coffee (optional but recommended)
- 1 tablespoon dark brown sugar or coconut sugar
- 3/4 cup dried millet
- 15 oz dark red kidney beans
- 15 oz pinto beans
- 15 oz black beans
- Salt and pepper to taste
- Scallions for serving (optional)
Heat the olive oil in a large stockpot over medium-low. Add the onion and garlic and sauté for about 5 minutes, then add the two diced peppers. Cook for another 5 minutes, then add the spices. Stir to coat the vegetables, then mix in the roasted red peppers and the tomato paste. Add the diced tomatoes, water, coffee (if using), sugar, and millet and turn up to medium heat. Bring to a low boil and cook for about 20 minutes or until the millet is soft. Add the beans and simmer for another 15 minutes with the cover off to help any excess liquid evaporate. Like most chilis, this one benefits from as much simmering time as you can give it!
When you’re ready to serve, top each bowl with a sprinkle of diced onions, green peppers, and sliced scallions.
When S tried his first bite, he exclaimed, “Mmm, this is good!” Dad, I think even you’d approve of this one!
What’s your favorite chili recipe?