Monday, June 3, 2013

Beans Not So Musical - Part 2 - Vegetarian Chili and Polenta

Recently I read an alarming report that  rice contains arsenic!  As a consumer of rice (sometimes the grain itself twice a day and lots of my substitute wheat products are made with rice flour) I was alarmed, to say the least.  I did some research on the internet and found out that the FDA (Food and Drug Administration) has been monitoring arsenic in rice for the last 20 years.  Lots of us are not so trusting of government organizations these days so I asked a reliable source who is retired from the FDA (ie with nothing to lose should s/he be called to testify…)  Anyway, it turns out that rice is not a political football and the FDA reports can be trusted.  Turns out that arsenic has always been found in rice (especially in the south in fields where they used to grow cotton and arsenic laced pesticides were used on cotton.)  But better testing instruments can now test even the most minuscule amounts of substances present in food.  So, yes, arsenic is present in rice but it always has been.  If it concerns you, rice grown in California has less arsenic than rice grown in the southern states but good luck finding the origin of the rice in your local supermarket.  It might be possible on the internet but I don’t think the effort is worth it.  It is always good and more fun to eat a variety of foods even though a little arsenic won’t hurt. 

Here is a great recipe for vegetarian chili served with polenta (in the South they call it grits; you could also call it cornmeal mush).  I think that “polenta” sounds more sophisticated!  No matter what you call it, the softened cornmeal blends deliciously with the vegetarian chili (and, yes, it would work equally well with non-vegetarian chili but when I developed this recipe I was hosting vegetarians).

By-the-way, I use "chili" for the bean and tomato stew and "chile" for the actual vegetable.  OK, botanically speaking chiles are fruits but legally in the U.S. they are considered to be a vegetable.  And both spellings are considered interchangable for the bean dish and the vegetable.  There are other acceptable spellings as well, but let's not complicate the issue.  And, yes, this librarian looked it up!

Vegetarian Chili with Polenta

4-6 servings
Spice grinder is useful

1 cup dried black beans, rinsed and soaked for 3-8 hours
1 red bell pepper, roasted, peeled and diced (see notes below for easy method)
5 dried New Mexico chiles, seeds and stems removed and torn into small pieces
1 dried chipotle chile, seeds and stem removed and torn into small pieces (optional)
2 tsp olive oil
1 yellow onion, peeled and chopped
3 cloves of garlic, smashed
1 TBSP ground cumin
1 tsp salt
1 tsp dried oregano
1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes (organic)
1 bunch cilantro, roughly chopped
1 14-ounce can corn, drained (sweet white is my favorite)
1 cup corn meal (not stone ground).  This is also sold as “polenta” (not quick cooking)
1 cup grated Parmesan cheese
Mexican crema agria or sour cream

Chile Instructions
Grind dried chiles in a spice grinder or mix with ¼ cup of water and grind in a blender.  Add ground chiles to 2 cups of water and microwave for 5 minutes.
Heat oil in a large pot over medium heat.  Add onions and stir occasionally until translucent, about 5 minutes.  Add garlic and sauté for another minute.  Add beans, chiles mixture, cumin, oregano, tomatoes, salt and 3 cups of water.  Bring to a boil and then reduce heat to low, cover and simmer for about 1 ½ hours.  Remove lid, add cilantro and continue simmering for at least another ½ hour.  About 5 minutes before serving add the corn.

Polenta:  It’s best to make the polenta a day ahead of time, but if necessary, can be made just before starting the chili so that it has time to thicken.  In a sauce pan bring 4 cups of water to boil.  Slowly add corn meal, whisking constantly (make sure you add the cornmeal gradually, if you dump it in you’ll have lumps that will never stir out).  Cook over moderate heat, whisking constantly, for 2 minutes.  Reduce heat to low, cover and allow to simmer for about 45 minutes.  Whisk about every 10 minutes.  About 5 minutes before you remove from heat, whisk in Parmesan cheese.  The polenta will thicken more after it is removed from the heat.  Spoon polenta into a buttered 8” square pan and refrigerate. 

To serve: warm polenta in microwave or traditional oven, cut into 4-6 servings, place each serving into a bowl, spoon the chile over the polenta and top with crema agria or sour cream.

Easy Roasted Bell Peppers: Cut pepper in half and remove stem and seeds. Place pepper halves, skin side up, on a piece of aluminum foil in a toaster-oven set for broil or in a pan under your oven broiler. Broil for about 15 minutes until a large part of the skin is blackened. Allow to sit in the oven, heat off, for another 5 minutes. Remove pepper halves and wrap in moist paper towels until cool enough to handle.  Peel as much of the skin from the peppers as possible (use the moist paper-towel to wipe charred pepper skin from your fingers).  And the pepper is ready for dicing.

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