One of our favorite meals growing up was a soup of butternut squash, black beans, and assorted southwestern flavors that came to be known by the name “rubber band soup.” A recipe originally passed along to my mother by a co-worker, we made it often enough to make it our own. One time, though, there was one too many tweaks. As we sat down to eat, we all noticed an odd flavor. Everyone hesitantly sipped a few more spoonfuls, not sure the rubbery taste was only their imagination. A few askance glances around the table, and my mom got up to stir the soup pot to see what was going on. And there was a rubber band, fresh from the local paper, floating in the inky liquid.
It turns out rubber bands can infuse their characteristic flavor into a broth as handily as any bay leaf or sachet of herbes de provence. In case you were wondering. And in case you were still wondering, I don’t recommend it.
We didn’t finish that particular bowl of soup, but the name stuck. And I think we’ve all agreed to forget who had prepared dinner that night. Moving on. Ahem.
This chili I’m going to tell you about highlights all of the good parts of that rubber band soup, with none of the synthetic undertones. And it nicely allows me to tick off two goals in one fell swoop: using my slow cooker, and sneaking more quinoa into my diet (remember, I’m still learning to love it). Even better, it incorporates additional super-foods such as beans and sweet potatoes, is supremely economical, and can even be vegan if you so desire.
Oh, and it tastes really really good.
Though I only found (and started tinkering with) this recipe a few months ago, it’s been enjoyed not only by me and my husband, but also by both of our respective parental units, my aunt, and even my grandmother. My children have thus far refused, but that’s par for the course. (Remember, to my utmost chagrin, this is not one of those mommy blogs where I give you recipes that even the pickiest toddler will love. Not for lack of trying. Don’t get me started).
There’s a few factors working in concert to make this chili so satisfying. Chipotle’s smokiness serves as a substrate to unify a colorful variety of flavors. Its charred, roasted flavor melds particularly well with sweet potatoes, which makes this so much more than just a pot of beans. The quinoa, meanwhile, is almost imperceptible and serves to thicken the sauce (and add extra protein) more than anything else. (Even my mother-in-law, who is avowedly not a quinoa fan, loved this stew).
Each time I’ve made this slightly differently, but each attempt has met with success. I’ve used Mexican oregano (pictured above) and regular dried oregano. I’ve tried it with brown rather than black beans (though I still prefer black, the stew still managed to disappear in short order). I’ve doubled it. I’ve used fewer tomatoes than called for, thanks to pantry shortages. I’ve even been lazy and skipped the first step of sauteeing the onions, garlic, and spices, instead flinging all ingredients in the slow cooker at once. Perhaps due to laziness, or maybe it was me frantically trying to get things going before I left for the office. It worked though.
And there are plenty of other ways to go about this. My original sources, which I’ve linked to below, did not use a slow cooker–click through for instructions. I almost always use dried beans, but I know I’m in the minority, so you might be glad to know you can even use canned beans if you prefer.
Just make sure not to add any rubber bands.
A note about chipotles: These smoked jalapeño peppers packed in a marinade are key to this dish, but potent in heat–you’ll have lots remaining (unless you are made of truly tough stuff) and likely will not be able to use the rest immediately. Simply freeze the leftovers — as a flattened out block that you break pieces from as needed or stuffed roughly into ice cube trays–and use as needed (what I also do with tomato paste). Karen purees her remainders, stores in the fridge, and uses spoonfuls as necessary. And she reminds me–chipotles do stain, but perhaps that’s just as well–certainly not something you’d want to accidentally rub in your eyes.
Serves 4-6; makes 3 quarts; doubles well if you have a 6 quart cooker.
- 1 tablespoon olive oil
- 1 onion, chopped
- 5 garlic cloves, chopped
- 2-3 teaspoons chili powder
- 1½ teaspoons ground coriander
- 1 14.5-ounce can chopped tomatoes
- ½ pound dried black beans, rinsed well and soaked overnight
- 1 chipotle chile from canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano (Mexican oregano if you have it)
- 1½ teaspoons kosher salt + more to taste
- 1½ cups sweet potatoes (1 medium), cut into ½-inch cubes
- ¼ cup quinoa, rinsed and drained
- 3 c water
- For garnish: sour cream or greek yogurt. chopped fresh cilantro or green onions
- Heat the oil in a medium skillet over moderate heat. Add the onion and cook until soft and beginning to brown, 6-7 minutes. Add garlic, chili powder, and coriander and stir. Cook together for 1 minute.
- Add this mixture, along with all the remaining ingredients, to the crock pot. Stir and cook on low for 7-8 hours. You may need to add more water at the end, though thanks to pre-soaking the beans, I have found it not to be necessary.
- Serve with fresh cilantro and sour cream or Greek yogurt, if desired.