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Gapers Block published from April 22, 2003 to Jan. 1, 2016. The site will remain up in archive form. Please visit Third Coast Review, a new site by several GB alumni.
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Friday, July 19

Gapers Block

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Having a few food allergies myself (bananas, raw onions, bell peppers and kiwi fruit) I try to remember the allergies of my friends. It makes dinner menu planning less stressful and reduces the risk of finding out your main course is off limits to your guest.

So when I found out a friend was allergic to tomatoes, I began thinking of all the foods that were tomato sauce based and wondering if there were alternatives to these dishes. This made me realize how many tomatoes and tomato-based foods I eat. I couldn't imagine losing tomato-based pasta sauces, salsas or chili.

And since we happen to be ankle-deep in colder weather, I decided this was the perfect opportunity to experiment with ways to make chili that my friend could enjoy. I considered making my standard recipe and replacing the tomato sauce with veggie broth. But the consistency seemed all wrong for kidney beans or pinto beans and the ground beef just seemed boring. So I began to look at other bean types hoping to come across one that I thought would be a good substitute.

After looking over the variety of beans that were available I settled on some cannellini beans. They have a great smooth texture, an almost nutty flavor, and they're hearty enough for a chili that is cooked slowly over a long period of time.

But I needed something that would add a great deal of flavor and make the absence of tomato OK. And then while wandering the aisles at the grocery store I came across it. A smoked turkey leg. It was ready to be warmed and eaten, but I also knew that it would make a great flavor addition to the chili.

And while you can have chili without spice, I knew I wanted some. But I wasn't sure which type of spicy pepper to use. I wanted something that wouldn't darken the chili or add a lot of oddly colored chunks but I wanted powerful flavor. And then it struck me that cayenne powder and chili powder would be perfect. They provide a wallop of flavor in a small amount of powder and wouldn't significantly color the ingredients.

Now the one thing that many people are worried about when eating chili is that the sugar in many beans (and in cabbage) which turns a little legume into a "musical fruit." Essentially there is a type of sugar in beans that needs a specific enzyme to break it down. This enzyme doesn't exist in the stomach, but it does exist in the large intenstine, which is where the gas is created. To prevent it, just buy some Beano. Sure the commercials are cheesy, but if it means you can sit around enjoying after-dinner conversation with friends without embarrassment, I'd say it's worth it.

White Bean Chili
1 pound of cannellini or great northern beans
1 finely chopped medium yellow onion
1 tablespoon of olive oil
2 cloves of minced garlic
2 teaspoons of ground cumin
meat from 1 smoked turkey leg (or 1/4 pound of prosciutto chunks)
4-6 cups of vegetable stock
1 teaspoon of cayenne powder
1/2 teaspoon of chili powder
salt and pepper to taste

The night before you plan on cooking, pour the beans into a large bowl. Sort through them to remove any stones, bad beans or other debris. Cover the beans with cold water and place in the refrigerator or on a countertop to sit. Drain the beans the next day. Add the olive oil and onion to a skillet over medium-high heat. Let the onion cook until it is soft and starting to turn golden, which should take 4-5 minutes. Lower the heat to medium and add the garlic, half the cumin, the turkey and beans. Simmer everything for a few minutes before pouring it into a slow cooker or a large stock pot. Add the stock, cayenne powder and chili powder, and one more teaspoon of cumin. If using the slow-cooker, cook on low for 8 hours or high for 4. If cooking on the stovetop, set to the lowest heat setting your stove can maintain and cook slowly for 4-5 hours or until the beans are tender when pierced with a fork. Taste before adding salt and pepper.

If you like this idea but aren't about to cook something all day long, buy three cans of cannellini beans and drain them of their liquid. Add them to your pot with just enough vegetable broth to reach the consistency you desire. Let all the ingredients cook for about 8-10 minutes over medium heat to get warm and then serve. Much faster and almost as tasty. And the leftovers will still taste better the next day.

So the next time you're inviting people to come for chili, consider this alternative. Especially if you have a friend who is allergic to tomatoes or if you have white carpet.

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shechemist / October 23, 2006 9:48 AM

I make chili without tomatoes all the time.

Soak for a few hours dried red chilie pods that have had the tops snipped off and the seeds removed. While they are soaking, sweat garlic and onions that have been sprinkled with salt. When the onions and garlic have soften, add the red chilies and the soaking liquid. simmer for about 30 mins, then puree the mixture.

Return the puree to the pan and reduce till thickened. Add cooked beans, or one inch cubed beef or pork. Simmer till the meat is tender, or the beans are warmed through. when serving, top with shredded cheese and serve with tortillas.

If you use mild dried red chilies, this is not absurdly hot.

Cinnamon / October 23, 2006 12:25 PM

That sounds really good. Thanks, shechemist.


About the Author(s)

Cinnamon Cooper is an untrained cook. Most of what she's learned has been by accident. The rest has been gained by reading cookbooks, watching The Food Network and by scouring the Internet. Oh, and she also hates following recipes but loves the irony of writing them down for others to follow.

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