Roughly three months ago a call went out on Twitter for blogger recipes suitable for students as part of a competition from the folks behind Student’s Can Cook. The prize for the winner would be a brand new shiny Kenwood Blender, and all entries would be posted up on the Student’s Can Cook website for perusal and use by the oncoming tide of current and future students. Oooh I thought, I only graduated two years ago, I cooked a lot as a student and still cook a lot like a student I must be able to come up with something.
So I thought; but the problem was most of the food I’d cooked as a student, and most of the food I still cook now, came from recipes I’d found online, in books or in magazines. In order to be eligible this recipe had to be your own and one that hasn’t been published elsewhere.
The only recipe I could think of that fit was the one for five bean chilli that my mum had packed me off with as a fresher, that I’d gradually, subtly and unintentionally altered as I made it time and again for myself and groups of friends without bothering to look at recipe I’d been given. I didn’t need to look at the recipe because it was such a simple one to follow and remember; onions, garlic, tomatoes, beans, spices, simmer for an hour, eat.
Being at University introduces you to a wealth of different people with backgrounds and food foibles and practices that you may never have encountered before. In my circle of friends alone we had vegetarians, vegans, lactose intolerance, gluten intolerance, people who wouldn’t eat beef for religious reasons, people who wouldn’t eat lamb for personal reasons, food phobias and just general fussy eaters who avoided anything green and leafy like the plague. Trying to cook for everyone was on occasion a nightmare, and this recipe was my saviour and one of the few meals that everyone would and could eat.
It was also my perfect go-to meal straight from the freezer when I couldn’t be bothered to cook or just didn’t have the time; home cooked ready meals, or “box meals” as one of my friends dubbed them, individually portioned out into plastic containers and stacked away like freezer Tetris. To defrost I’d simply pop a portion out of its box into a pan, cover the base of the pan with a little water to stop it sticking, pop a lid on and leave on a low to medium heat giving it an occasional stir to break things up and hurry it along.
But I was still worried, was the recipe perhaps too simple? There are hundreds of recipe variations out there for people to follow, how could I make this one good enough to compare. I considered how I could improve the recipe, should I use fresh tomatoes, skinned deseeded and chopped, weigh out and soak dried pulses over night or toast and grind fresh spices instead; and then I remembered that this was supposed to be a recipe for students. I cast my mind back a couple of years and thought, would I have bothered to do any of those things, would anyone I lived with or knew as a student have bothered to do any of those things, and the answer came back to me a resounding no.
In the meantime, the deadline sailed by, twice after it was extended for an extra month to account for bloggers off on their holidays; as the late Douglas Adams said “I love deadlines. I like the whooshing sound they make as they fly by”. Luckily for me it was extended once more so with the final final deadline approaching I bought all the ingredients I needed and finally got round to cooking a pot up, referring to my mum’s original recipe for guidance but toying with the spices and quantities as I had always done over the years and making the decision to stir the spices in with the onions and oil in an attempt to release more of their flavour rather than just chucking them in at the end. Thankfully result was great and one I’m happy to pass on to the Student’s Can Cook team, just in the nick of time.
There are so many different ways you can serve this and with so many different accompaniments you need never get bored and can easily please a variety crowd. I’ve included photographs of a few variations thought this post; bake a jacket potato for an hour, split open and serve piled high with chilli topped with sour cream or grated cheese and a little green salad on the side for a healthy low fat and very filling lunch, cook some fluffy white rice or nutty wholegrain brown to go alongside for dinner, slice a potato or sweet potato into wedges toss with oil, paprika and a sprinkling of salt and dip them in the chilli as you eat, buy a bag of tortilla chips or bake your own and let everyone use them to scoop up mounds of chilli, or serve to friends wrapped in flour tortillas with sour cream, fresh guacamole, shredded lettuce, grated cheese or sliced jalapeño chillies, leaving everything laid out on the table so people can customise to their own tastes.
Five Bean Chilli
Serves 6-8 depending on how hungry you are but freezes well in portion sizes as required.
- 1 large or 2 small to medium onions
- 3-5 garlic cloves depending on their size and how garlicky you want to smell (I always use 5)
- 4 tins plum tomatoes
- 2 tins red kidney beans in water
- 3 tins any other beans in water (The standard combination I use is borlotti, pinto and black eyed beans however if you can’t find any of these types in the shops you can easily replace it with cannellini, haricot or even butter beans)
- ½ tbsp ground chilli (Know the strength of your ground chilli! If you prefer it spicy use hot chilli powder, if not use mild, but even with these distinctions I’ve used 1 ½ tbsp of hot before and found there to be not enough spice or mild and found it to be too much. Best to check how spicy your ground chilli is beforehand and adjust accordingly)
- tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp ground coriander
- 1tsp dried basil
- 1tsp dried oregano
- bay leaves
- 2 tbsp tomato puree
- A bunch of fresh coriander roughly chopped
- 2 tbsp oil (roughly, I rarely measure oil sorry)
- Salt and pepper
- About a glass of red wine (optional, I had a bottle open so I threw a glass in figuring it would add extra depth which it did, please don’t feel you have to open a bottle especially for this though as it really isn’t necessary)
Dice the onion and either finely chop or crush (easier) the garlic cloves. Heat the oil in a large pan big enough to take the volume of ingredients and gently sweat the onion and garlic in it until soft. Stir in the ground chilli, cumin and coriander and cook for a half a minute or so until fragrant then add the tins of plum tomatoes and the wine if using. Rinse all of the beans under cold water and add them too, followed by the basil, oregano, bay leaves, tomato puree, a pinch of salt and fairly good grinding of fresh black pepper. Carefully stir this all together then bring to a simmer and leave to slowly bubble for about an hour to an hour and a half. If, as I did as a student and still do now, you have fairly cheap pans with bases the thickness of tin foil you will need to give the chilli a stir every 10-15 minutes or so to stop it sticking to the bottom of the pan, however this is probably a good idea anyway as it helps to break the tomatoes up too. When the chilli has thickened up and finished cooking stir in the fresh coriander. Serve in any of the myriad ways mentioned above, or however else you fancy your chilli.