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confessions & three-bean chicken chili

April 3, 2011

As a followup to my last post I’d like to direct your attention towards this first hand account of what it was like up in Tohoku those first few days as told by an English teacher from Onagawa. His story is powerful and does a really good job of driving home the reality of the situation. I think it might help explain some of what’s behind the guilt and complex feelings I described in my last post.

One of the annoying side-effects of this whole disaster thing has been the disruption to my normal habits and routines. Beyond the fact that it has left me without work for the time being (a very major disruption!) and has affected our power consumption habits, it has also had an effect on my motivation to do some of the things I usually enjoy, such as cooking and baking, as well as less enjoyable things, like cleaning.

To get straight to the point: despite copious free time, our apartment has been a mini-disaster area, and we have not been eating terribly interesting things since the earthquake.

Honestly, although I tend to prefer organization and I am much happier when things are in their proper place and the house is clean, I’ve never been the best at keeping it that way. It is very easy to fall into the habit of letting items, such as papers, empty bags, unfolded laundry, etc. pile up on tables and in corners for a few weeks until one or both of us reaches our limit and declares it to be a Massive Cleaning Day.

I’d like to think we’ve improved with this over time. I am relatively good at maintaining order once it has been established, and we haven’t let things get as bad in recent years as we had been known to in the past; but in reality I know that it’s a tenuous situation at best.

The earthquake definitely derailed our fragile hold on keeping things clean and in their place. It took us several days to do something as simple as pick up the items that had fallen from our shelf during the initial tremors, and since then the tables and counters have been piling up again, and seem to revert back to that state soon after being straightened up when we actually do something about it. I’m sure this won’t last indefinitely, but at present cleaning and organization have taken a backseat around here.

Typical post-quake dinner of potato & garbanzo bean hash with eggs, brussels sprouts, cottage cheese and avocado.

On the cooking front, my creativity in the kitchen has been very much absent in recent weeks. Rather than using my free time to come up with interesting meals each night and try out new and exciting baking experiments, I have instead been gravitating towards relatively quick, simple, and familiar meals with high leftover-potential and have not done any baking at all in several weeks. Dinner has consisted mostly of simple potato and garbanzo bean hashes, fried eggs with sautéed vegetables and cottage cheese, and quick vegetable pastas that aren’t all that exciting fodder for blogging.

Early last week I broke into our newly abundant store of canned beans to make one of our old favorite fallbacks in the world of bulk foods and save myself from having to come up with idea of what to eat for the rest of the week.

Chili is one of a few recipes that Eric and I have been making together since way back in our college days in San Francisco. Before moving to Tokyo we actually owned a huge 16-quart stockpot purchased specifically with the intention of making massive quantities of chili to fuel us through the week so we wouldn’t have worry about making dinners or lunches on school nights. These days our batches tend to be much smaller, since we don’t have enough space for either a 16 quart stock pot or the resulting massive quantities of chili, but they yield enough to get us through a few days at least.

The recipe I use is mostly unchanged from the basic one we’ve always thrown together, though I have adjusted it slightly over time (such as the addition of a small amount of cocoa power to add some depth). Back home we generally used ground turkey for this recipe, but turkey is not widely available in Japan so instead I tend to add in ground chicken, or leave it out entirely depending on how I feel about animal protein on the day I make it.

Half a serving of leftover chili atop a fried egg with avocado and greek yogurt for lunch.

Most of the time I stick to two cans of red kidney beans, as they are the easiest to get here, but using several varieties can make for a much more interesting and complex chili. For this particular batch I used a mix of three different varieties of beans, since I had so many to choose from thanks to our recent earthquake-inspired restocking of the pantry. I used one each of red kidney and white beans, plus what was left from a can of black beans already open in my fridge.

I like to top my chili with cheddar cheese, greek yogurt, and crushed up crackers, which is something I absorbed from proximity to Eric. The leftovers are good served as is, or can be used to top baked potatoes, as a burrito or taco filling, or for some beefed up nachos. I’m guessing leftover chili would also make for an interesting version of the Okinawan favorite taco rice, though I’ve never tried doing that myself.

Three-Bean Chicken Chili

    1 tbsp avocado oil
    250 g onion, chopped
    3 cloves garlic, minced
    300 g ground chicken
    300 g bell peppers, chopped
    240 g red kidney beans (one can, drained)
    240 g white beans (one can, drained)
    160 g black beans (two-thirds of a can, drained)
    400 g diced tomatoes (one can)
    2 tbsp tomato paste
    1-2 tbsp chili powder
    1 tbsp unsweetened cocoa powder
    1 tsp smoked paprika
    1 tsp chili flakes
    1 tsp cumin
    1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
    salt & black pepper to taste

Heat the avocado oil over medium heat in a large, heavy bottomed pot. Brown the onions and garlic, then add the ground chicken. Use a large spoon or spatula to break up any chunks, and cook until the chicken is opaque and no pink remains.

Add the chopped bell peppers and continue to cook for a few minutes until they soften sightly and brown a little around the edges, then add the beans, tomatoes, tomato paste, and about 2 cans worth of water.

Allow the water to come to a light boil, then reduce the heat to low and start adding the spices. It’s best to be slightly conservative at first and adjust them to taste as the chili cooks.

Let the chili simmer, uncovered or partially covered, for 30 to 90 minutes. The longer you let it cook the better it will taste, but it will be ready to eat after just 30 minutes if you are pressed for time and need to get dinner on the table sooner rather than later. Make sure to check the water level and give it a good stir every 10-15 minutes as it cooks to prevent possible sticking.

Makes 6-8 servings, depending on how you serve it and your appetite. As with all chili, the recipe and amounts are highly adaptable to suit your preferences.

4 Comments leave one →
  1. Sunya permalink
    April 5, 2011 4:17 am

    Would love to try a veggie version of this! I like the lunch prep with a fried egg and avocado. Yum!

    • April 5, 2011 3:48 pm

      It’s fantastic made vegetarian, and I’ve done it that way a bunch. You should try making it sometime! It’s about as simple as you can get. The most hands-on time and consuming part is chopping up the onions and peppers, other than that it’s all stirring and waiting. :D

      Fried eggs and avocado turn just about anything into a complete and yummy meal! (also a great way to get in some of the vegetarian protein *hint hint*)

      • Sunya permalink
        April 8, 2011 4:53 am

        Yes– protein is key:). I will have to try this. Although it is really tough for me to cut onions– any tips? Maybe just use a food processor? I wish you could show me in person!

        • April 9, 2011 3:39 am

          Food processor would probably work. I’ve also heard of cutting onions under water, or keeping them in the fridge for a while before cutting them, but I’ve never tried either of those methods. Could you have Andrew cut them for you? :D

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