As I sit at my desk to write this post, it's a beautiful sunny afternoon. I can't believe it's already November. And Thanksgiving is just 3 short weeks away from today. Wow, where did September and October go? Both months seem like a blur to me, which saddens me; I really try to live every day to its fullest potential, making memories out of all the precious moments.
Here's a memory to share with you - I wish I had my camera available to capture the scenery during my weekly horseback riding lesson this week. It was beyond picturesque! Just 20 minutes or so from my suburban home, the land is wide open, the air is fresher and the leaves were every hue of red, orange, and yellow imaginable. My friend and I had a great lesson, enjoying the unusually warm weather. Afterwards, we rode our horses down the farm's long driveway and around the far sides of the property, following a wooden fence that seemed to go on forever. The horses knew the path well and gladly carried us along to witness the splendor of nature. I was in awe of my surroundings, I didn't even feel like I was so close to home. As I told a friend later that day, "I felt like I was far away, on vacation". Where can you escape to, figuratively or actually, that gives you the sense that you're on a fabulous holiday?
Last weekend, I binge-watched the hottest Netflix series "Salt Fat Acid Heat", a four-part docu-series based on the book of the same name, by Samin Nosrat. I've had the book in my collection for a month now, it's a New York Times bestseller and winner of many awards - definitely a book worth owning! The book is more than a cookbook; it's half-textbook and the other half recipes, all playfully illustrated. The drawings alone put the biggest smile on my face, they're so lighthearted and fun. The Netflix series is the adaptation of the book, in which chef and cooking instructor, Samin Nosrat, travels around the world to explain what she believes are the four essential elements of cooking. Salt Fat Acid Heat. Just watching the trailer for the show game me extreme wanderlust!
I watched each episode closely, enjoying every moment of the scenery in which Samin finds herself, the conversations she engaged herself within, the way that she chose ingredients and cooked. I longed to be there by her side, soaking-in all of the knowledge that she has to offer and all that she acquired from her travels to make this show. As influential as the book has been to me, thus far, seeing it played out on the screen was even more provocative. After I finished the series, and contemplated re-watching each episode, I got myself into the kitchen to create. To make some magic. To explore salt, fat, acid, and heat within my style of cooking.
This week's recipe is just one of the results of my kitchen playtime. A hearty stew of seasonal Butternut squash and heirloom beans felt like the perfect thing to make for my Halloween evening dinner, which I shared with a good friend while we passed-out candy to the trick-or-treaters. The stew is highly seasoned, but salt plays an integral role in every recipe. Salt has the ability to amplify the other flavors in a recipe; using the right salt at the correct time in the cooking process is key. Samin devotes a lot of the book to salt, it's highly educational. Fat is necessary for use as a cooking medium, but also to provide mouthfeel and texture. While there isn't much fat in this recipe, it is essential for the correct preparation of the chili. Adding fat as a condiment - avocado - is a wonderful counterpoint to the spiciness of the stew and brings a mellowing component for the spice. Acid is essential, there's no denying the addictive quality that acid provides to every recipe. The chili's acid comes from the tomatoes, I chose canned fire-roasted crushed tomatoes for this recipe and they are perfect. The spicy chile powder, which I ordered from Rancho Gordo, is also quite acidic. Lastly, heat. This recipe needs heat for cooking, and I used several methods to make this come together: boiling, roasting, sautéing and simmering. Each lends a different degree of heat that is needed to the end result absolutely delicious.
My request for you is to take the time to watch Salt Fat Acid Heat, then spend some time in the kitchen putting what you learned to practice. Give my Fiery Butternut & Bean Chili a try, it will be the perfect meal for an upcoming cool Fall evening.
Wishing you a relaxing weekend, full of delicious food, health & wellness.
Fiery Butternut & Bean Chili
Ingredients: (note - use organic whenever possible)
1/2 pound heirloom beans (I used Rancho Gordo’s Vaquero Beans)
1 large Butternut Squash (approximately 2 1/2 pounds)
4 cloves garlic, unpeeled
2 T extra-virgin olive oil
1/2 t kosher salt
2 T sunflower seed oil
1 yellow onion, diced
1 T ground cumin
1/2 t smoked paprika
28oz can fire-roasted crushed tomatoes
2 t dried oregano (I used Rancho Gordo’s Mexican Oregano)
2 t chile powder, or more, if desired (I used Rancho Gordo’s New Mexican Red Chile Powder)
sea salt, to taste
to serve: sliced green onion, freshly chopped cilantro, avocado, steamed rice
Place dried beans in a large bowl, cover with cool water and soak overnight. Drain and rinse, pour into a saucepan and cover with cool water by 2-inches. Bring to a boil, skim-off any residue that comes to the surface, lower heat and simmer until beans are al-dente, approximately 30 minutes. Drain the beans and rinse under cool water. Set aside.
Meanwhile, roast the squash. Preheat the oven to 375 degrees. Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Peel the squash, remove the seeds (save for later use, if desired) and cut flesh into 1-inch cubes. Mix the squash cubes, unpeeled garlic cloves, extra-virgin olive oil and kosher salt, pour onto the lined sheet pan and roast for 30 minutes. Stir pan occasionally to prevent burning. The squash should brown on the edges but still remain firm and hold its shape. Remove from the oven and set aside.
While the squash is roasting, begin making the base of the chili. Heat sunflower seed oil in a large heavy soup pot over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the diced onions and sauté until softened and fragrant, approximately 10 minutes. Stir often to prevent burning, turn down the heat if the onions are browning too quickly. Add the ground cumin and smoked paprika to the pot and stir to coat the onions. Allow the spices to get warm and toasted, 3 minutes. Squeeze the garlic cloves from their peels and add to the pot, stir to combine with the onions and spices. Add the crushed tomatoes, dried oregano, chile powder and 1 cup of water. Bring to a boil, cover partially, lower heat and simmer for 30 minutes.
After 30 minutes, add the beans to the pot and gently stir to combine. Taste and add sea salt, as needed. If mixture is too dry or thick, add additional water, 1/2 cup at a time. Continue to simmer for an additional 20 minutes to meld the flavors. Gently fold in the butternut squash cubes, being careful to keep them intact and from mushing into the chili. Cover pot and remove from heat, to allow the squash to warm and integrate itself into the mixture.
When ready serve, reheat gently, if desired. Adjust seasoning, if necessary. Serve in deep bowls over steamed rice and topped with sliced green onion, freshly chopped cilantro, and diced avocado, if desired.
recipe yields 8 generous servings
beans can be cooked one day in advance of preparing the chili; keep chilled in a covered container until ready to proceed with recipe
adjust the spiciness to your preference by adding more (or less) chile powder
leftovers keep well, chilled in a covered container, for 3-4 days; freeze if keeping for longer
replace butternut squash with sweet potato, if desired