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OK, so I’ve never been a big fan of chili. It’s on a short list of foods that I never ate growing up, a fact that baffles a lot of people, especially Texans (who sometimes call chili “a bowl of red”). This response from the Lone Star crowd was the first clue that there was likely to be super delicious chili out there that I had yet to sample. I was finally inspired to cook some the other day when I came across this Rick Bayless recipe with ancho chilies, which we adapted to the items on hand. It has phenomenal flavor, especially after sitting a day or two, and makes good use of locally available stuff.

Charlie ate two bowls and offered none of his usual helpful cooking pointers. Of course, sometimes his tips provoke an offer for him to do a bit of his own cooking, but that’s another story. Here’s the recipe.

Recipe: Hot Chili con Carne with Anchos and Pintos

1 cup dry pinto beans / 1 lb ground beef / 1 onion, chopped / 3-4 assorted peppers such as poblano or bell / ancho chili paste* to taste /2 chopped chipotle peppers, optional / 1 cup corn kernels / salt & pepper / shredded cheese to taste / chopped cilantro to taste

Cook the pintos until tender in a quart of water, about 15 minutes in the pressure cooker plus time for the pressure to release, or 90 minutes in a regular pot. Brown the ground beef in a heavy pot over medium-high heat, about 5 minutes. Add onions and cook until they’re translucent, another 5 minutes. Add ancho paste (we used a half-cup of homemade) and chipotles and stir in. Add enough water or beef stock to cover the beef and onions. Turn heat down and simmer for an hour or more. Meanwhile, chop peppers raw or if you prefer, roast them under a high broiler, remove skins and seeds, and then chop. When chili is done, add cooked beans, chopped peppers, and corn and cook 10 minutes to blend flavors. Adjust salt and pepper. Like many stews, this one is even better the next day. Garnish with shredded cheese and cilantro. Adapted from Rick Bayless. We served with tomato rice.

*Ancho paste can be purchased in specialty stores. Or, blend together 4 rehydrated ancho chilies, some of the chili-soaking water, 2 cloves garlic, ½ tsp dry oregano, dash of cumin, dash of ground cloves, and a grinding of pepper.

Now that our local food project appears to be off the ground, I realize that we’re actually cooking the same stuff we always have. Somehow this comes as a surprise. Before the forty pounds of beef arrived, I felt certain we’d need special knowledge to cook with every part of the cow. Maybe that was part of the allure.

But if our cooking hasn’t really changed, what we’re eating has changed, thanks in part to the quality of the raw materials, and because we’re actually taking the time to think about what to cook. Eating local is reordering our lives in other ways, too. We don’t depend on the grocery store quite as much and we aren’t eating out as often, which also means that we’re driving less and spending less. It’s becoming routine to work a little local organic beef, pork or seasonal vegetable matter into our cooking — like with lunch today, which was pintos stewed with chilies and bacon grease, scooped up with tortillas. Or as with dinner the other night, a tasty rice casserole of roasted tomatoes and poblanos, jack cheese, and crumbled Wagyu.

What’s been equally interesting is reading about my fellow Eat Local blogger Stephen’s experience, and discovering that kids eat local, too. Stephen emailed last week to tell me that his girls devour their buffalo steaks. “It’s kinda scary,” he said. When your food news comes from the New York Times, you get the idea that kids these days will eat nothing but breaded foods. It’s time for a new paradigm.

Today was the last Broadway farmer’s market of ’07, and there was still plenty of good-looking stuff in the crates: kales, cabbages, two kinds of broccoli, carrots, beets, apples, winter squashes, onions, potatoes, a variety of lettuces, and the usual spread of Alvarez Farm’s hot peppers, many of which are now bright red. We picked up some greens, a few poblano chilies, and enough pinto beans to squirrel away for a winter’s worth of Mexican cooking. The beans are gorgeous, a splotchy marbled brown color, and they seem taut and fresh.

Seattle now has thirteen neighborhood farmer’s markets, and several are open year round — Pike Place Market, of course, which has opened daily for many years, plus the weekly University District, Ballard, and Fremont markets. There’s so much variety even now, at low tide, that it probably wouldn’t be a huge stretch to live off local food all year. I’m not necessarily proposing this for Charlie and me; you’ve got to pick your battles. But I don’t think the day is too far off when many Seattle farmer’s markets will be open year round, when customers demand kales and strange squashes, when eating local will be less a statement of social consciousness and simply a way of life.

If you’ve ever hankered for your own organic farm, check out the Seattle P-I story about what it took to start Local Roots Farm, in Carnation, Wash., earlier this year.

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Eat Local Northwest

A food blog documenting the adventures of two friends trying to cook and eat sustainably in Seattle and in Anchorage.
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