JISHOU, HUNAN — One of the things I’ve missed in China is Mexican and Tex-Mex food. So, since I inherited a slow cooker from a former laowai, I’d been planning to make some chili. The other day, I happened to find some dry beans in the supermarket that looked somewhat like pinto beans (see photo).

Mystery beans

Well, they look like chili beans

It was all I needed to put my plan into action.

Purists of various stripes may be appalled that I mixed meat with beans, or used beans at all, or that I omitted the spaghetti (a barbarous custom — sorry, Cincinnati chili aficionados), or used a premixed chili powder (Mexene™, from the USA).

To those purists, I say, get a life. Chili is basically a peasant’s meal, made with whatever is handy. The actual ingredients are not so important (except for the aforementioned spaghetti, which I can’t find here anyway). The flavor is.

So, here’s my made-in-China chili recipe. The only “foreign” ingredient is the Mexene™ powder, which if I tried I could probably replicate with locally available ingredients.

Chinese slow-cooked chili

Serves 6. Cooking time 6-7 hours.

1 cup dry speckled red beans
1/2 lb. (300 g) beef, cubed and browned (the package was not labeled, but from the looks, it was shoulder meat; Chinese beef is also very lean — no visible fat on this cut at all)
3 medium tomatoes, diced
1 large purple onion, diced and fried
2 -3 red Anaheim peppers, chopped (these are widely available in Hunan)
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 Tbsp fresh cilantro, chopped (you can omit if you can’t stand cilantro’s smell or flavor)
2 Tbsp Mexene chili powder (I used one Tbsp each of hot and regular mix)
1 tsp salt, or to taste (I tend to under-salt my cooking)
1-2 Tbsp oil (I used peanut oil because of its high smoking point)

The night before —
Rinse the beans thoroughly. Place in slow cooker and cover with 3 cups hot water (for me, that means hot water from my drinking water dispenser, NOT from the tap!). Do not turn on the cooker. Cover and let them soak overnight.

The next morning —
Check water level and add more hot water to cover the beans. Turn on the cooker and set to high. While the beans cook, assemble and prepare the ingredients.

Add tomatoes, peppers, garlic, cilantro, salt and chili powder to the beans.

Get the wok good and hot. Add oil to wok. When it’s also good and hot, stir fry the chopped onion until it just begins to caramelize. Remove and add to cooker. In the same oil, briefly brown the cubed beef. Add more oil if necessary. Add beef to cooker.

Check the water level. Cover and turn heat to low, and cook until beans are al dente (about six hours for mine).

I had a little bit of red wine left over, so I marinated the beef in it while I prepared the veggies. I don’t know if it was a critical step, but the finished product was very good. Two of my Chinese friends enjoyed the chili, and one even had three helpings. I froze some to take next week to the old campus for the teachers there to try. We have a potluck lunch every Wednesday, and so far they’ve done all the cooking.

I served the chili on top of rice, which works out just fine. I plan to try making cornbread when I have some time to experiment. The cornmeal I bought is coarsely ground and needs soaking in boiling hot water before I make it into cornbread. The cornmeal pancakes I made with it were a little too crunchy-chewy for my tastes.