Category Archives: Beans

Taco Meatballs and Black Bean Spaghetti

My taco meatballs are made with venison and pork, but you could substitute your favorite meatball ingredients.

It all started with a box of black bean spaghetti, which is made with nothing but black beans. I’m always looking for ways to avoid the high-glycemic white flour pastas when I can, and this seemed like another interesting way to do that. Then I was trying to figure out how to complement such a pasta, so I started thinking about what we usually eat with black beans. I always cook them with cumin, oregano, and garlic, and serve them alongside a variety of Mexican dishes, so I started thinking in that direction.

On the other hand, we often have some kind of meatball with pasta—thus the taco meatball idea was born. To keep it on the Mexican side, I took a tomato-based sauce idea, but added poblano peppers instead of bell peppers, and that pretty much instantly turned it into a Mexican sauce.

I also had two crispy corn taco shells in the cupboard waiting for a purpose, so I crushed them in the food processor to substitute for breadcrumbs in the meatballs. It gave them just a little corn flavor to add to the taco idea. For the taco seasoning, I made a variation of this one.

Taco Meatballs and Black Bean Spaghetti

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: easy
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Taco Pasta Sauce

  • 1 large can peeled San Marzano tomatoes, drained (reserve juice in can if you want to thin the sauce later)
  • 4-6 roasted poblano peppers, peeled and seeded
  • 1 large onion
  • 3-4 cloves garlic
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  1. Place all ingredients in bowl of food processor. Process until uniformly small, but still with visible pieces of all the elements. I think it ends up looking like salsa.
  2. Pour into large skillet and heat over medium-low heat while you make the meatballs.

Taco Meatballs

  • 1 lb ground venison
  • 1 lb ground pork
  • 1/2 cup ground tortilla shells (you could use flavored corn chips, but you might need to alter your seasoning)
  • 2 large eggs
  • 1 tablespoon minced or roasted garlic
  • 1 tablespoon dried parsley
  • 2 teaspoons taco seasoning:
    • 1 tablespoon chili powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon garlic powder
    • 1/4 teaspoon ground California chiles
    • 1/4 teaspoon dried oregano
    • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
    • 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
    • 1 teaspoon salt
    • 1/2 teaspoon coarse ground black pepper
  1. Mix all ingredients well—I used my stand mixer.
  2. Form into small meatballs of about 2 teaspoons each and drop into the sauce as it is heating. If it starts to bubble, lower the heat to a simmer.
  3. Cover and simmer for 45 minutes, uncovering the skillet during the last ten minutes to cook down any excess liquid from the vegetables. Remember that the onion and pepper in this recipe are not sauteed first, so they can water down the sauce on cooking, even though the tomato paste helps to thicken the sauce.

Serve over black bean spaghetti, cooked according to package directions. It cooks very quickly, about 6-8 minutes. This pasta has an interesting taste and texture that complements the taco flavors.


White Bean Chicken Chili—Slow Cooker

I’m reluctant to call this dish chili, even though I know lots of people do just because it’s a combination of beans and meat. I think it’s a stretch, though, and like so many other dishes, I wish some inventive person had come up with another name. Still, I can see how chili is a good shorthand for it.

I think most recipes use boneless, skinless chicken, but I felt using bone-in chicken would add to the flavor during the long simmer in the slow cooker and also keep the meat from being drained of all its juices, as can happen in slow cooking. I opted for a whole split chicken breast, but I could see using a whole cut-up chicken. Yes, it means you have to add the step of pulling off the meat at the end, but that’s not a big deal.

What’s left then are the other flavors that make the dish a chili and not just a white bean stew or soup. In my chili, the main flavoring is from reconstituted dried ancho peppers—that’s what makes chili red (not tomatoes, please) and gives it its spice. If you’re keeping track of what peppers are called in their fresh and dried versions, you know that anchos start out as poblanos, and I have a ton of those in the garden that we’re hoping will turn red. But I have already roasted, peeled, and seeded a few trays of the green variety for the freezer, so I pulled a few out and chopped them up for this milder chili. I also have some jalapeños in the freezer, but I’d prefer to use those in a salsa or something with tomatoes. I think the poblanos will go well with the other traditional flavors of cumin, oregano, onion, and garlic (I used one of my frozen garlic cubes). I threw in a bay leaf, too, just because I can’t bring myself to cook chicken without one. Here it is ready for the long cook:

I would eat it as it turned out, but I didn’t want my husband to think it was soup—the horror!—so I thickened it with a flour and butter beurre manié. He couldn’t guess the ingredients in the chili—or even that there was such a thing as white chili—but he liked it a lot. I think it’s the poblanos that really made it so tasty.


White Bean Chicken Chili—Slow Cooker

  • Servings: 6-8
  • Difficulty: easy
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  • 1 lb dried great northern beans, soaked overnight, then drained and rinsed
  • 1 medium yellow onion, diced
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
  • about 1 tablespoon mashed, roasted garlic or equivalent
  • 2-3 poblano peppers, fresh or roasted, seeded and diced
  • 1 teaspoon salt*
  • 4 cups chicken stock
  • about 2 lbs chicken, bone-in or boneless ( I would leave boneless pieces whole and cut up at end), browned if with skin
  1. Place all ingredients in slow cooker, adding chicken pieces last. Make sure to brown the pieces if they still have the skin on for a richer final flavor.
  2. Cook on low for 6-8 hours.
  3. Remove meat from bones, if necessary, and stir back into the beans.
  4. You can mash some of the beans to thicken the chili or stir in a beurre manié of flour and butter during the last hour of cooking. I always thicken my red chili with a mixture of masa flour and water, and I suppose you could do that here, as well.

*Chicken stock is usually salted, so take that into consideration when salting.


Venison Chili on the Grill

Long ago, I posted my traditional method of making chili, whether with venison, beef, or a combination of the two. I use two pots on the stove, cooking beans using a quick soak method in one pot, and cooking the meat in another pot. Between the pots, I share the flavoring base of reconstituted ancho chiles, onions, garlic, and spices, and then I combine the pots into one for the last hour of cooking. It’s not as complicated as it sounds, and I just do it all from habit. Actually, I consider it a really easy dish to make. Of course, I usually made too much for the two of us, and I’m paring down the ingredients in lots of my old recipes, like this one.

Recently, I tried to adapt the recipe to my new slow cooker, first soaking the beans overnight, which I never do with the quick-soak method. It turned out okay, but it seemed too wet, too soupy, and beyond using more water than needed, I’m not sure why that happens in the slow cooker. I’ll probably fool with the recipe in the winter to see if I can make it work out right. Or I’ll just go back to the two pot method on the stove.

It’s almost too warm for chili, now, but I thought I’d try it out in my cast iron Dutch oven on the grill, since after all, it’s the traditional cowboy chuck wagon meal to cook over a fire. Now I can see why it’s such a beloved campfire dish.

This might be the best chili of all time, really thick and rich with a deep red color that I never get on the stove.

I have a Weber® Master Touch® grill which has a removable insert in the grate for using cooking pieces, like the chicken cooker or griddle, or like today, a cast iron Dutch oven. To make indirect heat around the center, I made a 2 x 2 charcoal snake, one that usually last 6-8 hours, not knowing how much time I would need. As it turned out, 3 hours was enough, and as you can see in the images, I only needed half the snake. I simply separated the two halves at the end, saving the unburned half for the next day’s grilling.

Venison Chili on the Grill

  • Servings: 4-6
  • Difficulty: time consuming
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1/2 lb dried pinto beans

2 lbs venison, in both cubes and ground, or the same in beef/pork

1 large onion, chopped

2-3 cloves garlic, chopped

2 teaspoons ground cumin

2 teaspoons dried oregano

2 teaspoons salt

5 dried ancho peppers, reconstituted with 2 cups water, pureed, and strained (see below)

  1. Soak 1/2 lb dried pinto beans overnight in water to cover by 3 inches. Drain and rinse when ready to use.
  2. Brown 1 lb venison cubes and 1 lb ground venison in 2-4 tablespoons coconut oil, olive oil, or bacon fat in large cast iron dutch oven.
  3. In a skillet, saute onions and garlic in oil until translucent, then stir in spices, stirring until fragrant.
  4. Combine browned venison, strained beans, and onion mixture in dutch oven.
  5. Pour in ancho pepper puree and stir to combine. You may need to add more water to cover, because the beans still need to cook, but you don’t need to cover by more than 1/2 inch. I added about 1 cup more water, so that with the puree, I had a total of 3 cups liquid.
  6. Cover and cook with slow indirect heat, about 225°-250°, for about 3 hours.If you don’t have a grate like mine, you can set the dutch oven directly on the coal grate and build the snake around it, but not touching the sides or the pot.
  7. I imagine you could cook it in a slow oven, too, and I will be trying that out in the winter.

Once you get it on the grill, you have 3 hours to do nothing, or I guess you could make some cornbread.

Reconstituted Dried Ancho Chiles
  1. Rinse 5 dried chiles, removing stems and seeds
  2. Tear into pieces and place in small container or bowl
  3. Cover with 2 cups boiling water; cover container with plastic wrap
  4. Set aside for about 45 minutes
  5. Place reconstituted chiles in blender with part of the liquid, adding the rest a little at a time to make a purée about the consistency of thick tomato sauce
  6. Strain puree through a fine strainer to remove pieces of skin—just keep stirring the mixture in the strainer until only the skin pulp remains (maybe 10 minutes)

Refried Beans, Not Refried

So-called refried beans are not fried twice nor even once, although many do the last step of mashing them in a hot skillet, which is kind of like frying. I guess. But it’s not necessary, especially with the availability of a food processor. I like the food-processor beans, which are creamy but still with a noticeable texture, to serve as a dip or spread, as well as a side dish, the basis of a burrito, or whatever you can think of. Even in the food processor, you can control the chunkiness to some extent by leaving out some mashed beans to stir in to the smoother processed beans.

You can make refried beans with just beans and salt, or elevate them with an endless number of additions. I would say you must use some fat—bacon fat or lard or oil—but everything else is negotiable:

  • garlic
  • onion
  • spices, like cumin, ancho, or chipotle powders
  • salsa
  • cheese
  • tomatoes

I’m just adding garlic, bacon fat, and lots of salt. We ate them as a side with chile relleno (not fried) burritos and mashed avocado. That’s two things that could have been fried, but were not.

Refried Beans

  • Servings: 2-4
  • Difficulty: time-consuming
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Make the beans:

1/2 lb dried pinto beans

3 cups water

2 cloves garlic

  1. Rinse the beans well and sort to look for any small stones. Combine with the 3 cups water in a saucepan and bring to a boil.
  2. Cover and turn off heat, allowing beans to soak for 1 hour.
  3. Return to a boil, then reduce to simmer. Cover and simmer for 1 hour. During the last half hour, toss in the garlic cloves so they cook some before finishing the dish.

Make the refried beans:

1/2 lb cooked pinto beans

about 2 tablespoons bacon fat

2 teaspoons coarse salt—or to taste

1/4-1/2 cup bean liquor

  1. Drain the bean liquor into a bowl and set aside.
  2. Put the drained beans, salt, and bacon fat into a food processor.
  3. Process with 1/4 cup bean liquor, adding more to reach your desired consistency. I used 1/2 cup to reach a consistency like creamy mashed potatoes. They might dry out or thicken upon standing, so it’s a good idea to save the remaining bean liquor to stir in, if you need it. Or you could add it to other dishes.