This chili uses inexpensive dried beans rather than canned and spends the day bubbling away in the slow cooker. Start it in the morning, and it will be ready in time for a delicious dinner when you get home from work.
The “carne” in this recipe is textured vegetable protein (TVP). TVP is made from defatted soy flour and has a chewy, meaty flavor and texture; it comes dried in the bulk bins at most natural food stores.
1Combine the black beans, pinto beans, and navy beans in a mixing bowl. Rinse and drain the beans, then cover with a generous amount of water. Let the beans soak for several hours or overnight.
2Heat the olive oil in a skillet over medium-high heat. When the oil is hot, add the onion and bell pepper and sauté until the onion is translucent and soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic, cumin, paprika, thyme, sage, oregano, and cayenne and sauté, stirring constantly, for another 2 minutes, or until the garlic is soft and the spices are fragrant.
3Scrape the onion and spice mixture into the insert of a medium-size (2.5 to 3 quarts) slow cooker. Drain the dry beans and add them to the slow cooker along with the lentils, TVP, and tomato paste. Add 5 cups of boiling water and stir until everything is combined and there are no lumps of tomato paste.
4Cover the slow cooker and cook on high for 5 hours or on low for 8 hours, until the beans are tender. If you are around, give the chili a stir or two during the day to ensure even cooking.
5When the chili is done, stir in the salt and pepper to taste and serve hot.
VARIATION: “Picky Chili”: I like to call our usual version of this recipe “James’s Picky Chili.” “I love chili,” he says, “as long as it doesn’t have any onions … or peppers … or chunks of tomato … or green stuff … and as long as it’s not too spicy.” Allllrighty, then. So I leave out the onions and peppers and my son is in Chili Heaven. Feel free to skip the onions yourself if you have an onion-hating child.