It was a dark and stormy night, wind shrieked past the corners of the stuccoed dwelling splattering the driving rain onto the freshly washed windows. When, oh when would she learn to wait until April to wash those panes of glass which so lovingly let the coveted morning light shine into the familial home (for it is in San Diego that our scene lies).
But in San Diego it doesn't rain, or it hadn't rained much more than the usual 10 inches or so annually until a year ago when the family obtained the two tiny balls of white Maltese fluff... the same fluffs who don't care to get their manicured toes wet when it's time to "do their business". The same fluffs who stand outside past bedtime on the soggy lawn (but not alone... no never alone...) with the somewhat impatient mother whose hair is wet even with the hooded protection of a somewhat too thin jacket. She stands there, coaxing the little fluffs, telling them that it will be a long night and that they should "go" now. But they are more interested in the flying leaves and the strange feeling of wind and rain on their teddy bear-like faces. Finally they are done and the mother returns with the wet and "not-so fluffy" Maltese fluffs to the warm and aromatic house.
Aromas of beef and chili spices envelope the warm rooms of the house, for the mother had known it was going to storm and what better way to beat the unbearable (yes... it was in the low 50's...brrrr) cold on a stormy day than a hearty stew? Filled with vibrant butternut squash the stew was visually a sight for cold eyes. Chipotle chiles and a slightly spicy chili powder brought a warmth other than the actual physical heat of the dish, and the cilantro and pepper jack cheese brought a Mexican Chili-like flair to the steaming bowl of goodness. Pearl barley added a healthy fiber to the flavorful mix and the tender chunks of grass fed beef made the husband's spirits soar.
With full bellies and happy heads, the family slept through the remainder of the storm awaking to gleaming but streaky windows and welcoming a new day.
Black Bean Stew with Butternut Squash
adapted from Bon Appetite
1 1/2 Tbs olive oil
1 lb lean stew meat (I used a grass-fed sirloin roast)
1 1/2 large onion, chopped
5-8 cloves of garlic, minced
2 1/2 Tbs chili powder
1 Tbs ground corriander
2 14.5 oz. cans fire-roasted tomatoes
2 cans black beans, drained and rinsed
1-2 chipotle chiles from canned chipotle chiles in adobo, minced
2 tsp dried oregano (preferable Mexican)
Salt to taste
1 two and a quarter pound butternut squash, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2-inch cubes (about 3 cups)
1/2 cup pearl barley
pepper jack cheese, grated
chopped fresh cilantro
pickled jalapeño rings
Heat oil in heavy large pot over medium-high heat. Add beef and onions and cook until onions are soft and the beef is beginning to brown, stirring often, about 8 minutes. Add garlic; stir 1 minute. Sprinkle chili powder and coriander over; stir and cook 1 minute. Stir in tomatoes with juice, beans, chipotles, and oregano. Add water to cover by an inch or so. Bring to boil, reduce heat to low, cover with lid slightly ajar, and simmer until beef is almost tender, stirring occasionally, about 1 hour (time will vary). Add the pearl barley and squash. Simmer, uncovered, until barley and squash are done and beef is very tender, about 45 more minutes. Season to taste with coarse salt and freshly ground black pepper. Add water to stew if necessary and to obtain desired "soupiness". Divide chili among bowls. Serve with sour cream, cheese, red onion, cilantro, and pickled jalapeño rings or your favorite toppings.