Lois & Karen Speer (and Lois’ firehouse chilli beans)

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My mum has never been one to shy away from a dried legume. It wasn’t unusual for our family to eat curries and savoury loaves combining lentils and vegetables, or shepherd’s pie and nachos made with kidney beans. My family wasn’t vegetarian but enjoyed eating this way and certainly didn’t feel that anything was lacking from these well-made meat-free meals. I didn’t realise that not everyone ate this way until I went flatting and found that for most people, shepherd’s pie and nachos meant mince.

When I asked mum about her favourite Lois recipes, firehouse chilli beans was one of the first that she mentioned. When I was young and we lived out in the wops an hour’s drive away from the nearest supermarket, meals like this that could be thrown together from pantry staples were essential.

Despite the name, firehouse chilli beans isn’t actually that spicy but has a lovely depth of flavour from the spices and herbs that are gently fried together with the onions. Firehouse chilli beans has a comforting quality and there’s something lovely about a bowl of rice with a dollop of spiced bright red tomato sauce studded with beans topped with grated cheese and a dollop of sour cream. A coleslaw made from finely sliced red cabbage, grated carrot, fresh coriander, spring onion and dressed with some extra virgin olive oil, lime juice, sea salt and freshly ground pepper and a pinch of sugar is a perfect accompaniment.

Firehouse chilli beans (Lois Daish, Good Food, p. 139)

1 cup of dried red kidney beans or 2 cans of kidney beans, drained and rinsed (I have also used black beans instead and they work well, too)

2 tablespoons cooking oil

1 large onion, chopped

2 large cloves garlic, chopped

1 teaspoon ground black pepper

1 teaspoon salt

1 teaspoon fresh oregano, chopped

1/2 teaspoon fresh sage, chopped

1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1/4 – 1/2 teaspoon of cumin or 1/2 – 1 teaspoon chilli powder, depending on how fiery you want it

1 teaspoon paprika

1 can tomatoes in juice

1 teaspoon tomato paste

1 tablespoon fine cornmeal

grated cheese & sour cream to serve

To prepare the dried beans (if using):

Rinse the beans and cover with cold water and leave to soak overnight or for most of the day. Drain off the soaking water and replace with fresh water. Put in a large pot and bring to the boil and simmer until tender; this will take anything from one hour to two hours, so best to do it ahead of time.

To make the firehouse chilli beans:

Warm the oil in a good heavy pot, add the onion and garlic and fry gently until softened. Add the herbs and spices and gently fry for another 5 minutes, stirring frequently. Add the canned tomatoes and tomato paste and use a potato masher or fork to break the tomatoes up. Stir in the cornmeal. Simmer for 15 minutes before adding the cooked beans and heat gently. Firehouse chilli beans tastes better after a resting period, so pop a lid on and set it aside while you prepare the coleslaw. Taste the beans and add more cayenne or chilli if you like.

One Comment

  1. I’m making a chilli with kidney beans in my slow cooker right now. I’ve been craving a big old pot of chilli in this weather. I love how forgiving chillies are. A bit of this, a bit of that and it comes out pretty good. I forgot to put herbs in mine though, might sprinkle some in when I get home.

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