Black Bean and Butternut Squash Chili

This is one of my favorite things to do with butternut squash, and every time I make it, I am reminded of my friend, Robin Holland.  She made it for a mom's group I was a part of when my daughter was a baby and a toddler.  A dozen or so of us would get together once a week, share an amazing meal and, together, relish in the joys and burdens of motherhood.  I still make this often, and every time, the flavors combine together to transport me back to those days.  There is something inherently grounding and warming about this dish.

Black Bean and Butternut Squash Chili

(enough for a crowd and easily reduced)

2 cups of dried black beans, soaked overnight, rinsed and drained (turns into about 6 cups of soaked beans

1 large butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and roughly chopped into 1" chunks

2 TBS olive oil

2 large onions, chopped

1 or 2 green or red peppers, chopped

5 cloves of garlic, finely chopped

4 bay leaves

6 TBS chili powder

1 tsp dried chili flakes

2 cups of apple cider

8 cups of water

Salt to taste (at the end)

2 to 4 TBS maple syrup

Chopped cilantro, jalapeno and lime wedges for garnish (optional)

In a large, heavy pot, heat the olive oil.  Add the onion, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, pepper flakes, bay leaves, and stir until soft and starting to brown.  Add 1 cup of the apple cider, and scrape up the brown bits and allow it to cook down by about half the volume.  This helps to concentrate the flavors of the aromatics (onions, bay leaf, etc).

It should look something like this.

Next add the squash, and the soaked beans, the remainder of the liquid, and allow to cook over medium to low heat for about 1 1/2 hours, or until everything is soft. Finish the stew by adding the maple syrup, and about 1 TBS salt (I find the beans and the squash really need lots of salt).  Stir and wait a few minutes before tasting.  Adjust with more syrup or salt if needed.

This is great served with the garnishes, some corn tortillas or corn bread, and a piece of cheddar cheese.  The warmth and sweetness create a harmonious and satisfying balance.