HOLIDAY RECIPES: Espresso Black Bean Chili

Michelle Zitt Brooks, MS, RD, is the Registered Dietitian in the UCSD Recreation Department.
She is available for presentations, individual and group consultations, and more. Contact her at

December is here, and 2016 is in the home stretch. The days are shorter, cooler, and the coffee just doesn’t seem strong enough to get us through the to-do list at work. This time of year calls for comfort food, the kind of meal that feels like a warm hug and nourishes you so that you can push on through the day. That doesn’t mean that the meal has to be heavy, fatty, or belly ache inducing. It just needs to be yummy, easy to make, and soul-warming. Alas, the perfect recipe comes from Mark Bittman, in the form of a big bowl of chili that packs a kick of caffeine, to boot. This recipe is as nutrient dense as it is delicious.

Espresso Black Bean Chili

Yield: 6 to 8 servingsTime: 1 1/2 to 2 hours, largely unattended

3 tablespoons neutral oil, like grapeseed or corn
2 onions, chopped
2 tablespoons minced garlic
3 cups chopped ripe tomato (about 1 1/2 pounds whole; canned is fine; don’t bother to drain)
1/2 to 1 cup freshly brewed espresso, 1 to 2 cups brewed coffee or 2 tablespoons espresso powder
2 tablespoons chili powder
1/4 cup dark brown sugar or 3 tablespoons molasses
One 3-inch cinnamon stick
1 pound dried black beans, washed, picked over, and soaked if you like
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  1. Put the oil in a large pot with a tight-fitting lid over medium-high heat. When hot, add the onions and cook, stirring occasionally, until soft, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for another minute.
  2. Stir in the tomato, espresso, chili powder, brown sugar, cinnamon, and beans and add water to cover. Bring to a boil, then lower the heat so the liquid bubbles steadily but not violently. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally until the beans are beginning to soften, 30 to 40 minutes. Add a good pinch of salt and pepper.
  3. Continue cooking until the beans are tender, anywhere from another 45 minutes to 11/2 hours. Taste and adjust the seasoning, adding more sugar, salt, or pepper. Serve or store, covered, in the refrigerator for up to 3 days.

Some facts about espresso black beans to consider:

  • Black beans not only add protein and fiber, but also contribute calcium for strong bones, iron for oxygen transport, and B-vitamins for energy production.
  • Coffee helps to combat oxidative damage, to help you ward off the wintertime sniffles.
    • If you’re caffeine sensitive, try using decaf espresso or coffee to keep the flavor without the flutter.
  • For an extra boost of protein, add in cooked ground beef or crumbled smoked tempeh.
  • Top it all off with a dollop of plain Greek yogurt for cool creaminess and a dose of probiotics for gut health and immunity.
  • Make a double batch so you can have enough for lunches and some for the freezer, too.

What more could you need to get you through the sleepy work days of December? Embrace the season with good nutrition!


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