Mel’s Diner black and red bean chilli with cumin cornbread

This cumin-spiced chilli is inspired by one we enjoyed several years ago in San Francisco at the original Mel’s Diner used in the classic film American Graffiti. Using both black beans and red kidney beans added at the end make it look and taste extra special – serve with guacamole, sour cream and a slice or two of delicious cumin seed cornbread. I used to always serve chilli with rice or crackers until I discovered this wonderful cornbread. I’ve tried a few different recipes for it but my little cumin seed twist on the River Cottage recipe is the best by far. It takes about 20 minutes to prepare plus 2 hours of cooking time; this will easily serve four hungry people.

For the chilli

  • A large cast-iron lidded casserole pot
  • 500g minced beef or cubed, lean stewing beef
  • 1 x 400g tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 1 x 400g tin of red kidney beans and 1 x 400g tin of black beans, drained and rinsed. You can use dried beans if you soak them overnight in cold water and boil rapidly for 10 minutes before using them to cook with. This removes toxins in the beans that can make you feel ill otherwise.
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato purée
  • 1 tablespoon of light olive oil
  • 1 tablespoon of ground cumin
  • 2 bay leaves
  • 1 fresh green chilli deseeded and chopped, a quarter of a teaspoon of dried red chilli flakes and a teaspoon of cayenne pepper – add more or less depending on how hot you like it. I now use a teaspoon of a new ingredient as well – Turkish Urfa Biber chilli flakes (you can buy them online with amazon) – they impart a smoky raisin-like flavour that’s really delicious. 
  • 2 onions, finely chopped
  • 2 fat cloves of garlic
  • 1 square of Green & Black’s quality 80% dark chocolate, it adds a lovely depth of flavour and gloss to the final result
  • Sea salt and a generous teaspoon of freshly milled black pepper

For the cornbread

  • 23cm square baking tin
  • 125g polenta
  • 125g plain white flour
  • 2 teaspoons of baking powder
  • 1 teaspoon of sea salt
  • 1/2 teaspoons of bicarbonate of soda
  • 1 teaspoon of whole cumin seeds
  • a good pinch of coarsely ground black
  • pepper
  • 2 medium eggs
  • 1 tablespoon of soft brown sugar
  • 150g buttermilk
  • 150ml milk
  • 25g unsalted and melted butter
  • Optional: a small tin of corn kernels

To make…

  • Preheat the oven to 160°C.
  • Finely chop the onions and garlic.
  • Heat the oil in the ovenproof casserole on the hob.
  • Add the onion and garlic to the oil and cook gently for about 5 minutes until softened.
  • Turn up the heat, add the minced beef and stir until nicely browned, then add the ground cumin and stir for a minute or so. If you use cubed beef, brown it in batches so that you can get a nice caramelised crust on it.
  • Add the tinned tomatoes, tomato purée, chilli, bay leaves, sea salt and pepper.
  • Stir and bring to a simmer gently. Put the lid on to your casserole and leave the chilli in the oven on the middle shelf for a couple of hours. The sauce should become thick and reduced. It is much nicer finished in the oven than on the hob.
  • After 2 hours, Remove from the hob or oven, check and adjust the seasoning to taste.
  • Add the beans and place it on a low heat on the hob to warm them through. Stir in the chocolate to add gloss and added flavour. Cover until you’re ready to serve.
  • Turn the oven up to 220°C and start making the cornbread – you could get the dry ingredients and the wet ingredients ready separately ahead of time and then mix them quickly when your oven is ready.
  • First, grease your baking tin – you need to be quick to get it into the oven as once the buttermilk and bicarb are mixed they will start to react.
  • Weigh out the dry ingredients (except the sugar) and mix them in a large bowl i.e. the polenta, baking powder, cumin seeds, salt, pepper and bicarb. Make a well in the centre.
  • In a separate jug or bowl, mix together the eggs, sugar, milk, buttermilk and melted butter (and whole corn if using). Pour the liquid into the well and mix together into a thick batter.
  • Pour the batter into the baking tin and get it straight into your hot oven.
  • Bake for 20 minutes. It will rise slightly and needs to be golden on the top and spring back when touched with the tips of your fingers.
  • Put the cornbread onto a wire rack to cool before you turn it out on to a cutting board. Slice into thick fingers to serve it warm with the chilli.

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About Janet Davies @pigeoncottage

Food lover, author, cook!
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