The Hundred Beans Campaign: Red Chili For China

Shanghai’s frigid and grim season has landed with a cold, heavy thump. Last night in bed, my hands went kind of numb as I tried to read a book under my two thick duvets, with just my head and fingers poking out. Right now, I can hear the wind howling outside the flat, a rather dreadful feature of living on the 16th floor.

If you go up to the windows, you can feel a layer of cold air puffing through the cracks and thin panes. The wind is making it all rattle disconcertingly. Shanghai isn’t actually all that cold, at least not compared with, say, Beijing or Harbin, but it is in complete and utter denial about its lack of tropical winter balminess. Buildings are not particularly insulated and there is no central heating to speak of.

Kevin the Panda shudders at the thought of going out into the chilly overcast morning

That said, I made chili the other day. This is totally chili weather. Not only do you get to hold a lovely hot bowl in your hands and press the radiating curved sides against numb skin but you also get to eat, well, chili. And chili is wonderful. Chili purists will probably send me hate mail and let me know in no uncertain terms that I have no hope whatsoever of  winning the Terlingua International Chili Championship cook-off. That would be reserved for the apparently esteemed Tom Dozier.

I am, however, not a resident of the fine state of Texas so some slack can and must be cut. What we have here, tolerant readers, is Chinese Chili.  You know, Red Chili. It is the chili that could launch a thousand bad communist puns. I’ve already deleted a dozen, out of the goodness of my own heart. I’m not even going to get into The Great Meat Forward. You’re very welcome.

This one is easy but takes a bit of time. I recommend doing this at the weekend, when you can let it burble away all day. You’ll need a crock pot and a wok, as usual.

First, before anything else, you need to deal with your beans. I have no idea what beans I used because the packets were written entirely in Chinese. I’m going to recklessly advise you to just randomly grab a few bags from the supermarket shelf and take your chances. It’ll probably be just fine. I used about 1/3 of a bag of each, for a batch that would serve two people for two days. It filled the bottom of the crock pot to about an inch and a half deep, uncooked.

If you have time to soak them overnight, go for it. I forgot. They were fine anyway.

Packaged goods: my anonymous beans and canned tomatoes (use real ones if in season)

Put the beans in clean drinking water in the crock pot on high until you get it boiling then turn it down to cook. It’ll take a few hours so do this in the morning as you’ll need the afternoon for the chili itself.  When they taste mostly done (you don’t want them to be mushy as you will be cooking them longer in the sauce), drain them and get started on the rest of it.

Still life with dried beans and watermelonesque felt Kyrgyz slippers for my frozen toes
The cooked beans are fogging up my lens


The Other Ingredients


I made this up as I went along so do feel free to re-mix it according to your own preferences.


  • 2 palm-sized patties of ground beef (or an equivalent size of soy alternate would be fine)
  • A softball sized purple onion
  • A ton of garlic (I used most of a head because it’s cold out and I don’t want to get sick)
  • Four long, hot red peppers
  • A tin of tomatoes or three to four fresh ones, chopped up.
  • A tablespoon of tomato paste
  • Spices: about 1 teaspoon each of cinnamon and Sichuan ground peppercorns; a heaping tablespoon each of plain dark cacao and cumin. Add salt later, to taste.


What To Do


  1. Sautee the onions first, until soft, then add the garlic and chillies and let them cook for a few more minutes in the wok.
  2. Add the ground beef or tofu mince or whatever, and cook til browned. It’ll take a few minutes, stirring.
  3. Add the spice mixture, and mix it around. It’ll be a bit dry in the wok now, which is fine. Have your tomatoes ready at this point as you don’t want the spice mix to burn.
  4. Throw in the tomatoes and tomato paste and about a cup of water.
  5. Stir, cover, bring to a burble then turn down to low-low to simmer for about twenty minutes.
  6. Pour the sauce into the crock pot with the drained, cooked beans and let it do its thing on high for an hour or so, then on low after that. I let mine go about 4 hours and it was AWESOME.


What went into the wok part
I don't think they use Sichuan peppercorns in the Texas Chili Cook-offs
The onion, garlic and chillies, softening in the face of re-imposed ideological orthodoxy
Meat and veggies competing for ideological supremacy
The spices introduce some healthy criticism to the mixture
Oh and the tomatoes and a tomato-tin of water are symbolic (for no good reason) of the annual rising Yangtze flood waters.
This is how hot I keep it for simmering it down: just the centre flame
Everything goes back into the crock pot for the rest of the afternoon to patch up ideological differences and to meld flavours
After a few hours on high then a few hours on low, we reached a delicious dining compromise
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  1. Selly says:

    Can I have that for dinner please? That sounds absolutely delicious and looks yummy too! Well done!
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    1. MaryAnne says:

      It was remarkably awesome. The beans were like velvet and the sauce was rich and thick and warming. I’ll astral project you a tupperware containerful.

  2. Tracyann0312 says:

    This might been a sumptuous meal to everyone who feels cold. I love soups, but not eating any kinds of beans because it can trigger my anemia. Hoping to eat this one too!
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