lamb, beer & black bean chilli

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Snow! It’s quite an event, here in England – put aside any hopes you had of a) travelling anywhere or b) having a conversation with anyone that isn’t about precipitation, and rush to the supermarket for essentials (bread! milk! loo roll! Quick! the thaw isn’t due until Monday!) before heading out with wellies and sledges to career precipitously down a hill towards what would be a busy A-road if normal service was not temporarily suspended.

Or, if – like me – the absolute last thing you want to do is go outside when it’s minus several and the vengeful weather gods are throwing tiny bits of ice down the back of your neck, you could stay in and make this chilli. For very little effort, you could have the best kind of winter food simmering away on the cooker for a few hours, wafting tempting smells through the flat. This leaves you free to huddle under blankets watching Jonathan Creek and laughing at all of the expensively- but inappropriately-dressed women getting out of shopping-laden 4x4s and shouting expert instructions on how best to ascend an entirely frozen 1:8 slope to their husbands (this happens more often than you might think, in Bath).

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I know the ingredient list looks a bit long, but odds are you’ve most of it knocking around the house anyway (tinned tomatoes? beans? cumin? And don’t pretend you weren’t more concerned about stocking up with beers than with milk on that last emergency run to Tesco, because I won’t believe you).

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The lamb gets thoroughly browned, removed from the pan and set aside (and guarded viciously, if you have a kitchen ‘helper’ like mine, who has an uncanny knack for knowing when there are little piles of browned meat or grated cheese likely to be lying around), and then onions are cooked slowly in the same pan, so that they take on all of the dark, caramelly flavours left over from browning the lamb.

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Once they’ve softened, garlic, chilli and cumin are added and stirred through, and then everything gets put into a large casserole with a couple of tins of tomatoes, some tomato puree, sugar and dried oregano, and a pint of Mexican lager – or, whichever lager your supermarket stocks in appropriately sized bottles. I refused to put Stella into my dinner, so I went for something which sounded at least a bit exotic – and, as it turns out, I was only around 10,000 miles out, so my geography is not quite so bad as I thought. It does look alarmingly foamy at this point, but don’t worry, this is quite normal.

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Then the whole thing gets ignored for an hour and a half, only requiring a couple of tins of black beans to be stirred in halfway through, until it is thick and delicious smelling. Then some lime juice, spring onions and coriander are stirred through to perk it up a bit, and the result is a thick, warming chilli, with perfectly tender chunks of lamb and a tiny kick from the lager: the perfect dinner to curl up with and ignore the outside. I suppose it would also be ideal to warm up frozen fingers after an hour or two of outdoorsy activities, but I haven’t tested this hypothesis – let me know if you know any mad people who might be willing to try.

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lamb, beer & black bean chilli

From Diana Henry’s Food From Plenty. Serves 6.

groundnut or olive oil
750g shoulder of lamb, in 2cm cubes (a 1.5kg shoulder gave this much meat, once boned and trimmed)
1 large or 2 medium onions, roughly chopped
4 garlic cloves, crushed
2 chillies, deseeded and sliced
1/2 tbsp ground cumin
2 x 400g tins chopped tomatoes
600ml (1 pint) American or Mexican lager
1 tbsp tomato puree
1 tbsp soft brown sugar
1 tbsp dried oregano
2 x 400g tins black beans, drained and rinsed
juice of 1/2 a lime
3 spring onions, chopped
small handful fresh coriander, chopped

Heat the oil in a non-stick frying pan and brown the lamb well all over. You can do this in the large casserole you’ll use later, and save on washing up, but there are a few steps yet before you add any liquid to deglaze (and I’ve never quite got the hang of not burning bits onto the bottom). Remove the lamb from the pan, add the onions and stir for a few minutes until soft and lightly coloured. Add the garlic and chillies and cook for another three minutes, adding the cumin after the first two.

Transfer the onion mixture and the lamb to a large casserole, along with the tomatoes, lager, tomato puree, sugar and oregano. Season, bring to the boil, then reduce the heat and simmer for an hour and a half, until the lamb is tender, adding the beans after the first 45 minutes.

Once the chilli is ready to serve, stir through the lime juice, spring onions and coriander.

Serve in bowls, with grated strong cheddar, or over rice with sour cream and an avocado salsa.

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