This recipe is my spin on a favorite from the very first cookbook I owned: the “Moosewood Cookbook” by Mollie Katzen (Ten Speed Press, 1977).
That book, which I still have — its cover sun-bleached and pages spattered — fed me throughout my college years and beyond. One dish from it that I made again and again was the simply named cheese-beans, a savory, chili-seasoned bake of red beans, fresh tomatoes, chunks of sweet apple and cheese. Lots of cheese.
That heavy cheesiness is one reason I had not made it in years. But I found myself hankering for the dish recently, so I decided to take a fresh look at it and find a way to achieve its comforting, flavorful essence in a more healthful way. I’m sure glad I did, because now this sumptuous bake is officially back in my life.
My strategy was not to eliminate the cheese; it is an essential element that brings all the ingredients together as it melts, and it provides an unmistakable sumptuousness. But here, it is a supporting player rather than the lead.
That’s reflected in the name I gave it. I flipped it, putting the beans first and jack — as in Monterey Jack — at the finish. I kept the apples, tomatoes and seasonings from the original recipe, but upped the vegetable ante with a few handfuls of chopped kale, which fit in so seamlessly it was like it belonged there all along.
I also made the recipe more convenient by cooking it all in one Dutch oven rather than transferring the mixture to a casserole dish. The resulting stew is simple autumnal goodness, a tasty tribute to the past with a sensibility that’s just right for today.
Chili bean apple jack stew
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 large onion, diced (1½ to 2 cups)
2 teaspoons chili powder
1½ teaspoons kosher salt
1 teaspoon powdered mustard
½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
⅓ cup pale lager beer, such as Corona
4 cups packed chopped baby kale leaves
3 (15-ounce) cans no-salt-added red kidney or pinto beans, drained and rinsed (about 5¼ cups)
2 large golden delicious or jonagold apples, unpeeled, cored and diced
4 medium tomatoes, diced
4 ounces (1 cup) packed grated Monterey Jack cheese
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat. Once the oil shimmers, stir in the onion and cook for about 3 minutes, until translucent.
Stir in the chili powder, salt, powdered mustard and pepper. Add the beer, then the kale; cook for about a minute, stirring, until the greens have wilted.
Remove from the heat; stir in the beans, apple and tomato. Top with the cheese. Cover and bake (middle rack) for 35 to 40 minutes, until warmed through, the apple is tender and the cheese has melted.
Serve warm. Makes 6 servings (or 7½ to 8 cups).
Nutrition per serving (using all kidney beans): 400 calories, 21 grams protein, 56 grams carbohydrates, 12 grams fat, 5 grams saturated fat, 15 milligrams cholesterol, 430 milligrams sodium, 15 grams dietary fiber, 12 grams sugar.