Sometimes, I think a lot of the cooking I do is a display of homesickness. Take these chili cheese fries, for example.
I’d never been a fan of chili before moving. In fact, for a few years there, I was actively sickened by chili due to a memory of an ex who used to eat chili, cold from the can, with canned corn and cheese after basketball practice. Shudder.
But somehow, after six months without encountering chili on any menu or in any grocery store aisle, I somehow found myself craving it. On top of fried carbs, topped with fatty cheese. Naturally.
Despite my aversion to the gross canned variety, I have learned to love homemade chili. It’s one of those big one-pot meals I can imagine serving as a no-fuss main dish at a big friendly dinner party, one that can simmer as long as it needs to then feed an army. Then? Leftovers forever. I’ve had it this week on baked potato, on toasted garlicky bread, and even on oatmeal once. (Don’t judge. It’s just another grain.)
Chili Cheese Oven Baked Sweet Potato Fries
Makes 6-8 servings.
For the chili:
3 tablespoons olive oil
1 1/2 pounds ground beef
1 onion, diced
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 cups black beans, cooked or canned (drained if canned)
2 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 teaspoons cumin
1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
salt and pepper to taste
For the fries:
3 large sweet potatoes
1/2 cup olive oil
salt and pepper
3 cups shredded cheese, such as cheddar or monterey jack
Heat the olive oil in a large, heavy pot over medium-high heat, then add the ground beef and cook until nicely browned. Turn the heat down to medium and add the onion and a big pinch of salt and sweat for about five minutes until the onions are translucent, then add the garlic and cook for another minute or so. Add the black beans (and their cooking liquid if it was homemade), tomatoes, and spices. Put the lid on and bring to a simmer. Lower the heat and cook for an hour or so with the lid on, then another hour or so with the lid off, stirring occasionally, until much of the liquid has evaporated and you have a thick, flavorful chili.
Meanwhile, heat the oven to 450°F (230°C).
Peel the sweet potatoes and cut them into batonnets, about 1cm x 1cm sticks, and place them in a large bowl. Cover them with the hottest water you can get out of your tap and leave them for at least 30 minutes. If you have time, drain the potatoes and repeat once more. Drain the sweet potatoes in a colander and dry them bone-dry with paper towels.
Cover a sheet pan with parchment paper and drizzle with some of the olive oil, spreading it around with your fingers. Add the potatoes, drizzle on the rest of the olive oil, and season with salt and pepper. Mix with your hands to ensure that all of the potatoes are covered in oil. Lay the potatoes out in one layer on the sheet pan. (If they do not fit in one layer, use two sheet pans.)
Bake for about 20 minutes, or until the fries start to color on the bottom, them flip the fries and bake for another 10 minutes or so, until they’re as brown and crispy as you like. Cover with the cheese and return to the oven just until the cheese has melted.
Serve the fries piping hot with chili ladled over and more cheese on top if desired, with a cold beer on the side.
Use any kinds of beans you like! I had black beans on hand, but pinto beans, red beans, and kidney beans work beautifully.
Similarly, you can use regular potatoes instead of sweet potatoes in the fries recipe.
If you’re not going to serve all six servings at once, the chili keeps in the fridge for 3 days or so and in the freezer for about 3 months.