Naturally Zimbabwean

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Cowpea Chili Con Carne

An old favourite with a tradtional legume. Note to reduce the cooking time of cowpeas, soak overnight before cooking or cook in the pressure cooker.

Ingredients – serves 4

  • 1 tablespoon cooking oil
  • 1 large onion
  • 1 red pepper
  • 2 teaspoons crushed garlic
  • 1 heaped teaspoon hot chili powder (or 1 level tablespoon if you only have mild)
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 500g lean minced beef
  • 1 beef stock cube
  • 400g can chopped tomatoes
  • ½ teaspoon dried marjoram
  • 1 teaspoon sugar
  • 2 tablespoons tomato purée
  • 400g cooked cowpea beans
  • Amaranth, sorghum or millet, to serve
  • Soured cream, to serve


  1. Heat the olive oil in a large skillet on medium-high. Sauté the onion until translucent. Add chopped up pepper and garlic, chili, paprika, ground cumin and marjoram. Give it a good stir, then leave it to cook for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally.
  2. Turn the heat up, add the meat to the pan and break it up with your spoon or spatula. The mix should sizzle when you add the mince. Keep stirring and prodding for at least 5 minutes, until all the mince is in uniform, mince-sized lumps and there are no more pink bits. Make sure you keep the heat hot enough for the meat to fry and become brown, rather than just stew.
  3. Make the sauce. Crumble the beef stock cube into 300ml hot water. Pour this into the pan with the mince mixture. Add chopped tomatoes and sugar. Give it a good stir, then leave it to cook for another 5 min, stirring occasionally and add a good shake of salt and pepper. Add the tomato purée and stir the sauce well.
  4. Bring the whole thing to the boil, give it a good stir and put a lid on the pan. Turn down the heat until it is gently bubbling and leave it for 20 min. You should check on the pan occasionally to stir it and make sure the sauce doesn’t catch on the bottom of the pan or isn’t drying out. If it is, add a couple of tablespoons of water and make sure that the heat really is low enough. After simmering gently, the saucy mince mixture should look thick, moist and juicy.
  5. Stir the cooked cowpea beans into the chili pot. Bring to the boil again, and gently bubble without the lid for another 10 min, adding a little more water if it looks too dry. Season to taste. Now replace the lid, turn off the heat and leave your chili to stand for 10 min before serving. Leaving your chili to stand is really important as it allows the flavours to mingle.

Serve with soured cream and plain boiled amaranth, sorghum or millet grain.

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