Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 14, 2016

National Chili Month: Wild Wild East Chili

It’s November, always an important milestone in the UWS Kitchen: National Chili Month!

Every year we observe this celebration of the truly American dish by exploring new recipes. Typically, they’re variations on traditional ingredients: tomatoes, beans, various vegetables (all UWS Kitchen recipes are vegetarian) and the sine qua non, chiles. If it doesn’t contain the genus Capsicum, it’s not chili. Generally, the dishes have a Southwestern character.

This time, we’ll head east (or, from here in Los Angeles, west) for what we call Wild Wild East Chili: unusual spices, different flavors, great eating.

Let us gather our ingredients.

½ pound firm fried tofu, cut in bite-sized cubes

15 oz. can of black beans, rinsed

¼ cup low-sodium soy sauce

1/8 cup hoisin sauce

1 large onion + 1 large clove garlic, finely chopped

1 jalapeño pepper, seeds removed and roughly chopped

½ large green bell pepper, seeded and roughly chopped

1 knob about 1 inch x 1 inch fresh ginger, peeled and grated

1 tsp. crushed Sichuan peppercorns (or 1 tsp. white pepper)

1 tsp. Chinese five-spice powder

7 oz. (or about 1 cup) canned crushed tomatoes, such as San Marzano

6 oz. beer, preferably amber ale. Newcastle Brown Ale is a reasonable substitute.

1 tbsp. unseasoned rice vinegar, such as Marukan

Chinese hot chile oil to taste

Chopped cilantro (approx. 2 tbsp.) and chopped cashews for garnish


  • Pan or wok fry the tofu, cut it in cubes and toss with soy and hoisin sauce. Set aside.
  • In a large pan, combine onions, garlic, bell pepper, jalapeño and ginger. Cook until onions are translucent.
  • Stir Sichuan peppercorns (or white pepper) and five-spice powder into onion mixture, add ale and tomatoes and bring to a simmer. Simmer for 15–20 minutes.
  • Add tofu and black beans and simmer an additional 5–10 minutes. Stir in the vinegar, and tweak seasoning to taste with salt or soy sauce.
  • Spoon over steamed brown rice, garnish with the chopped cilantro and cashews and serve.

Serves 2 hungry people.

Here it is in the pot:


And here’s Wild Wild East Chili served in a Russel Wright Iroquois Casual China gumbo bowl, ca. 1955 (with reproduction Russel Wright utensils).



 We had no hot chile oil and weren’t impressed with the available supermarket brands, so we made our own from this recipe on, substituting red pepper flakes for the Sichuan chiles we didn’t have in our pantry. This site is a great resource for researching Asian ingredients. Thank you, WOL.

We had no Sichuan peppercorns either, so substituted ground white pepper which works fine. Later, we purchased this intriguing ingredient (not a peppercorn at all, but the dried husks of the Chinese prickly ash shrub) at our local Penzey’s Spices and look forward to trying it next time.

To go with this chili, we made a cool salad with sweet elements to balance the chili’s heat: butter lettuce, radicchio, Asian pear, red grapes, and dried cranberries with a cranberry-pear vinegar and olive oil dressing.


© Brad Nixon 2016. Salad photo © Marcy Vincent 2016, used by kind permission.

To see more Under Western Skies recipes, click “Food” under “Categories” in the right-hand navigation column.


  1. You two are amazing! Such creativity! You should have your own cooking show: a once a week feature on UWS. 😋


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