I think it’s safe to say that in high school, I was the least capable and least enthusiastic member of my gym class. I also had more than the occasional struggle with geography. But if there was one thing at which I was truly terrible, it was cooking: I scorched oatmeal, I accidentally tripled the amount of flour in cookies, I lit my toaster oven on fire, I sliced fingers instead of fingerling potatoes, and — hands down the most serious offense — I managed to accidentally leave out the liquid when making Kraft Dinner’s Easy Mac.

Years down the line, I would like to think that the quality of my cooking has improved quite a bit, mostly thanks to moving off campus with three roommates who all take cooking fairly seriously. Though the thought of cooking seemed intimidating in the beginning, I grew to love it. It was much more affordable than eating out, and it was a way to unwind at the end of a long day. After spending hours writing essays with titles such as “Lost Innocence and Spectral Landscapes: The Failure of Nostalgic Recollection in the Poetry of John Clare,” it was also nice to think that I was learning at least one practical skill during my undergrad.

It doesn’t get more practical than chilli. It’s simple, it’s cheap, and it’s good for at least five servings, making it a great meal to share with friends. This particular recipe is slightly sweet, smoky, earthy, and just spicy enough. The chilli also gets a lovely kick from orange zest and juice. It can be served over rice, with a slice of hearty bread, or — my favourite — with a dollop of really thick plain yoghurt or sour cream.

Homemade Chilli for Hopeless Cooks

1 tablespoon olive oil
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, diced
1 tablespoon ground cumin
1.5 teaspoons dried chipotle powder (or chili powder)
0.5 teaspoon dried oregano
2 long, narrow sweet pota toes, peeled, and cut into
1-inch cubes
1 cup vegetable broth
1 can (800 ml) of diced/crushed tomatoes
2 cans (540 ml each) of cooked beans (black and kidney work best), drained and rinsed salt and pepper juice and zest of 1 orange
Zest and juice of 1 orange
Salt and pepper, to taste

1. In a large pot on medium-high, heat the olive oil and sauté the onions and garlic until softened and just starting to turn golden.

2. Add in the spices and the sweet potatoes. Stir until coated. Reduce the heat to medium.

3. Pour in the diced tomatoes and enough broth to just cover the sweet potatoes. Let cook, covered, for 10 minutes. Remove the lid and simmer, uncovered, on medium-low heat for another 10–15 minutes, or until the sweet potato can be easily pierced by a knife.

4. Add the beans, the orange juice, and the zest. Add salt, pepper, and possibly more chili powder to your taste.

5.  Remove from heat and let cool for about five minutes before serving.