A mother-daughter conversation on food and cooking (mostly)

Saturday, September 22, 2007


Because I was a vegetarian for so many years, chili is to me a bean-based dish, with meat only an incidental ingredient. I know this is blasphemy to those amateur chefs who enter chili cookoffs and seem to slice onions even more ineptly than I, if 8,671 Food Network chili cookoff specials are any evidence.

Chili should be a big, serious meal suitable for powering a person through a day of telemark skiing or ice climbing (or, in today's case, college football-watching). And for that it requires beans.

The glorious thing about chili is that just about any of the ingredients are optional or substitutable. It also requires only one pot, a big Dutch oven, though I often use a big skillet to brown meat and onions before dumping them into the Dutch oven.

Here is my infinitely variable recipe, based on your old vegetarian chili recipe:

Roast at 400 degrees any or all of the following:
- 2-3 carrots, sliced
- 1-2 bell peppers
- 1-9 fresh chiles of any sort -- today I am using a few green Anaheims (Big Jim), a few red Anaheims (cowhorn), and some poblanos (ancho mulato).

(Actually, I guess I roast the carrots first, then turn on the broiler to char the chiles.)

Peel and chop the roasted peppers and chiles.

If you don't have fresh chiles, put canned or frozen green chiles in the chili. You can also make a dried red chile-based chili -- soak and then puree dried red Anaheims. A person could even use red chili powder and some bell peppers.

Procure 1-2 pounds meat. Cheap beef stew meat of some sort is good -- just cube it. Ground beef is fine. Leftover shredded chicken is good. This is definitely the way to use up scary things you find in the freezer (squirrels?) If the meat is raw, begin by browning it, then removing it from the pot or pan.

- 1-3 onions, diced

Put everything in the Dutch oven if it's not already there. Add any or all of the following:

- Beans. I usually use 2 cans each of black beans and pinto beans. Sometimes I soak dried beans for a day and use those. I think red kidney beans in chili are too big and sweet, but I know lots of people like them.
- 3 cloves garlic, minced
- 1-2 large cans of tomatoes
- beer or red wine, cheap or fancy. (Note to readers: I happen to know that Kris, who is on vacation and thus can't protest, uses Old Milwaukee.)
- leftover coffee
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, or a small handful fresh, or whatever
- 1 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted and possibly ground
- 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
- 1 tablespoon or more chile powder, the fresher and purer the better
- cider vinegar or lime juice if necessary to correct acidity
- sugar if necessary

Simmer very gently for 2-5 hours. I serve it with homemade cornbread (cornmeal only, no flour, and no sweetener, made in a cast-iron skillet).


Kris said...

I love this recipe. Beer vs. wine? No problem, you decide. Chicken? Beef? Whatever.

I want to remind you that as a child growing up in North Dakota the recipe for chili I experienced was: 1 pound hamburger, 1 can tomato soup, 1 can kidney beans. It was served with Saltine crackers.

Kris said...

AND it's not always Old Milwaukee. It's whatever cheap beer the last houseguest bought and left.