With the temperatures dropping and our landlord not wanting to turn on the radiator boiler until we’re popsicles, I decided to warm the place up a bit with big ol’ pot of chili (also, Erin has a craving for it). Now everybody and their mother has a special recipe for chili. That is perfectly fine. Most, if not all, chili recipes are time tested, tenaciously tweaked and tailored to the tongue of the taster. Whether you use poultry, beef, game or forgo meat all together; battle the war of beans or no beans; or secretively sweeten rather than stay strictly savory, everyone can agree chili warms and nourishes the cold-weather beaten soul.
Now all chilis break down into two basic components: meat and chiles. The endless combinations of these two have inspired chili cookoffs since man first took meat to the flame or soon thereafter (even that is debated). What you really need to know to make a good chili is what kind of chili you like. Is it 5 alarm or barely a sizzle? Do you like beans? Are you a veg-head or a carnivore? The answers will help you craft your next perfect chili recipe.
To start, think of what vegetables you’d like to include. A good base always consists of onion, garlic, green pepper and tomato. From there, the sky is the limit. You could add corn, okra, celery, carrot, etc. I’ve heard of chilis containing pineapple, mango and even eggplant, but I would suggest sticking more with traditional Southwest starting out. Next, choose your protein. Texans loathe the thought of beans in their chili, but anywhere outside the Lone Star state, it’s okay. Also, unless you’re going vegetarian, you have a wide selection of meat: turkey for the health conscious, traditionalist’s beef or game like venison, boar or rabbit for the primal hunter types.
Now we get to the real heart of the chili battle: Spice. When the spice flag is waved, people build their camps and make their stand. Some use dark chocolate, others cinnamon, some stay strictly savory with chilies only. Whatever you decide, this is where you can really experiment and have fun with your chili. Test, tweak and explore all the different varieties of fresh and dried chili peppers. Check out the different spices you have in the pantry. Cumin, thyme, sage, mace, clove… the combinations are endless. I always enjoy using combinations of warm spices, like cinnamon and clove, with smoky ones, like smoked paprika and cumin, followed by different types of peppers, like fresh Serranos for bite and dried red chiles for subtle, back-end heat. Also, adding a bit of molasses or brown sugar can add depth and balance out some of the raging heat.
So, I hope this has inspired you to take a stab at a pot of your own chili or to break away from the traditional and experiment a little. Whatever the case, a warm bowl of chili will hopefully help you forget about the plummeting temperature in your apartment.
‘Landlord Won’t Turn on the Heat!’ Chili
*Pairs well with Human Popsicles!
- 1-lb ground beef
- 1-small onion, diced
- 1-green bell pepper, diced
- 3-cloves of garlic
- 1-serrano chile, seeded (your choice), diced
- 5-small dried red chiles, diced
- ¼-cup cilantro stalks, minced
- 1-15oz can light red kidney beans
- 1-15oz can dark red kidney beans
- 1-14.5 oz can no salt added diced tomatoes
- 1-6 oz can tomato paste
- 8-oz beef broth
- ¼-cup molasses
- 1-Tb dried thyme
- 1-Tb cumin
- 1-Tb dried rosemary
- 1-Tb dried oregano
- 2-Tb chili powder
- 2-tsp chipotle powder
- 2-tsp cinnamon
- 2-bay leaves
- 1-tsp smoked paprika
- Salt and pepper, to taste
In a stew pot over medium heat, brown the meat in a small amount of oil. Remove beef and set aside. Return the pot to a medium-low heat and sweat the onions, garlic, chiles and green pepper until they turn translucent, about 5 min. Add the cooked beef, cilantro stalks, tomato paste and spices and sauté over medium heat stirring often for 2 min. to toast the flavors. Add the rest of the ingredients, cover and bring to a boil. Once at a boil, turn the heat to low and simmer covered for 2-2 1/2 hours, stirring periodically and checking liquid levels.
…Or do what I did. Throw it all in a crock-pot and write a blog about it. Sweet!
Serves a whole bunch.
P.S. the chili bowl images were shot with the help of mega rockstar Erin Doty.