Chili is one of the great North American dishes, and one that is especially relevant and useful in modern life, as it is a hearty one-pot meal that can be put together and left to cook in a crock pot or low oven for several hours.
I’ll argue that the only two essential ingredients in chili are meat and beans. When I was growing up that meat was always, always ground beef, though I have to say I really like using shredded or cubed braised beef like brisket or chuck. For beans you are not beholden to the canned red kidney beans of my childhood: any and all pulses are great. These days my kitchen always has dried pinto and garbanzo beans, which have textures, flavours, and names that are all tailor-made for use in chili.
Beyond meat and beans, chili is a very diverse dish, akin to stuffing, in that every little boy will obnoxiously defend his mother’s manner of preparation and dismiss all others. The beauty of chili is that it can really be anything. It’s a good way to use leftovers like hamburger or sausage. If the opportunity presented itself I would even put such apocryphal ingredients as mushrooms and potatoes and lentils in mine. When given a carte blanche I love to pack chili with as many ingredients reminiscent of the old west as possible:
- beef (as discussed)
- beans (as discussed)
- coffee – Every so often I make more coffee than I can drink. When I do I pour the leftovers into a jar and keep it in the fridge for use in chili or braised beef.
- cayenne, paprika, bell peppers, and any other capsaicin-producing relative
- corn… I am very partial to chili that contains corn.
- canola or vegetable oil
- 500 g yellow onion
- 35 g garlic, minced
- 1/2 tbsp cayenne
- 1/2 tbsp hot smoked paprika
- 3/4 tbsp ground cumin
- 2 tbsp dried oregano
- 300 g yellow or orange bell pepper
- 300 g red bell pepper
- 415 g brewed coffee
- 1 kg canned tomato, puréed quickly with a stick blender
- 175 g fancy molasses
- 260 g corn
- 440 g cooked pinto beans
- 440 g cooked garbanzo beans
- 875 g cooked beef or pork (this can be ground or shredded or cubed)
- kosher salt
- Combine oil, onion, garlic, and herbs and spices in a heavy pot. Cook until onions are starting to turn translucent.
- Add bell peppers and cook briefly.
- Add tomato, molasses, and coffee.
- Bring to a gentle simmer and cook until vegetables are tender.
- Add beans, corn, and meat. Return to a simmer and cook briefly to let flavours combine.
- Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.