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Practicing the basics: chili

Chili is another recipe that can be infinitely customized to your tastes (and to the liking of your family). Below is a recipe for chili that is a basic starting place — and plenty yummy — but that you can easily turn into a family recipe.

Chili is somewhere in between a sauce, a soup and a stew. You will see familiar portions of all three of those types of recipes below.

Suggested reading:

Makes 4-6 servings, depending on portion size. Time required: minimum 2 1/2 hours.

Ingredients

  • 2 tbsp. oil, divided (olive or canola works great)
  • 2 lbs. ground meat: beef, chicken, or turkey
  • 1 15-oz. can black beans, drained
  • 1 large yellow onion, diced
  • 2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 2 tsp. chili powder, plus more to taste
  • 1 tsp. cumin
  • 2 green bell peppers, diced
  • 1 4-oz. can diced green chilis
  • 1 28-oz. can crushed tomatoes
  • 1 12-oz. bottle of beer (a lighter beer such as an IPA, or a Mexican brand such as Dos Equis or Moderna, works well)

Heat 1 tbsp. of oil in a pot over medium-high heat. Brown the ground meat, breaking it up into small pieces, then remove it from the pot and set it aside. This is the classic “brown the meat” stage for most sauces and stews.

Heat the remaining 1 tbsp. oil to pot over medium-high heat, then add the onion and bell peppers and saute until soft and the onion is transparent. This is the classic “saute some aromatic vegetables” step for soups, stews and sauces.

Stir in the red pepper, cumin and chili powder, and allow the spices to “bloom” for 30 seconds. The high heat wakes up the spices and enhances their flavor. You can add them later, but since this recipe has a lot of liquid the spices will never experience high heat and their effect will be duller.

Add chilis, tomato, beans and meat to the pot, and stir them in thoroughly. Bring to a boil.

Reduce to a simmer, cover, and allow to simmer for at least two hours, stirring occasionally. The long simmer is really important to this recipe. It allows all of the flavors to intermingle and by doing so it adds much more complexity to the overall flavor. It also softens the vegetables to form a thick sauce (rather then just a pot full of vegetables). Keeping it covered holds moisture in and prevents the chili from drying out. You may find that the simmer causes liquid to collect at the top; just stir it back in. If after two hours it’s still thinner than you’d like, let it simmer uncovered for another 10-15 minutes to let some of the water boil off.

Season to taste and serve.

Tips and ideas for customizing:

  • Add more black beans — or other kinds of beans if you prefer. If you add dried beans, you might need to add some additional liquid for them to soak up.
  • Add or reduce the amount of meat, or for a vegetarian version leave out the meat altogether. You could substitute in more beans, or plant-based meat.
  • Add some ground sausage with the meat. Doing so will add some more saltiness, so you might need to reduce the amount of salt you add when seasoning.
  • Since this is a “low and slow” recipe, you can substitute tougher cuts of meat such as chicken thighs that will respond well to being cooked for a long time at a simmer by becoming very tender and falling apart.
  • Adjust the spiciness. Add more pepper flakes and/or chili powder.
  • Add in fresh spicy peppers such as jalapeno, ancho, or even Thai peppers. Finely dicing them helps to ensure that the flavor spreads evenly throughout the chili. Also, most of the spiciness in fresh peppers is in the seeds, not the “meat,” so I will usually scrape out the seeds first into a small bowl and then separately decide how much of the seeds I want to add. I highly recommend wearing gloves when cutting up peppers, since the chemicals that produce the spiciness can get on your fingers and if not thoroughly washed off can accidentally be transferred to your eyes, lips, or other places where they will hurt a lot!

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