Chili, Some Like it Hot

by Sarah on October 29, 2009

And some like it not. I really want this to be proper chili, one that could win chili competitions in festivals like they have in the south-west every year. Except for one small thing-there are no chilis in my chili, a prerequisite I think with the chili judges. My husband’s family is so wimpy about eating spicy food, a bit too much black pepper causes them to start coughing and spluttering, I can not exactly feed them jalapenos and habaneras, although I would love to see their reaction (I am Kidding). My family is exactly the opposite. My father has always loved strong tasting foods and whenever he cooks it starts out with roasting or frying chili peppers until the fire alarms ignite and ends with soy sauce stains on the ceiling. Apparently he seared all his taste buds off when he went to a Thai restaurant thirty years ago and asked them to make it hot, hot like real men eat. He got what he asked for. He sweated and cried through the meal while the restaurant manager spied him from the back. At the end of the ordeal the manager came up to him and said that he never thought he would get past the first bite and since then he has been eating jalapenos like pistachios. He buys Tabasco sauce in restaurant warehouse sizes and there are always a dozen or so other hot sauces around the house. To accommodate him, my mother specializes in hot sauces as well, be it North African harissa, Yemenite schoog, or Asian hot sauce with sesame seed oil and fresh coriander.

Although this is a classic Tex-Mex style recipe, to me it has the flavors reminiscent of North Africa. From the early days of Spanish exploration and the transfer of spices and crops on both sides of the Atlantic, these two areas began resembling each other, at least in the kitchen. Cumin, for example, which is a favorite flavoring for chili has been used in the Mediterranean region from antiquity and is strongly associated with the Levant, Morocco and other countries of North Africa. Chili peppers are a New World crop which has completely integrated into North African cooking. I even added chocolate to the recipe, mostly because I thought it sounded sophisticated to have a secret ingredient of the ancient Aztecs flavoring this simple meal.  When I make it for myself, I invariably add hot green chilis or a spoonful of harissa sauce for a spicy kick but any dried or fresh chili would do the trick.

Chili Con Carne

My favorite chili con carne is not mine but Erez Ruder’s who I have always tried to emulate but can never reproduce exactly (perhaps I can convince him to write a guest post?). He introduced me to the addition of chocolate which adds an interesting flavor dimension. Not only that, there were several critical times when he made me a batch of chili and that was the only thing I had to eat after a long day at work.

[printable recipe]

1 kg of ground beef

1 onion chopped

2 garlic cloves, minced

1 cups beef stock, chicken stock or water

1 cup beer (this time I used Isaac Diwan’s wheat beer, a light and fruity concoction)

1 hot green pepper, finely chopped

2 cups red kidney beans, soaked overnight in a copious amount of water, about 3 times more water

1 bunch coriander or parsley or mix, chopped

2 cubes of bitter chocolate

5 crushed tomatoes (liquified in food processor)

1 red bell pepper, chopped finely

1 teaspoon cumin

50 ml tomato paste

1 tablespoon paprika

2 allspice cloves

2 bay leaves

I usually cook the beans separately to ensure they are completely soft before adding them to the rest of the ingredients. In Israel the water is extremely hard which toughens legumes, even after hours of cooking.  I usually use filtered water or add a teaspoon of baking soda to the soaking water, or both. I rinse the soaking water and put the beans in a large pot, covering them with water and cooking for 2-3 hours, or until they are soft.

While the beans are cooking, fry onion until translucent, add garlic and fry for a few moments longer, mixing to avoid burning. Add tomato paste and fry to release the flavor. Add the ground meat and cook until the color changes. Add the crushed tomatoes, chopped peppers, bay leaves, allspice, paprika, beef stock, chocolate and beer. Cook on low until the sauce is reduced and thick, about two hours. Add the beans and mix well. I usually add the cumin because it tends to lose its flavor when heated.

I often make a basmati and wild rice mix to accompany the chili. I cook 1 1/2 cups of basmati and 1/2 cups of wild rice. I soak the wild rice for 30 minutes in hot water before cooking to soften it. Accompany with capers, chopped onions, guacamole and grated cheese.

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