MNF – A Bowl of Chili – With or Without?

Chili with beans

This past weekend was the World’s Championship Chili Cookoff  at the Spa Resort Casino in Palm Springs and Cooking With Char was there – sampling chili of all kinds and levels of heat.

To be technical, the name “chili” in this regard means just the sauce. Add meat and it becomes “chili con carne” – chili with meat. We use the same term(s) including beans when we should say “chili con carne y frijoles” or chili with meat and beans!

To me, the very best taste comes from finely diced beef, simmered for a long time in a sauce with layers of flavor – and not overly spicy. I also like mine with beans – kidney beans or pinto or both – for added fiber and again, texture and flavor. Most of the time, to save time, we use ground beef but try it with stew meat or other inexpensive cuts that favor long, slow cooking. It’s a great way to save some $$. On occasion, I’ll even do the “chicken or turkey” chili but only under duress!

I do like a dollop of sour cream (especially if the chili is hot), and some shredded cheese on top to add color and again, another level of flavor and texture.

Everyone has their own chili story and so do I. Years ago, when the Raiders (of which I’m a diehard fan as is my immediate family) were new to LA, I took on the job of making chili for a tailgate party of the Original Los Angeles Raiders Fan Club. I was cooking chili for 300 — in my home kitchen!

My parents were there to help. We roasted 5 whole briskets; cooled, defatted and cut them all into a 1″ dice (talk about time consuming!). Adding onion, garlic, cumin, chili powder, crushed tomatoes, cilantro, salt and pepper to all of this which was put  in 2 electric roasters, 2 dutch ovens, and a couple of other soup pots and trying to put a proportionate amount into each – was no simple matter! Everything was simmering nicely – on the stove, in the oven, in the electric roasters….and the house smelled heavenly! I turned everything down to low and we all went to bed, having set the alarms to wake us early to cart everything downtown to the LA Coliseum.

I awoke at dawn, long before the alarm went off, with a panic! Is the chili OK? Did I turn everything down low enough? Did anything burn? I ran into the kitchen and there, leaning against one of the electric roasters, was a note: “It’s 2:30 a.m. I checked everything and gave everything a couple of stirs.  Don’t worry. Everything’s fine. I’m going back to bed now. Love, Dad”

Everything was delicious and we actually ran out of chili! And no, I didn’t do it again the following year!

Beef Chili with Beans (Chili Con Carne y Frijoles)

  • 2 Tbsp. vegetable oil or peanut oil
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped, about 2 cups
  • 1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2″ cubes
  • 6 garlic cloves, minced (about 2 Tbsp.) or  more if you are afraid of vampires
  • 1/4 c fresh chili powder
  • 1 Tbsp.  ground cumin
  • 2 tsp. ground coriander
  • 2 tsp. red pepper flakes
  • 1 tsp. dried oregano (Mexican oregano if you can find it)
  • 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
  • 2 lbs. lean (85 – 90%) ground beef or very lean stew meat or chuck roast with all            visible fat removed, cut in 1″ cubes
  • 2  15 oz. cans red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • 1  28 oz. can diced tomatoes, with juice or puree
  • 1  28 oz. can tomato puree
  • Salt, to taste
  • 2 limes, cut into wedges, optional

Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven until oil shimmers but does not smoke, over medium heat. This will take about 3 or 4 minutes. Add the onions, bell pepper, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, oregano and cayenne. Cook this mixture until the vegetables are soft, and start to brown (but not burn), stirring occasionally, for about 10 minutes.

Increase the heat to medium-high and add half the beef (either ground or cubes). If using ground beef, break it up into chunks with a wooden spoon as it browns. You don’t want it to be too fine or the chili will have a mushy texture. When the meat begins to brown (and stops looking pink), push to the side and add the remaining beef and do the same, combining the cooked meat with the uncooked until all is browned. This all should take about 7 to 8 minutes, total.

Add beans, tomatoes, tomato puree and 1/2 tsp. salt; bring to the boil, then reduce heat to low and simmer, covered, for about 1 hour, stirring occasionally.

Remove the cover and continue to simmer for an additional hour, stirring occasionally. If it appears that the chili is starting to stick, stir in 1/2 cup of water and continue simmering. (This might happen especially if you use diced tomatoes with puree or your puree is very thick.) Continue cooking until the meat is tender (especially if you are using stew meat or chuck) and chili is dark, rich-smelling and slightly thickened. If it looks “watery”, continue cooking, uncovered or add 1 Tbsp. tomato paste (or 2) and it should thicken nicely. Adjust seasoning with additional salt or pepper to taste.

Serve as is or with lime wedges, sour cream, avocado slices, shredded cheese, sliced green onion, or taco chips as garnish.

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