Food is adaptable.
It doesn’t matter if you have a well-stocked pantry or a sparse dorm-room cabinet that would make your mother cry. You don’t have to have rare ingredients on hand, and you don’t even need to have every single ingredient in a recipe to throw a meal together. What you need is confidence, a little bit of bravery, and the will to try. What’s the worst that can happen? Surely something delicious can come from whatever is tossed in there.
That’s the beauty of most chili. Chili is the shining example of infinite adaptability, changeable to each cook’s individual tastes and preferences… or whatever you happen to have on hand at the time. Same difference.
Now I’m not saying that you should open up your cupboards, throw it all into a pot and call it a day. There are a few basic techniques and guidelines that will help coax the deepest, richest flavors out of your chili. Like browning the meat (or crumbled seitan, if you’re aiming for meatless!) over medium-high heat, giving it a nice sear. You don’t want boiled and lifeless meat in your chili, do you? Didn’t think so.
And while you’re at it, you better dump in your tomato paste (if you want to swing that way today) and your spices before adding any liquid to that pot. If you want to get really fancy, you can toast whole spices in a dry pan first, then grind them yourself – but I just didn’t want to take the steps to bother with that today. Sprinkling your ground spices over your veggies and cooking them a little before returning the meat to the pot and adding your liquids will do just fine, and it will reward you with a deeper, slightly ‘toastier’ flavor.
Then you just let it all simmer for a half hour or so… don’t eat it so fast! You have to give the flavors time to get to know one another, jive, and marry! Put that spoon down for awhile and let it rest. You can clean up your knives and cutting boards if you want, or you can seize the opportunity and whip up a quick batch of spicy cornbread. Chili just ain’t right unless you have a biscuit or a nice fat wedge of lightly sweetened honey cornbread to go with it.
The secret ingredient in this recipe is cayenne pepper, enough to warm your throat after the second or third bite. Don’t want any spice in your cornbread? No problem! Don’t add it. Pop it in the oven, and by the time it’s baked up, the chili is ready, too. Just don’t forget your fixin’s and toppings.
Neither of these base recipes are particularly ‘authentic,’ if you get my drift. Texas would not dare to add any beans to their chili, and in the South, there is not even a pinch of sweetener in cornbread. But you know what? It’s still tasty, and it will definitely fit the bill on a crisp autumn day. Your friends and family won’t pick on it so much either, once they have a bite.
Rich, spicy, and just a hint sweet from the tablespoon-and-a-half of brown sugar. This is a well-balanced and unctuous chili where you will be able to taste all of the elements that go into it. You can make it with beef, turkey, sausage, seitan, or any combination of the above. Even cubed sirloin would do well in this recipe, if you want to swing more toward the Texan side, just make sure you cook your chili low and slow until the meat is tender and falls apart with the touch of a fork.
The basic techniques for this chili are pretty invaluable. Experiment with the spice levels, meat, and veggie content all you want (though I don’t recommend going too crazy with the chili powder, else you’ll drown out all the other flavors), but you won’t get quite the same depth if you don’t properly brown your meat and cook your spices prior to pouring in any liquids.
Serves a lot of people.
Adapted heavily from Jamie Deen’s Award-Winning Chili Recipe
- 2 tablespoons olive oil
- 1 pound ground beef (or sirloin, or turkey, or seitan…)
- 1 pound hot italian sausage, casings removed (use more or less as you please)
- 1 large onion, sweet or red, diced
- 1 red bell pepper, diced
- 3 serrano chili peppers, minced (this is spicy! reduce to your taste, or replace with 1 or 2 jalapeños.)
- 2 large carrots, peeled and diced
- 4 fat cloves of garlic, minced
- 1 tablespoon chipotle powder (don’t got it? Replace with Ancho chili powder or regular chili powder)
- 1 tablespoon chili powder
- 1 1/2 tablespoons cumin
- 1 tablespoon Mexican oregano
- 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
- 1 1/2 teaspoons salt (more or less to taste)
- 1 – 2 tablespoons light brown sugar
- 1 to 3 tablespoons cornmeal or masa, optional
- 1 6-oz can tomato paste (don’t have it? use more tomatoes!)
- 1 12-oz bottle beer (I used Harpoon Octoberfest. You can use any lager or ale on hand.)
- 1 28-oz can diced tomatoes
- 1 15-oz can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
- 1 15-oz can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
- Scallions, grated cheddar cheese, and parsley/cilantro, for garnish
Heat the olive oil in a large dutch oven or pot over medium-high heat. Once hot, add the meat and sausage (or seitan, or turkey) and cook until browned, about 6 to 10 minutes. Remove to a bowl and set aside. Discard all but 2 tablespoons of fat, if drippings remain.
Add the onions, red pepper, serrano peppers, and carrots to the dutch oven and sautée until fragrant and softened, about 5 minutes. Add the garlic and sautée until just fragrant. Add the chipotle powder, chili powder, cumin, oregano, cayenne pepper, and salt, and cook until fragrant, about one minute. For a thicker chili, you can optionally add a couple of tablespoons of corn masa or cornmeal in this stage. Stir in the tomato paste and the brown sugar and cook for 30 more seconds.
Stir in the cooked beef and the sausage and coat with the spice mixture and vegetables. Add the beer to deglaze the pot, scraping up the browned bits sticking to the bottom. Bring to a simmer, then add the diced tomatoes and the beans. Simmer on medium-low, partially covered, for at least 30 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Taste, adjust seasonings, and serve topped with shredded cheddar cheese, chopped green onions, cilantro, and/or parsley.For The Love of Cooking. Serves 8 big pieces or 12 to 16 tiny ones.
- 1 cup all-purpose flour
- 1 cup cornmeal
- 1 tablespoon baking powder
- 1-2 tablespoons granulated sugar
- 1/2 – 3/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper (optional)
- 1/2 teaspoon salt
- 1 cup well-shaken buttermilk
- 4 tablespoons unsalted butter, melted and slightly cooled
- 2 eggs, lightly beaten
Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Coat a small 8×8 baking dish with canola cooking spray.
In a bowl, mix the flour, corn meal, baking powder, sugar, cayenne pepper, and salt together until well combined.
In a separate bowl, whisk together the buttermilk, honey, melted butter, and beaten eggs. Pour the flour mixture into the egg mixture and gently mix with a spatula or wooden spoon until they are just combined. Do not over mix. Pour into the prepared baking dish. Place into the oven and bake for 30-35 minutes, until a tester inserted in the middle comes out clean.
Allow the bread to cool for about 10 minutes before cutting and serving. Enjoy.
Note: Or, better yet, bake this in a cast iron skillet for crispy and buttery edges! Place the skillet in the oven while it is preheating, then add a tablespoon or two of butter to the bottom and let it rest in the oven until it melts. Pour batter directly into the hot skillet and reduce baking time to about 20-25 minutes.