I have always believed (and still do) that no food is as satisfying in really, really cold weather, as a stew. And when the Swedish February forcefully reminded us that it is still well and truly winter with temperatures plunging below -10°C and half a metre of (newly fallen) snow on the ground, it seemed like the perfect excuse (should I have needed one) to make chili – and this one, stripped down to basics and allowed to cook slowly on even, low heat, is infinitely warming and satisfying when outside the windows, snow keeps falling in large, pretty clumps… horizontally. Or as close to horizontal as nevermind.
First of all, to me, chili con carne, is essentially – or at least according to the Texans who claim the dish as their own – with some argument from other American locales in which I will not take sides – a stew of beef, onions and chili peppers, and whatever else the chef in question wants it to be. Hence the prevalence of chili preparations with or without beans, with or without tomato, etc. I take that as freedom to interpret the chili as a stew within the guideline stated above, with or without whatever else seems to go with it on hand. Though, since I like beans, those usually do make an appearance.
Secondly, of beans. I should, and will, write a longer entry about legumes and the virtues as well as cooking thereof, but in short – I love eating beans, I do not love flatulence. Neither does anyone I am acquainted with. Thankfully, that is a problem easily avoided – I do not use canned beans if I can help it. Beans that are canned, while generally fine to eat, are not soaked long enough, and not cooked in enough water, and so retain their natural oligosaccharides (the stuff which causes gastric upset due to being indigestible by us – but happily digestible by our intestinal flora). Oligosaccharides are soluble in water, and so dry beans (which are also cheaper to buy) can be prepared at home with fairly minimal effort to avoid this problem. The key is – soak the beans for at least 12 hours in cold water in the fridge, then rinse, bring to boil, drain (can be repeated once more if you are bored), add boiling water from kettle and cook (unsalted) till tender (after the long soaking, usually far less than an hour, unlike whatever the packages say).
Thirdly, I do not use thickeners in my stews and soups. It is a matter of both principle and taste – I don’t like adding unnecessary white flour (high-GI carbohydrate) to my food, and I feel that when cooked at home and with proper ingredients, no stew will require further thickener than will naturally be present from its own ingredients. I am in no hurry to join in the ranks of the diabetes II sufferers, nor would I encourage anyone else in that direction.
With the above in mind, chili with beans is actually a wonderfully healthy dish, and while not devoid of carbohydrates (present in beans and onions, and tomatoes if you use those), it is very rich in dietary fibre (from beans), protein and a variety of other nutrients (the exact composition of which depends on what you put in it, obviously).
The above chili is without tomatoes, mostly because I have wanted to see the pretty black and white-turned-pink beans in all their glory. That, and though I often cook chili with tomatoes, I wanted to see just how much flavor I could coax out of the meat and chili peppers on their own, without the overpowering cannon of tomato, and the boxed complexity of prepared chili powder. The result, especially after a day in the fridge, was overwhelmingly wonderful, and proclaimed by T to have been the best chili he’s ever had (hard compliment to top, but I will try to in the future!). I wouldn’t argue with him, of course – heated in little clay casseroles in the oven and then topped with cheese and browned under the broiler/grill element it did indeed taste fantastic. And, while somewhat time-consuming, it was not even that difficult to make – and most of the time very little effort is required other than the occasional check on the liquid level.
What you need:
- Large (preferably cast-iron) shallow stovetop-safe casserole with a lid.
- 500g-1kg stew meat sliced into 5mm thick pieces across the grain (I bought a box of good-looking cut-up stew beef and cut it up further)
- 100-250g streaky bacon (or any other bacon), cubed or, if rashers, then sliced thinly. I use salt pork belly and cube it.
- 1-2 large cayenne chili peppers (commonly sold as just red chili)
- 4-5 green jalapeño peppers
- 1 teaspoon bird’s eye or any red chili flakes (less if you are afraid of scovilles!)
- 4-6 large garlic cloves (peeled)
- Salt and black pepper to taste
- 2-3 teaspoons dried oregano
- 1 tablespoon ground coriander seed
- 1 teaspoon ground cumin (optional)
- 1 cup each black and white beans (rinsed, soaked overnight, cooked as per above instruction, and drained)
- 2 large or 3 smaller yellow onions (peeled and chopped into 1x1cm pieces)
- 2 tablespoons of bacon grease or butter
- Canola (Rapeseed) oil as needed (this will depend on the fattiness of your beef, but don’t skimp on it)
- 500ml chicken or beef stock + boiling water as needed
- 2 large bay leaves
- 1/2 glass dry white wine
- Shredded cheese of your choice, sour cream or turkish yogurt (10% fat), and chopped coriander leaves (to serve)
How to do it:
- Preheat bacon grease or butter with a bit of rapeseed oil in your casserole dish on medium heat.
- Add chopped onions and cook on medium heat until beginning to turn golden and edges caramelise.
- While onions cook, seed the cayennes and cut tails off jalapenos (I don’t bother seeding those), and toss them, the garlic cloves, and a bit of salt into a food processor. Process for a few seconds until all cut into bits/shreds. Set aside.
- Add half the chili flakes to the pan, mix and move the onions to the side. Increase heat to medium-high.
- Add chopped bacon and fry until done but not crispy. Move aside to sit with the onions.
- Add the meat in batches, browning and moving to the side to avoid it getting wet. If some liquid appears, stop adding beef and cook until evaporated, add more oil and continue until all meat is browned.
- Reduce heat to medium. Mix the meat into the onions and move aside to make a little space in bottom of casserole. Add oil if necessary, and scrape the chili-garlic mixture out into the pan. Fry gently until soft and aromatic, then add 1 cup of stock and scrape the bottom to deglaze.
- Add beans, bay leaves, remaining chili flakes, coriander, oregano and cumin (if using), and enough stock to almost cover the beans and meat. Reduce heat to low simmer and cover.
- Cook on very low heat for 1 hour, checking every 30 minutes and adding stock or boiling water if necessary to keep the liquid level up. After 1 hour, taste meat for tenderness. If not yet fork-tender, add liquid as needed and cook in 30 minute increments until it is (the time between 1-2.5 hours will depend on the kind of meat you used).
- Once meat is tender, crack the lid of the casserole partially open and allow chili to reduce to desired consistency. I add the wine at some point during this time.
- Serve topped with a little bit of Turkish yogurt, shredded cheese and coriander leaves.
Om nom nom nom nom!
This can obviously be combined with chili seasoning, smoked spanish paprika, chopped celery, a box of sieved tomatoes, and any of your other favourite chili ingredients. Having tried the above with those, any one or combination of them hurts it not at all! And, like with any stew, it is even (and much) better the next day, and the day after (if you are like me and make a huge vat of it so that there is any left over)!