Red Chili Con Carne for Dark Stormy Days

I’ve needed a bit of a rest after the activity of the parties, the guests, and running around all of previous weekend.  In addition to this, a couple of cyclones with reeeally low-pressure zones have passed over Sweden in the past week, rendering me into a tiny ball of hibernating creature in a pile of blankets.

So, I have spent the remainder of the week recuperating, reading books for my university, and eating comfort food.  What food?  Well considering that I am a huge fan of chili peppers and I love all things meat, and legumes are my friend – chili con carne of course!  It’s warming, it’s comforting, it’s filling and full-bodied and spicily aromatic, it’s thickly meaty and it’s simply gorgeously red – well, at least this one is!

... and it's holiday-colored to boot!

I’ve heard it (rightly!) said that there are as many ways to cook chili as there are cooks, and in fact there are more, because there are different kinds of chili that I make depending on what’s in the house and what I feel like, and in fact I’ve written about white chunky chili with black and white beans before (and the post linked has a lot of good info about stews and beans in general), and that one is wonderful.  But just because I love the black formal dress, doesn’t mean the red cocktail one languishes forgotten – and so this week, I made my glorious(ly easy) red chili.  Because tomato marries amazingly with the meat and beans and chili peppers and because when the weather is gloomy, this is what you need.  So, in my enlightened opinion, you should make it.  Seriously.

Now, before I go any further, please let me (again) admonish you to use good quality dried beans.  Beans are, for some reason, regarded as culinarily interchangeable in terms of where and how you get them (canned, packed, dried, whatever).  That is not true.  Neither is it true that beans all taste the same or have the same texture.

Pinto beans - thank you, wikipedia!

Having lived in the USA, I love pinto beans.  Not only are they bead-jewellery pretty, but their skins are not tough (compared, for example, to red kidney beans, which are), and they are wonderfully tender when cooked, which makes them (in my view) ideal for thick stews and chili.

Now, in the case of this chili, it is not of paramount importance which beans you prefer, but the quality of them, and the pre-soaking does matter.  Yes, you can buy the canned or packed versions, but they will not be the same simply because they always have firming agents added to prevent the beans from disintegrating while in aseptic storage (in the can or tetrapack), and that degrades both their taste, and more importantly, their texture.  I am not here (today) to preach about the evil of the food additives, but in this case, just about the fact that this specific one makes you compromise on the quality.  Your choice.

So, if you do want to follow my suggestion, this will involve overnight soaking of beans.  But, fear not – you need not stand over them all night!  A pot of cold water and the fridge do all the work!  No, really, they do!  And besides, cooking the beans at home after soaking reduces, the, ahm, less fortunate gastric effects of eating them, which is a good reason to do it all on its own!

So what do you need to make this?  (Makes a 2L pot of chili – feeds 4, or 2 – twice)

  • 1 cup (2.5dl) dried beans of your choice, soaked in cold water overnight, drained and rinsed.
  • 1-2 onions (depends on size of onions and how well you like them), peeled and chopped.
  • 5-6 tablespoons of cooking fat of your choice.  I swear by rendered bacon grease, but butter or olive oil, or a combo of any of the above will work.
  • ~ 500g ground meat.  I prefer to use blended beef and pork for more tenderness and flavor.
  • 1dl white wine (optional but good!)
  • Up to 1L of stock or boiling water with some meat or chicken fond in equivalent amount
  • 1 box crushed tomatoes (about 500ml)
  • 4-5 cloves of garlic, peeled and chopped
  • 1 large red chili OR 1-2 teaspoons of chili flakes OR the one fresh chili and some chili flakes, OR 2 red chilies… it all depends on your capsaicin tolerance (and mine is pretty high).
  • 1/2 to 1 teaspoon of ground chipotle (smoked dried red jalapeno peppers), chipotle paste, or smoked hot paprika.
  • 1-2 teaspoons ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • A pinch of dried culinary lavender (optional but oh so gorgeously great – it goes amazingly well with chili pepper!)
  • 2 teaspoons garlic powder or granules (entirely optional, but I am a garlic nut and it tends to bring out the flavor of the fresh garlic used more… MORE!!!)
  • 3-4 bay leaves
  • Sea salt to taste
  • Some fresh oregano, parsley or coriander leaves (to serve)
  • Sour cream or 10% fat turkish or greek yogurt (to serve)

What you do:

  • (Skip this and next steps if using canned beans, just drain and rinse those) The night before, rinse your beans under running water, place in a bowl or pot, cover with a lot of cold water, put the lid on or plastic-wrap the top of bowl, and put in refrigerator (to prevent sprouting).
  • When ready to make chili, drain, rinse again, and put in the pot with some cold water.  Bring to a boil, drain, rinse, replace water with fresh cold water, and then cook until nearly tender (this can be as little as 20 minutes or as long as 1 hour depending on your beans).
  • While beans are cooking, preheat a large soup pot on medium heat, and add 2-3 tbsp of olive oil, butter or bacon fat.  When hot, add the onions and cook them slowly until they begin to caramelize (are translucent and get browned edges).
  • In a frying pan (nonstick is ok), heat 1 tbsp of aforementioned fat on medium-high heat, and fry the ground meat until it’s browned.  Shove to the side, add garlic and chili (fresh or dried), and fry for a minute or so, then mix in and fry another 1-2 minutes on medium heat.  Turn heat off and add to the pot with onions as soon as onions are ready.  Rinse frying pan with a bit of boiling water or deglaze with wine and add to the pot.
  • Add the chopped tomatoes (and if you have any sad-looking aging tomatoes in your fridge, they should get chopped and added too), the chipotle powder or paste, cumin, oregano, (optional) garlic granules or powder and bay leaves.  Add the nearly-done and drained beans, and enough stock or water+fond to nearly cover the meat and beans, and stir.
  • Bring to a very low simmer, turn heat to low, cover and allow to cook, stirring occasionally, for about an hour, 1.5 hours is better.
  • Taste, adjust seasonings, fish out the bay leaves if you can find them (or else you can do that when you eat, no huge deal), and add the lavender (if using), crushing the florets in your fingers.  Stir in.
  • Place a heaping tablespoon or two of sour cream or yogurt into the bottoms of your serving bowls, ladle the chili over, and sprinkle with greenery.
  • Take to sofa, pull the throw over your lap, lay a napkin on it, and go at it.

Bring along a huge mug of coffee, and listen to the wind howling outside.  There you go, gloominess and chill negated.

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4 thoughts on “Red Chili Con Carne for Dark Stormy Days

  1. I guess this is the closest I’ll get to having snow this Christmas :D
    I love chili con carne. Haven’t tried it with pinto beans tho … sounds good, looks great! I’ll do that next time. I’ve always added some cocoa powder in my chili. I’m sure you’d think I’m totally weird (I am) but I thought it gave a nice smokey flavor to it (or maybe it’s just my imagination, like I can taste that through all those herbs and spices).
    How appropriately festive with the falling bits of styrofoam …snow, I meant, snow!

    1. You and me are both total carnivores! And yes, I believe that real meat should be one of the main components of a chili – all of those “vegetarian chili and your carnivore friends will love it”-recipes are just wishful thinking on behalf of those vegetarians! Meat! It’s what’s for dinner! <3

      And yes, I love the wordpress "snow for the holidays" option! Now if it would already snow outside, !£:!@ it!

    1. If you’ve never cooked with lavender, it’s very much worth trying – the only thing to remember is that it is one of those things you want to be very sparing with, even more so than hot spices – it’s both, strong and in large quantity can be a little bitter. A pinch of it in a pot of chili or soup though is just lovely!

      Make sure to get culinary-grade (untreated) lavender from a spice shop or a reliable supplier!

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