Friday, January 27, 2012

Food Features: Experimental Cooking: Southwestern Chili

My mother made all our spaghetti sauce when I was a kid. From scratch. Actually, almost everything in the house was made from scratch, but that's another story. But her spaghetti sauce was more or less ragu style - lots of hearty meat and chopped vegetables, cooked slowly for a long time to make the flavors all blend together.

Thinking in terms of that chunky ragu style, I decided to try my hand at making a homemade Southwestern chili. No recipe, just using what (little) I know of cooking and a whole lot of bravery.

It should be noted that I'm a wuss when it comes to heat. I like spice and like flavors, but I don't like foods that are so hot my lips go numb or I start to sweat. So if you want more hot spiciness, up the pepper quotient.

The basic ingredients were about 1/2 pound of ground (mince) beef 20% fat, 1 yellow onion, 1 yellow pepper and 1 green pepper (or red could be used), 8-10 cherry tomatoes sliced in half, 2 cans of kidney beans, 1 cup corn, 1 can of tomatoes, a bunch of cilantro (coriander), pepper, salt, about 1 tsp each of mild chili pepper and ground chipotle pepper and sour cream for taste. All the vegetables were coarsely chopped - the ideas is for this to be a rustic looking dish, so pretty perfectly chopped tiny bits don't work as well.

Southwestern Chili:  All the ingredients
starting to simmer in the pot
After heating up a big stock pot nice and hot, start browning the meat. Add a couple tablespoons of water as well to keep it from sticking to the pot. You could add oil, but I got the fattier beef so that the only oil in the dish would be the oil from the meat. No need to add any more. When the meat is halfway browned, add the onions. Add salt and pepper to taste, about 1 tsp each.

When those start to soften add the peppers and turn the heat to medium. Add chili powder and chipotle powder. Let those simmer for a couple minutes or so. Then add the corn and kidney beans. I leave the syrup in because it adds more flavor and a little bit of sweetness, but if you don’t like that then you can rinse the beans and add a small amount of water. Then add the tomatoes and coriander and turn the heat to low. Put on a lid and simmer for at least 30 minutes. I let it cook for about 45. The longer you simmer, more flavors will meld. But the longer you simmer, the more the vegetables will turn to mush, so it's a matter of personal taste how long you cook

Serve in a heaping bowl and garnish with sour cream and cilantro.

Isn't that beautiful?
VERDICT: This was FANTASTIC. There was tons of flavor, the textures were great. The coolness of the sour cream and cilantro really contrasted well with the meat, vegetables and spices and gave it a really nice depth. Not really any heat but, like I said, I'm a wuss. There was quite a bit of liquid, I think because the tomatoes I used added extra water, so not quite as thick as a traditional chili con carne. But not really a soup either.

Had I thought about it I would have made some cornbread to go with it, but absolutely not necessarily either.

Definitely a winner. We'll be making this one again.

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