Chili Basics and Variants

No matter what time of year, whatever the weather, there is always one dish that can be prepared and be perfectly appropriate for everyone, with modifications for almost any diet: chili. Whether you’re a part of the “no beans allowed” club or not, chili is a satisfying meal to share or to make in greater volume to freeze ahead for quick meals. I’m going to share a few tips and tricks that I’ve done along the way that brings out flavour in key areas.
Whether it’s a meat chili or a vegetable-based one, roasting of some components always add flavour. Today I’ll be focusing on a meat-based chili (look for a vegetable-based one coming soon).
One day while making chili, I wanted a hands-free approach to browning off the meat while I prepared biscuits, so I decided to crumble the ground beef on parchment-lined baking sheets and roast at a very high temperature. It’s incredibly efficient and requires much less oil to initiate the browning like you would need if you browned in a pot on the stovetop. I’ve also enjoyed blending different meats in chili or having part of the meat component be a flavourful sausage meat. My favourite is a nice spicy Italian sausage. I personally go between two sources for sausage, Sunshine Organic Farm, a local farm just to the southwest of where I live that butcher their own meat and make a wonderful variety of sausages or to Acme Meat Market, a local butcher who links a variety of great sausages fresh each weekend. It’s a bit of a lottery when their hot Italian sausages come up but they always have delicious varieties that would enliven any chili recipe.
With any chili recipe there always seems to be a secrecy behind anyone’s spice mix that they use. In this day and age when a 10 second Google search can give you KFC’s 11 herb & spice recipe, there are no secrets. I usually don’t get overly complex. A moderately spicy component, a salty/savoury component, a sweet component, a sharp component. These usually come from spices like chili powder, garlic powder, oregano, celery seeds, cocoa, cumin seeds. Most people initially say, “Cocoa?” Yes, it adds a smoothness to the overall chili and a mysterious, subtle sweetness to the chili. A small amount of dark chocolate will do the trick as well, but adding milk chocolate will overpower what you are trying to achieve so I tend to avoid it. But, ultimately, chili is one of the best places for personalization. If you like a sweeter flavour, a bit of maple syrup, honey or brown sugar is great. If you want more boldness, part of the liquid component can be filled with beer or cola instead of water or stock.

Basic Chili

500g/1 lb Sunshine Organic lean ground beef
250g/0.5 lb Sunshine Organic or Acme Meat Market hot Italian sausage meat
1 cup chopped onion
1 tsp Mighty Trio Organics cold pressed canola oil
1 large Doef’s Greenhouses hot Hungarian banana pepper (about 1/4 cup seeded and chopped)
1 small can tomato paste
1 large can whole tomatoes, crushed by hand
2 cups cooked pinto beans (if you aren’t in the “no beans allowed” club)
Salt to taste

For the spice mix:

3 Tbsp chili powder
3 Tbsp garlic powder
3 Tbsp sweet Hungarian paprika
1 Tbsp celery seeds
1 Tbsp cumin seeds
2 Tbsp dried oregano
1 tsp cocoa powder

To blend the spice mix, add everything but the dried oregano and cocoa powder to a small grinder (a small coffee grinder dedicated to only grinding spices works great). Grind to a fine powder. Add the oregano and cocoa powder and stir to combine. Set aside.
Preheat oven to 220C/450F and line two large baking sheets with parchment paper.
Crumble the ground beef and sausage meat evenly in one layer over the prepared pans. Sprinkle the chopped onions over the top and lightly drizzle with oil.

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Roast in the preheated oven for 10-15 minutes until the meat is browned and the onions are softened. Transfer the mixture to a large pot or Dutch oven. Add the chopped banana pepper, 3/4 of the spice mix and tomato paste.

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Add the crushed canned tomatoes, 3 cups of water (or beer, cola, stock, as mentioned above, if you want to further heighten the flavour). Add a teaspoon or two of salt and the cooked beans (if using), stir to combine everything together and bring to a simmer over medium high heat. Cover loosely, reduce heat to low and simmer for at least two hours (Note: after roasting the meat, you could transfer all the ingredients to a slow cooker and let it go for 8-10 hours as a fully hands-free option). Stir the mixture occasionally and if the chili is too thin continue to simmer with the lid off for a further 20-30 minutes. In the last 10 minutes of cooking, add the last 1/4 of the spice mix to give a fresh punch of spice to the simmered complexity of the earlier addition. Serve on its own, with shredded cheese, sour cream, over cooked rice or my favourite, some of Gold Forest Grains delicious unhulled whole barley. Serves 8-10.

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