Thursday, March 3, 2011

What's Cooking?: Chili - No Recipe Needed!

"I would like to find a stew that will give me heartburn immediately, instead of at three o'clock in the morning."  ~John Barrymore

I love chili! It's one of my very favorite things to cook and totally worth the heartburn.  I like to cook chili in my slow cooker while I am at work.... oh there is nothing better than coming home to a house that smells of fresh chili!

Chili is basically a stew made with beans and chili's.   Then of course there is chili con carne which is a stew of beans, chili's and meat, usually beef, but pork, chicken or turkey can be a good choice as well- if meats your thing that is :)

The great thing about a stew is that you really can't mess it up.  There is no wrong way to make a stew and chili is no exception.  There is lot's of room for creativity and variety which can make cooking chili a lot of fun!

The basics:
Pretty much every chili I ever make has at least these few ingredients in common.  Start with a chopped onion, bell pepper (or two, use a red and yellow to add some color) and a clove or two of garlic.  Cook all with some olive oil in a skillet over medium heat until soft (about 5 minutes or so) then add 2 or 3 tablespoons your choice of chili powder (chili powder is a blend so there are lot's of different kinds with different levels of heat and flavor options, perhaps try a chipotle chili powder for a smoky flavor) and cook for another 30 seconds or so.  Add that mixture to your slow cooker or stew pot with a 28 ounce can of crushed tomatoes. 
Now you get creative!  

Pick your bean:
It is amazing the variety of beans there are out there!  Try a white bean like great northern beans or cannelloni beans.  Or maybe a chili with chickpeas, hominy or lentils for a change.  Don't forget to check out the dried beans, there are all sorts of heirloom varieties available to try as well. Or mix and match, how about a three bean chili with kidney, black and pinto.  Or maybe a chili with hominy and white beans.  How about lentils and chickpeas?  The possibilities are endless.  Use two or three 15.5 ounce cans or a cup to a cup and a half of dry beans (pre-soak overnight before adding to the stew).
Add some heat:
We are talking about chili here after all!  The peppers are not necessary but certainly add some flavor.  I keep 4 ounce cans of diced green chili's in my pantry all the time, they are a staple in my house and might be all you need for a good pot of chili.  Or add a diced jalapeno if you like (with or without the seeds depending on how much heat you want).  Those are the two I use most often but there is no reason to stop there.  Check out the other varieties of peppers available and experiment!

Spice it up:
I seem to be drawn to ground cumin often and a little bit of salt and pepper when I make chili.  But again, there is no reason to stop there.  Follow your nose, the sense of taste and smell are very closely related so if something smells like it would taste good in your chili, then go for it!  You might like an 'herby' flavor with some orgeano, thym or maybe even a bay leaf. What about a curry blend or maybe some cayenne pepper?  You can't go wrong!  Just don't overdo it, a little bit of spice goes a long way.

Fill it out:
If you like add some other vegetables to your chili to fill it out a bit.  How about some eggplant for a little 'meaty' texture, or maybe a sweet potato for some extra starch and nutritional value.  If it will hold up to long cooking (any ingredient you find in stew recipes) then it might be worth a try in your chili.

Mix it up some more:
Sometimes I like to try some other flavors other than just 'spicy'.  I have made chili with a little bit of unsulfured molasses (about 1/4 to 1/3 of a cup) for a sweet and spicy fusion.  I have also added some fresh ginger for a little bit of interest with good results.  Think of other recipes you have worked with before and enjoyed and play with those ingredients in your chili.

Let the magic happen:
After you have put together your chosen ingredients just cook on low for 6 to 10 hours and there you have it!  Serve with some bread (cornbread, french bread, or even just saltine crackers) and maybe a salad and you have yourself a wonderful nutritious and healthful meal to enjoy!  Chili also makes for great leftovers!  Freeze in single serving sizes for lunches and easy meals for several weeks!

Chili is a great source of protein, complex carbs, and fiber.  It's low in fat and sodium (use dried beans instead of canned and don't add salt to control the sodium level) and low calorie. It's a great choice for a post run/workout recovery meal!


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