Blurry chili! ~ Ham Pie Sandwiches

03 December 2007

Blurry chili!

There's this dude at work named Erik. We have some mild food competition going on, made especially mild by our different-genred food; I say "I have quinoa salad!" and he says "I made brisket!" It's more of a "that's interesting!" response, followed by speculation on lunch and what to cook later on that day, plus occasional offers to try whatever was so good (like today, when I got to try a piece of his sisterinlaw's curry pizza, in which you could taste the coconut milk in the curry sauce. It was strange and good at the same time). But! the mild competition is still there. I won't generally come in and say "hey! We went across to the taqueria and got takeout burritos last night!"; I will come in and say "I made this awesome palak paneer!"

So the other day I mentioned that I was going to make chili. I didn't expect this to get that much response, since chili is one of the easiest things ever. I was just hungry and wanted to talk about dinner. So it was pretty surprising when he got extremely, intensely interested and started saying things like, "From scratch? You don't use a set starting mix or anything? That is pretty hardcore! Word."

I was kind of taken aback. It is chili! You boil beans in a pot! Then I started thinking about food culture in the US, and the very specific fooding events such as barbecue competitions and chili cookoffs, and how everyone practices and refines their own particular secret recipe over years of patient, delicious study. I guess that could produce this kind of response.

My recipe is not secret at all. It's also cheap and easy. It requires a lot of sitting around doing other things while it boils and boils, but that's no surprise considering chili. Then in the end you get a gigantic vat of deliciousness that you can reheat and reheat for days at a time. That's certainly worth the sitting around part to me.

Giant vat CHILI.

beans of some type
olive oil
hot peppers
bell pepper
frozen corn
tomato puree
water/bean broth
chik patties if you want
paprika, cumin, salt, pepper, cayenne, oregano

Start the day before: get out your choice of dried beans and soak them overnight in twice their depth of water. You can use any kind of beans you want. Red kidney beans are probably the most classic chili bean, but you get good results from navy beans or black beans as well. Sometimes we even use garbanzos. Use whatever combination of beans you like. I would soak about two cups for gigantic long-lasting vat of chili.

The next day, pour off the water, replace it with fresh, and put the beans on to boil. They need about an hour to get really tender; while they're cooking, you can start on spicy happy vegetable base.

Chop up a big onion and several cloves of garlic. You can use shallot if you want, but chili is spicy enough that you won't be able to taste the specific shallot flavor. Stick them in a large, deep pot with some olive oil and cook slowly while you chop up a jalapeƱo, or whatever hot pepper you like. I think I used two jalapeƱos this time; you know your own spice tolerance, so you use whatever you want. Chop them really finely for maximum flavor balance, then add them to the onion.

Also start the initial spicing at this point. I used lots of paprika and cumin plus a little oregano and cayenne. Normally one might use chili powder for something like this. I didn't have any, so I looked on the back of the chili powder jar and found out it was made of ground chili pepper, cumin, and oregano. Ok. I had cumin and oregano. Paprika and cayenne are both chili peppers, so I had it pretty well covered.

Once the spice and onion mix has softened and matured a little bit, it's time to start on vegetables. I listed a whole lot of vegetables up there, since I might use any or all of those in a pot of chili. None of them are Absolutely Necessary, though I think bell pepper and corn are the most important. You should use whatever you have and think would be delicious.

In this instance, I used:
- a carrot
- the very heart of a bunch of old limp celery
- a whole green pepper
- a cup or so of corn.

Dice everything up as finely as you like it, then add it to the pot. John likes the most finely textured chili possible, so we try to dice everything really finely. You can defrost corn before adding it, or you can add it frozen; it will just take a little longer to reheat the pot contents if you use frozen.

Stir it all up and cook it together while the beans finish.

At this point you can start thinking about meat replacement bits. First, do you want any of them? You are already going to have a whole bunch of beans in this business. You could clearly do without. If you do want meat replacements (or meat! Brown some ground meat of choice. Done.), think about what kind. I think this is the perfect vehicle for tvp, since it provides chewy bits of ground-beefy texture. John likes to add some warmed chik patties, diced up, to become slightly differently chewy bits. You could also do tempeh pretty easily, although I'd probably cook that separately at the end, crisping it in a frying pan and then crumbling it over my bowl. I would not put tofu in the chili.

Ok. Are the beans done? We are ready for combination.

Pour the entire pan of beans and boiling liquid into the big onion pot. You could also pour off the liquid and use broth, but since said liquid IS broth, I see no real reason to do that.

Chop up whatever meat replacement bits that might need chopping, then add them to the pot.

Open a can of tomatoes, or defrost a big preserved garden hunk, you responsible person, then add them to the pot. Salt, especially for commercially canned tomatoes. I like to use tomato puree for the smoothest texture.

Stir it all up, check seasonings, and bring to a boil. Then turn the heat down to low, put on the lid, and let the whole business simmer for as long as you can possibly stand. Aim for an hour or longer. Check it every once in a while to see what's going on and whether you can think about eating it yet. Then, when you can't stand it any longer, get out some bowls and a ladle and lay into it.

Things to serve with chili:
- aforementioned crispy tempeh crumbles
- little cubes or shreds of cheese stirred into each bowl; I like mozzarella

Guess which one I made during the last half hour of chili cooking, when I was about to die of hunger.

For cornbread, I just used the recipe off the side of the Bob's Red Mill bag. It worked pretty well. I made it in muffin tins for maximum later portability. This was an excellent plan, although I would change one thing: for the love of god, BUTTER and probably also flour the muffin papers if you want to have any chance of getting them out in one piece. Make cornbread right at the end, so you can sit down and have bowls of scorching chili with muffins hot enough to melt the butter, or perhaps the HONEY you put on them. Honey.

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