A huge snowstorm is headed my way. The weatherman has instructed his entire viewing area to avoid driving tomorrow at all costs. I’ve filled my generator with fuel so I can smugly report to my friends that I’m streaming movies while they’re trying to keep the pipes from freezing. The kids won’t have school tomorrow. Ah, winter in Maine.
My favorite winter activity is stewing something warm and awesome on the stovetop. There’s no better distraction from being holed up in the house than a hearty dish, at least until you find that one magical threat that’ll get your sons onto the porch to clear the snow from the door. In my comfort food world–and on stormy winter days–chili reigns supreme.
Whether it’s meat-based, bean-based or a combination of both, most people agree that the core seasonings–cumin, onion, chiles–give chili its unique identity. There are countless stories of its origins, but they all point to a stew originating in Texas and inspired by Spanish flavors. One version of chili’s history tells the story of Texan explorers pounding dried meat, spices and chiles together into a paste, forming it into blocks and toting them around on the open range as an old-school MRE of sorts. They would simply rehydrate them, so these chili bricks were the ultimate convenience food. While I’m intrigued by this idea, rest assured my recipe won’t have you standing over a stone bowl pounding dried meat (though if you do, please let me know how it goes!).
Many purists will tell you that chili starts with a base of cubed beef, and I like that version very much. My recipe calls for ground beef because if your goal is to get in and out of the kitchen quickly, it’s the key to getting this dish onto the table in about 20 minutes. Just saute the meat and vegetables together, dump the rest in, cover and walk away. If you follow my instructions more carefully–browning and caramelizing the meat, followed by a quick sweat of the vegetables before adding the other ingredients–you will still be done assembling the dish in half an hour and you can move on to something else as it simmers. If you prefer the slow-cooked, “well-watched-pot” experience, simply substitute an equal amount of cubed chuck steak and cook the chili longer, until the meat begins to fall apart when pressed with a fork.
You’ve probably already scrolled through the recipe and wondered why I include crushed tortilla chips in the chili. Well, I have found over the years that crushing chips into my chili somehow makes it taste better–more finished, really–especially when the chili was a quick meal I threw together on a busy night. I’ve surmised that the chips add a depth to the chili–a slightly nutty toasted element–that adds character to the whole experience and helps to thicken the dish. The chip crumbs are an insurance policy, guarding against a hasty preparation that all too often results in a dull-tasting meal. A bit of chopped carrot adds a sweetness to balance the assertive spices.
As a final note, you can prepare a large quantity of the seasoning mix in this recipe to have on hand for added convenience. Simply combine them in an airtight jar and use approximately ¼ c. of seasoning mix per pound of meat. It’s just as easy as the store-bought packets without the added MSG, thickeners and salt, and it’s cheaper to boot.
Using crushed tortilla chips to thicken this chili adds both body and salt to improve the flavor and texture of the dish while increasing the whole grains in the meal.
Servings: 6 (472 g )
Prep Time: 20 min.
Cook Time: 45 min.
- 1 lb. 96% lean ground beef
- 1 cup diced bell pepper
- 1 cup diced onion
- 1 cup diced carrot
- 1 (15.5 oz.) can black beans, drained and rinsed
- 2 (28 oz.) cans crushed tomatoes
- 1 cup finely crushed white corn tortilla chips
- 1 Tbsp. parsley
- 4 tsp. chili powder
- 2 tsp. chopped garlic
- 2 tsp. cumin
- ¼ tsp. oregano
- ½ tsp. pepper
- Preheat a large saucepan over medium-high heat. Cook beef until evenly browned (6-8 minutes).
- Stir in bell pepper, onion, and carrot to the pot. Cook until the vegetables begin to soften (5-6 minutes).
- Add remaining ingredients and stir to combine. Bring to a simmer, reduce heat to medium-low, cover, and simmer to heat through (20 minutes).