Saturday, January 16, 2010

Chili Magic

Chili is one of winter’s comfort foods, a flavorful tonic when unending gray, soggy days dampen the spirits. It has also worked it’s magic on cold, stormy days in spring while we’re cruising up north. Today there are chili reminders are everywhere I look around the kitchen… 

A Southwest cookbook collection calls out to me, "chili, chili, cook up a batch of chili..."

Chile and garlic ristras hang from the ceiling, bottled spices and hot sauces lurk in cabinets, bags of masa show up in the freezer, and a grocery ad features beef. What’s a cook to do? Make chili, of course.

Easy to say, but it is a challenge to decide which recipe to use. Usually it’s a combination of ingredients and methods selected from favorite cookbooks, magazines and online sources... freeform chili cookery. No matter, I know that my favorite red chili will always include a variety of chiles, Mexican oregano, cumin, garlic, onions, tomatoes, masa and beef.

My chili begins with dried chipotle, ancho and mild New Mexico pods, heated in a dry cast iron skillet to soften. This really perfumes the kitchen! Sometimes I stem and seed the chiles and grind up the pods in an old coffee grinder. 

Other times after softening I remove seeds and stems and whiz the pulp in a blender with enough water to make a thick slurry. Either way, there’s always more than enough for one batch of chili. It keeps. On board the boat, jars of chili powder and various ground chiles stand in for the real deal. 

We like a mix of browned chunky beef and ground beef, simmered for hours in its spicy, tomato chile sauce, with beans as a side dish. But if I need to stretch a batch for unexpected guests, then I’ll add extra water and toss the beans into the mix. Pinto beans, red beans, black beans - they're all good, backed up with garlic, onion, spices and a touch of orange juice and zest. 

Final touches can include a hint of chocolate and a bit of masa harina in a slurry for thickening. The personalized taste treat comes in the “fixins and mixins”, toppings to brighten the layers of bold chile flavors. Favorites include chopped fresh cilantro, minced white onion, diced avocado, shredded cheddar or Jack cheese and sour cream. 

 (Recipe link to follow - after I work out how to link a recipe page to this one)

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