The fourth Thursday of February every year is National Chili Day, so on Feb. 25 I celebrated by making my son’s chili recipe.
How that day became an observation of all things chili isn’t clear, but who cares? Any reason for chili cook-offs, potlucks, feeds and bottomless bowls is justification enough.
Chili is something of a special item in Sam’s culinary repertoire, pretty much because it’s the first. He is the child of mine who, when first out on his own in the world, lived on boxed, frozen and bagged edibles of dubious nutritional value. At some point, rather than opening a can of chili, he thought how hard could it be to fry up hamburger meat and dump in a packet of chili seasoning and a couple of cans of beans?
Not so hard, as it turned out, but only marginally flavorful. Thus began many years of experimentation until he developed a chili he really liked, one that was flexible enough that it could be amended for whatever suited his tastebuds at that particular moment.
“I’d make it and eat it throughout the week,” Sam said. “Big time and budget saver.”
That led to a whole explosion of adventures in the kitchen, many of which he’s shared with his appreciative but still amazed parents.
Now married, he didn’t know he had actually developed a chili concoction that others might like, too, until, after making it for dinner one night, his husband asked him to write the recipe down to share with friends and family. A written recipe? That had never occurred to him.
That Ryan, a native Texan and himself the king of queso, liked it, was something of an eye-opener for Sam, and so he attempted to provide a recipe to share, and sharing it is something I am doing here. Sam’s recipes are more like conversations sprinkled with ingredients, so just go with the flow.
There is a rich history of chili in America, and, of course, all sorts of variations, but this one is my favorite. I love that it’s smoky, vegetable-dense and not too overwhelmingly chili-flavored – and with just a touch of heat, which you can ramp up as desired. So, enjoy.
And note, too, that National Corn Chip Day was Feb. 24. How convenient.
Sam’s Smoky Chili
1 lb. ground protein of your choice
1 15 oz. can each: Red or kidney beans, black beans, diced tomatoes
1 4 oz. can green chilis
2 or 3 cloves of minced garlic
1 onion, diced and divided into two equal portions
2 medium celery stalks, diced
1 carrot, diced
1 bell pepper of your choosing, seeded and diced
1-2 Tbsp. tomato paste
Stock of your choosing (about 2 cups, give or take)
One packet of chili seasoning mix
Salt and pepper
One big ole pot or Dutch oven with lid
Cornstarch slurry (2 Tbsp. cornstarch mixed with 2 Tbsp. water)
Extra chili powder
Harissa powder (recommended)
… and more stuff (see below)
Sauté half the diced onion in pot, on medium heat, with about 1 tablespoon olive oil, until translucent. Add minced garlic cloves for a minute at the end (don’t want them to burn, just release their oils). Season with salt and pepper to your liking. Here’s where I add a little extra garlic powder. Garlic is my friend.
Add protein of choice, then brown the meat. Once browned, drain, remove from pot and set aside for a bit.
In the same pot, sauté the other half of the diced onion along with the diced celery, bell pepper and carrot. Season with salt and pepper to your own preference. Add a little olive oil (if needed). Cook down/sauté on medium heat until soft and translucent (maybe 10 minutes). Add a 1-2 Tbsp. tomato paste, and sauté briefly with veggies, as it will add a deep, rich tomato flavor.
Drain red beans and black beans, then add them into the pot.
Add green chilis and diced tomatoes (with juice) into the pot.
Add the protein to the pot. Stir all this stuff together, if you haven’t already. You should have a veggie-beany-meaty sludge. Great!
Add seasoning mix. (Optional: I add a generous ½ tsp. of Harissa powder to get a nice smoky taste, and also a pinch of chili powder; more chili powder if you want to up the heat quotient).
We should still be in the sludge stage. Add stock and stir, until you get the chili consistency you desire. You can add more stock if you want chili to be more soupy.
Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer, cover, and let it simmer for at least 30 minutes. The longer the simmer, the more the flavors meld. So, if you have some time to kill, let it go for an hour or so. Stir occasionally. Let the flavorful steam waft into your nostrils and enjoy your house smelling like a campfire by the open range.
If you like a thicker chili, add a cornstarch slurry, as much as you need. The seasoning mix will already have some cornstarch in it to thicken the chili, but sometimes it needs a little help.
You can serve it as is, over rice or noodles, with a generous helping of grated cheese or sour cream. I’m also partial to a garnish of cilantro and lime. But this recipe is really forgiving. You want corn? Add corn. You want a white chili? Use white beans and chicken instead. Add paprika for more smoke. Cayenne or red pepper flakes? Sure. Omit and add as you see fit. It’s totally up to you.
I’ve also made the chili the day before, put it in a large, covered plastic bowl to let the flavors marinate overnight and served it the next day. Even better. It freezes well, too. Just a great on-hand meal packed with protein and veggies!
Stefanie Pettit can be reached at email@example.com