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February Chili, warming up before the storm

February 13, 2007

February Chili

The first chili of the season, back in September, was so insanely spicy it was almost inedible. It caused our dinner guests to request hair dryers and towels, they were sweating so profusely. It was accidental burn-your-face-off chili because I had never used chipotles before, and added in about twelve of them. Yeah.

I decided it was time for another batch of chili this week. The temperatures have been below freezing for the past 2 weeks, and tomorrow we’re supposed to be hit by the first monster storm of the winter. Even without the chipotle overdose, my chili tends to be on the hotter side, and this time around I wanted to see if I was even capable of toning it down a bit. I also tried out a new secret ingredient, and went 100% vegetarian, so housemate #2, Alex, could indulge and warm up with us. I have to say, I think this is one of my better versions–without the excess of spice, you could actually taste the other things in there! Of course, I’m sure I’ll never reproduce it exactly this way again. I don’t think I’ve ever made the same chili twice. But this one will go down in my memory as one of the best.

February New Secret Ingredient Chili

  • 2-3 T. olive oil 
  • 1 small yellow onion, chopped 
  • 1 green and 1 red pepper, coarsely chopped 
  • 1 15-oz. can of pinto beans
  • 1 15-oz. can of black beans
  • 1 20-oz. can of kidney beans
  • 1 28-oz. can of crushed tomatoes
  • 1/2 T. (or a few shakes) each of garlic powder, cumin, and cayenne pepper
  • about 3-4 tsps. unsweetened cocoa powder
  • 2 chipotle peppers, with a bit of the adobo sauce, chopped
  • salt and pepper to taste

Check out my chili, baby.

My usual secret ingredient is about a cup of strongly brewed black coffee. I have been putting coffee in my chili since I started making chili, way back in high school. It adds a kind of smoky, meaty taste, which is especially nice for vegetarian chili. But a month or so ago I started thinking that an unsweetened dark cocoa might be worth trying. And it was. In future, I’d probably use more–maybe 2-3 tablespoons, instead of teaspoons. And I’ve heard tell that you can actually throw in pieces of dark chocolate and let it melt, but that just seems like crazy talk to me.

I love chili because it’s about the easiest thing in the world, there are endless variations, and there is maybe nothing more comforting in the cold, nasty winter. This held true even when I was growing up in San Diego, and we didn’t really have cold, nasty winters. It was a staple dinner of my childhood, a camping trip regular, a dependable addition to parties. Now I probably make it at least two or three times every winter, and out here in Boston, it is certainly more of a winter necessity than it was in my southern California childhood.

Heat the oil in a large soup pot over medium heat, and add the onions. Cook them down for about five minutes, until they start to become transclucent. Add the chopped peppers, and cook for a few minutes more. Then, basically, add everything else and stir it up. Taste a lot to make sure you have a good balance of flavors, enough salt, etc. etc. Then let it sit on the stove for anywhere from half an hour to several hours, over low, low heat. The longer it sits the better it will taste, just be sure to stir it every now and then so the bottom doesn’t burn. How easy is that?

You can top it with whatever you want. Cheese is always good, as are avocados, green onions, sour cream. You can be pretty creative. You can do tons of stuff with the leftovers, too: Mix it with brown rice, or with macaroni and cheese (a personal favorite), or put it over some tortilla chips for nachos, or on french fries, for a really terrible indulgence. Generally, I end up eating it on its own, quickly microwaved for lunch, for days afterwards. This time, though, it went pretty fast–we don’t really have leftovers. A good sign that this chili was a winner.

One last look at the chili.

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