Thursday, December 12, 2013

Adam's Favorite Chili

Chili is one of those dishes that I think everyone associates with fond, cozy memories. For me it's the highlight after a morning of skiing (with a cup of hot cocoa, of course), the food for good company, or a delicious end to a lazy, wintery Sunday. We've shifted types of cold in New York recently—from pleasantly chilly to bone-numbing freezing—and this chili is the type you start on the latter's weekend morning. The kind when its too cold to leave the house, and the chili's slow-cooking aromas waft from the stove, permeating your home and warming you up, body and soul.

Now, the prerequisites for Adam's Favorite Chili were no small order. The chili had to evoke these positive memory associations, boast plenty of heat and spice, and retain my reputation as lead Kveller of the Kitchen. Eek! I set out on the task with the bar set high. There are so many chili recipes out there, which one do I pick? Is chili powder spice ok, or should I grind my own? On to the secret ingredients: Between beer, cocoa, cinnamon, and coffee, which ones really elevate the recipe from good to the best!?

Thank you, Food52, for providing me with the answer. I chose this recipe because it was interesting, unique, and most of the ingredients—even the more obscure ones for a chili—were pantry items. Using three types of tomato (diced, crushed and sauced) evoked a prominent tomatoey base, and two types of heat—from chipotle peppers and cayenne pepper—really pack a fiery punch. 
The standard chili spices are in here too; ample chili power, cumin, a bay leaf. But they are accompanied by newcomers cocoa powder and instant coffee granules, and here's where this chili starts to transform from tasty to wow. The acidity from the tomatoes make the chili almost sweet; but the intense, chocolate notes from the cocoa and bitter undertone from the coffee deliver a rich, full-bodied complexity that picks up the smoky notes from the chipotle, too. Adding the beer thickens the broth from a soup to a hearty stew. So all your expected flavors are there...and then something deeper. Seriously yum.
As is the nature of chili, a taste-as-you-go method is foolproof for this dish as long as you've got the basics: onions, peppers, garlic, a tomato base, ground meat, and beans. This one falls more in the Cincinnati-style category, while my Texan friend makes a slightly sweeter version with tomato paste, allspice, cinnamon and cornmeal: same level of deliciousness; slightly different spin. It's hard to go wrong. However, make sure not to skimp on the toppings: grated cheddar cheese, chopped cilantro, diced red onion, and tomatoes—plus cornbread and/or fresh baguette—are a must to accompany your chili.

Adam's Favorite Chili (adapted from Food52)
Serves 5-6


1 1/4 pounds ground meat (lean grass-fed beef or turkey) 
1 cup diced yellow onion
1 cup diced yellow bell pepper
1 tablespoon minced garlic
1 1/2 tablespoons diced chipotle peppers in Adobo sauce 
1 29-ounce can tomato sauce
1 29-ounce can crushed tomatoes
1 15-ounce can diced tomatoes
1 15-ounce can kidney beans, drained and rinsed 
5-6 ounces dark beer, such as Guinness (about a half can)
1-2 dried bay leaves
1/2 tablespoon ground cumin
1 tablespoon chili powder
1/2 tablespoon ground cayenne red pepper
salt & pepper to taste
1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tablespoon instant coffee grounds
For toppings: Chopped cilantro, red onion, tomato; grated cheddar cheese, sour cream
To serve with: Cornbread, baguette, or rice

  1. In a large pot over medium high heat, sauté the ground meat in 2-3 tbsp olive oil until cooked. Drain the meat and set aside.
  2. In the same pot on medium low heat, sauté the onions and peppers until soft, about 10 minutes. Add the garlic and chipotle peppers and cook for another 2 minutes. Add spices, mix in thoroughly, and then all remaining ingredients.
  3. Loosely cover the pot with a lid and simmer over medium heat, stirring occasionally for 1 hour. Remove the lid and continue to cook for another hour. Season with salt and pepper to taste, and remove bay leaves before serving; serve with toppings of your choice. 

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