I had thought to write a short and simple overview for this node; you know the kind of thing, a translation of the name and a discussion of the origins of the dish and the variations that exist. But it turns out that people get passionate about chili con carne (or just chili), and every aspect of its existence, save one, is fraught with controversy. The one thing that is clear is that chili con carne is Spanish for "chili with meat", but beyond that all is disputed.

You'd think, given the Spanish name, that this dish would be of Mexican origin, but apparently many Mexicans take great umbrage at the very suggestion. They claim, and many agree, that chili con carne as we know it today - a melange of diced or ground beef and chiles and/or chili powder - originated in Texas. In 1826 J.C. Clopper, an American visiting San Antonio, wrote that poor families bought as much meat as they could afford - very little - and made it into a kind of stew or hash with as many peppers as pieces of meat; sounds like a basic chili. On the other hand, in 1890 army captain and anthropologist John G. Bour visited San Antonio and northern Mexican villages to study food eating habits and folklore, and noted that villagers used red, white, green, sweet and bitter capiscum, and found them so essential to the cuisine that "No Mexican dish of meat or vegetables is deemed complete without it, and its supremacy as a table adjunct is conceded by both garlic and tomatoes, which also bob up serenely in nearly every effort of the culinary art." This too sounds a lot like the chili con carne we know today, though apparently the dish was influenced by Texans who had emigrated from the Canary Islands; they introduced the practice of adding oregano, ground cumin, and chopped garlic to the dish.

Let's say it's a very early Tex-Mex dish, then. Texans commonly refer to chili con carne as "a bowl of red", and Will Rogers apparently called it "a bowl of blessedness". Texans consider the inclusion of beans as an adulteration, though this is requisite in other places, where chili may be dubbed "chili con carne with beans". (The chili con carne of my childhood always contained red kidney beans.) Then there's brick chili, frozen into the shape of a block, which appeared late in the 19th century; it is thick but can be thinned after thawing by the addition of a liquid. There's chili-mac, that is, macaroni topped with chili; chili-rice; chili dogs; chili size (chili over a hamburger patty); chili or Frito pie, a baked casserole made with a layer of corn chips (Fritos), then a layer of chili, all topped with a layer of shredded cheese. (Now there's a heart attack on a plate.) And Cincinnati apparently has their own style of chili which contains Mediterranean spices like cinnamon, allspice, cloves, nutmeg, ginger, mace, coriander, turmeric, and mustard. Cincinnati chili is served in five different ways, and you order by way: "one way" = plain chili; "two way" = chili with spaghetti; "three way" = two way plus grated cheddar cheese; "four way" = three way plus chopped onions; and "five way" = four way on a foundation of beans. Whew! That's a lot of kinds of chili.

Here on everything we have a lot of kinds of chili too. There's a couple of tasty looking recipes at chili (including Lometa's five alarm chili), plus venison chili, Hermetic's Chili Recipe, Black Bean and Corn Chili, Three bean chili, salsa chili, Textured Vegetable Protein Chili and Czeano's Vegetarian Chili Of Doom for the vegetarians in the crowd, and persimmon chili for the adventurous. Surely there's one here for you too. Git cookin'!

http://www.geocities.com/BourbonStreet/Bayou/8888/soups.html
http://www.lone-star.net/mall/literature/chili.htm
http://users.tm.net/montague/CA1.htm

I was actually surprised there was no chili con carne recipe here already. And looking around the net, I couldn't find anything that tickled my fancy either. So I made my own. It took a few attempts to get to the recipe I like. Now I am not Mexican or Texan or anything remotely related to the true spirit of the dish. So don't expect a "traditional" recipe. It's my chili con carne recipe, and I think it is absolutely yummy.

Time required

Preparation time: 20 minutes

Cooking time: 1-2 hours

Ingredients

(Serves 2)

Preparation

Chop the onions, capsicums, carrots (carrots?!? you ask in surprise. Yes, carrots. And I sometime even skip the capsicums, and use only carrots), tomato and garlic. Cut the coriander, but don't chop it up. (Cut it into 2 cm long pieces). Heat oil (you might want to use olive oil like many great chefs. I don't.) in a large pot and put in the onions. After 2-3 minutes (before the onions start going transparent), add the garlic. Don't add the garlic with the onion, as it will burn, which makes it taste bitter. A few seconds later, add the meat. I have found that it is important to add the meat now as you can have more control over the amount of water in the pan. You want just about no water at all so that the meat gets fried and not boiled. This is very important. When there is no more redness to any of the meat (i.e. when it has been sufficently fried), add the capsicums and the carrots. Wait a few more minutes, and when they begin to go soft, add the tomatoes, chilis and tomato paste. You don't have to use tomato paste, but I think it's great, and I use quite alot. This is because, at least in Israel, some tomatoes have more taste than others, so unless you really strike it lucky, you'll probably want to add quite a bit of the tomato paste. Now add some water, as you'll be cooking this on a low flame for two hours. If you are new to slow cooking - add more water than you think is necessary - it will boil away, and if it deosn't boil away to your satisfaction, you can leave it on the stove for half an hour longer, no harm done.

Add the spices. Put in quite a lot. Put in a good helping of the chili powder and paprika - they will add a tinge of redness. The celery powder is optional. I like it, but I can't really justify it, so make your own choice. Add the red wine, which I can't justify either. If it's supposed to taste like a traditional Mexican dish, it probably shouldn't have any wine in it, but I like it, so I use it. Don't over do the salt and pepper (especially as there is a lot of chili anyway), but if you don't put enough, it'll taste a bit bland.

In a few minutes it will be ready. Theoretically. sneffy, our resident chef supreme has a better idea. And you should listen to him, as he is the master chef. He says to leave it on a low flame for a couple of hours, to let the flavors get acquainted. It is indeed a good idea. And you should do it. It still tastes pretty good without the leaving on the stove for 2 more hours, but not even remotely as good.

While it's on the low flame, mix it occasionally.

Before you take it off the stove, add the coriander and mix.

Voila.

Incidentally, if you don't have any fresh coriander, but happen to have parsley around, you can use that instead, and add coriander powder (which you should have). My girlfriend actually likes this better. I don't. Your call.

sneff adds some more: "Oh - and I would double the recipe at least - CCC is a dish you REALLY want leftovers with - it gets better with age"

sloebertje says "this looks remarkably like my chili con carne! I eat it with sour cream... yum"

I was a late convert to Mexican (or TexMex, as chili really is). I don't like spicy food - food that bites back, I call it - and could never really see the point of eating it. I would often go to Mexican restaurants with my husband, who is an aficionado of the cuisine, and cook the occasional, very inferior I'm sure, fajitas at home. But chili wasn't even a blip on my culinary radar until I started dieting. The thing is, it is remarkably easy to cook any ragu-based dish with hardly any fat at all; so we started making our own spag bol, stews, casseroles and the like, using low fat cooking spray instead of oil.

Our first attempts of reverse-engineering our own chili were a bit abortive, frankly, so I did a bit of research and came across Footprints' great recipe above. Over time I've tweaked it, adding or subtracting various ingredients until today I think I have perfected the formula. This evening's chili was not just a good diet food or a convenient winter warmer, but a truly wonderful and hearty home meal that I would be proud to serve to the most finicky guests.

Obviously I am standing on the shoulders of giants here; however I think I'll still node my version of this dish for my fellow noders to try. I'm writing it all up rather than just noting the alterations I've made, not out of a desire to supplant Footprints' efforts, but out of consideration for anyone who might want to print this recipe out.

OK, enough waffle - bring on the food! To make enough for 4 people, you'll need:

  • 250gr lean beef mince
  • 2 medium onions, finely chopped
  • 3-4 cloves of garlic, finely sliced
  • 1 red bell pepper and 1 green one, seeded and chopped
  • A few fresh chillies, seeded and finely chopped - how many I leave to your own taste and courage; personally I use 2 small mild chillies for this quantity
  • 250gr drained red kidney beans - from a can or home cooked, up to you
  • 500gr canned chopped tomatoes with the juice
  • 1 cup red wine
  • 1 lime
  • 1tbsp tomato paste
  • 1tsp sugar
  • salt to taste
  • A couple of handfuls chopped fresh coriander
  • 500gr brown rice (uncooked weight)

Now do this:

  1. Place a large, thick-bottomed non-stick pan on to heat. When hot, spray with cooking spray or use as much mild flavoured (ground nut or corn) oil as you feel you need. Place the mince on the hot oil - don't be impatient, wait until it's good and hot! - and fry, stirring energetically to make sure the mince doesn't end up in clumps, for 2-3 minutes. Remove with a slotted spoon, leaving the fat and juices from the meat in the pan.

  2. Place the onions in the pan, followed by the garlic after a minute or two. After another 5 minutes, add the peppers and chillies and stir well. Turn down the heat and leave the mixture to soften for approximately 10 minutes, stirring occasionally to make sure nothing is sticking to the bottom of the pan.

  3. Next stir in the tomato paste, diluted with a little of the canned tomato juices. Now return the fried-off mince to the pan, followed in quick succession by the beans, the tomatoes and the wine. If the mixture looks a bit too thick, add a little more wine or up to 1 cup of water - you want the liquid to just cover the rest of the ingredients. Give everything a good stir, partially cover the pan and walk away. Far away. No, really - shoo.

  4. I mean it. Get out of here. I don't want to see you back in this kitchen for at least 2 hours.

  5. OK, you can come back now. Carefully taste the chili, remembering that it will be bland as all heck, and add salt to taste, as well as the sugar. Taste again, then adjust as needed. Now, Footprints' secret ingredient is the coriander; I defintiely encourage you to not leave this out. However, do yourself a favour and use the juice of the lime as well - it really makes the most astounding degree of difference. Add both these magic ingredients to the pan at this stage.

  6. You're done, and your wonderful wonderful chili con carne is ready to eat. But what do you eat it with? Normally Mexican food comes with regular white short grain rice, and to begin with that is what we were using too. But today we decided to try brown (whole grain) rice instead and Oh My God, you guys. The nutty flavour and tougher texture of the brown combine with the rich creaminess of the chili to lift this dish to a completely different level. And just in case you're worried, you can get boil in the bag brown rice - that's what we used as a matter of fact - so no scary rice cooking there.

Because it's pointless making a small quantity of this recipe, and there are only two of us in the house, we make it at the weekend, then reheat in two batches during the week. You can safely reheat the whole pot, but then the second time you eat the chili, the lime and coriander won't be fresh any more; so I recommend you ladle off 2 portions into a smaller pot and add the last two special ingredients afresh each time. Enjoy!

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