By Mike Thayer
The definition of chili is pretty broad, that's what makes it so great and one of my top, cold weather, go-to, comfort food meals. It's easy to prepare and quite versatile. Fix a small batch for two, or fix a boatload for a crowd. It's easy!
You can make it hot and spicy, you can make it not-so-much spicy. You can make it with beans, without beans, one kind of bean or three beans. You can make a batch of chili with just about any cut of beef. Make it with ground beef, or cubed sirloin, heck rough chop those two leftover rib-eye steaks in the fridge and put them in the pot..... My latest venture has been making chili with smoked brisket - YUM! And don't restrict yourself. Beef-based chili is great, but so is chicken chili, pork chili and any combination of those. I haven't tried lamb yet, but it is on the agenda. You can serve chili over rice (my favorite way to enjoy chili, served over a bed of white sticky rice), have it Cincinnati style over a bed of spaghetti, or dish it up classic style in a bowl topped with saltine crackers. Have it with crusty bread, corn bread (with honey), top it with diced red onion, or chopped green onion, or shredded cheddar cheese, or sour cream or "Loaded" (Fritos/onion/shredded cheddar/sour cream). I don't know anyone who doesn't like chili. Everybody likes at least some kind of chili.
Then there's all the leftover classics.... Chili dogs, chili burritos, chili-mac, chili nachos, chicken chili enchiladas. Use your imagination, chili salad, chili shepherd's pie, chili tacos and yes, even chili pizza. That's how versatile and crowd pleasing chili is! It's easy to prepare, easy to make leftovers with, and most definitely, EASY TO EAT! If I was a betting man, I would argue that you can do more with leftover chili than you can a Thanksgiving dinner.
Here's my standard chili recipe, not too spicy, but not too bland either. It's kid AND adult friendly!
- Two pounds of ground beef (I like to go lean ground beef here, using a 90/10. There's a lot less fat to drain off and you don't have to worry about the meat drying out - we're making chili after all.
- One large onion, diced
- Three stalks of celery, chopped
- Three - four cloves of garlic, diced
- Two tablespoons chili powder
- Two teaspoons cumin
- One teaspoon salt
- One teaspoon black pepper
- One teaspoon light brown sugar
- Two cans of diced tomato, undrained
- Three cans of beans, undrained (I like to use one each of red kidney, chili beans in sauce, and black beans - three beans = more flavor. Pintos are good too. Use any three you like.)
- One cup chicken stock (yes, really. Why not beef stock you ask? Because this tastes better. Yes, really).
- And here's the secret ingredient - never make a batch of chili without it - one small can of diced green chilies. Kids won't even know it's in there.
In a large soup pot, brown the ground beef over medium-low heat, drain, and set aside. While that's draining, saute the onion, celery and chili powder until the onion starts to appear translucent. Add the drained ground beef, garlic, cumin, salt, pepper, sugar, green chilies and chicken stock and let that mixture simmer for about 10 minutes. This is going to give you a nice, deep base flavor. Add in the remaining ingredients and let that come up to a slow rolling boil for a few minutes, then reduce back to simmer. Keep the lid off to tease people in the house with that great aroma, or until you reach desired thickness.
THE tip for a truly great chili: Chili is ALWAYS better the next day. Sure, chili is really good the day you make it, but letting all those flavors marry over the next 24 hours makes it even more delicious! Once you get your chili to your desired thickness, refrigerate it. Reheat it the next day on the stove and serve with any of the suggested styles mentioned above.
Serves six, with plenty leftover. I like to add a little Louisiana hot sauce to my bowl......