Who wants Chili?
The first cold air of autumn has been generally known as the season for chili, but I’ve come to know this American dish all year round. Simple in nature, but open to many variations, it’s a dish that works for all seasons and all tastes. I personally love it any time of the year, even in a hot summer.
The origin of chili actually dates itself to the Old West here in America. Despite that the dish is named chili con carne, it’s not Mexican cuisine as it is more Texan. Travelers and farmers in those wild lands would create this simple stew from dried beef, animal fat, salt, and dried chili peppers. Surprisingly, beans were not always used, and it’s still a debate among many aficionados on whether or not beans are necessary.
The real beauty of chili is that you can variate all over the place. You can make it so spicy that it will make even Thai food seem light, or go so bland that it could be mistaken for Sloppy Joe. You can put almost any kind of meat you want in, different types of beans (or no beans), vegetables, even some try to play with fruit and sweet flavors.
The chili I’m going to show you today came about when Zuzana had a craving for some, but also had a problem. Beans can play games with your digestive system, and some of us handle it better than others. Kidney beans or northern beans didn’t appeal to her as much as did lentil beans, generally used in Indian and Middle Eastern cuisine, but they can work just as wonderfully for a chili. I of course also wanted to make it lighter and lower in calories, but keep a full bodied flavor.
I also liked that this chili did not require a long slow cook. This is another debate in the world of this dish, as many believe the only good chili is one slow-cooked over a long period of time, generally in a crock-pot. Others like chili that can be prepared sooner so you can enjoy your work in a reasonable amount of time. I’ve honestly done both and really believe chili does need time for all the flavors to fully merge, but it doesn’t have to be a slow cook. I prepared this chili in roughly two hours, but it wasn’t until the next day that it really had a wonderful flavor. You be the judge.
Be sure to soak the lentils first before you start cooking.
- 4 tbsp of olive oil
- 1 Spanish onion, chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, minced
- 2-3 bell peppers, chopped
- 3-4 lbs of ground meat
- 2 cans (14.5 oz each) of diced tomatoes
- 3 cans (8 oz each) of tomato sauce
- 4-6 stalks of celery, chopped
- 1 tbsp of beef base
- 3-6 tbsp of chili powder
- 2 tbsp of Italian seasoning blend
- 1 can of beer
- 16-24 ounces of dried lentils, soaked.
- Salt and pepper to taste
- In a frying pan or skillet, heat up 2 tbsp of olive oil on medium heat.
- Place the onion and garlic into the oil and cook until the onion is soft.
- Add in the bell peppers and cook until soft.
- Remove the the onion/pepper/garlic mixture from the heat and set aside.
- In a stock pot, heat up the remaining 2 tbsp of olive oil. Place the meat inside when ready.
- Brown the meat.
- Add in the onion/pepper/garlic mixture and stir.
- Add in the tomatoes, tomato sauce, celery, beef base, and seasonings.
- Stir thoroughly and bring the mixture to a boil.
- Pour the beer into the mixture and stir.
- Bring the mixture back to a boil again and then add in the lentils.
- Lower the heat to low and simmer until the beans are cooked.
I mentioned before, but I’ll say it again for good measure. Be sure to soak the lentils before you start this dish. I’m sure you could go about this dish without soaking them, but you might be waiting a lot longer for it to finish.
I used the term “ground meat” because it’s really up to you. For my chili, I used 2 lbs of ground turkey and 1 lb of lean ground beef. You can go all beef or no beef or even a blend of ground meats. It’s up to your palette.
In terms of beer, that’s up to you as well. You can skip on this if you’re not in the mood, but I like adding beer to my chili because it gives the dish a full-bodied flavor. You can go thick with a stout like Guinness, or even some cheap beer will work.
Variate to your hearts content. I mentioned some in Quick Notes, but this really comes down to you. Take the lentils out and use kidney beans or no beans. Use a combination of meats, spice it up more, or even change the vegetables around. It’s up to you.
You can serve this chili plain, or add in some low-fat cheese and fat free sour cream. Zuzana likes freshly chopped chives on hers.
I’ve also used this chili as an ingredient for nachos. Simply lay out the tortilla chips on a plate, add a layer of the chili, salsa, cheese, and any other ingredients you like such as olives, sour cream, chives etc.