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Sunday, 22 July 2012

Chili con Carne

Chili con carne is one of those dishes like chicken tikka masala and "spag bol", which have their roots in foreign cuisines but have been adopted with such affection by the UK population to the point of becoming a traditional British dish. The first documented recipe of chili con carne (the name translates as "chilli pepper with meat") dates back to the early 1500 in South America;  according to Bernal Diaz del Castillo, one of Hernan Cortez's captains, it was prepared by the Aztecs and apparently included tomatoes, chilli peppers, salt...and human meat from the Conquistadores! The versions I have tasted so far are much less gruesome, but all include minced beef as the base ingredients. I prefer to use stewing steak, cut in bite size chunks and cooked until it melts in the mouth.

 INGREDIENTS (for four people)

  • 500 gr of stewing steak, chopped in bite-size chunks
  • One tin of chopped tomatoes
  • 250 ml of water
  • 1 teaspoon of cumin seeds, toasted and ground
  • 1 or 2 red chilli pepper (depending on the level of heat you are looking for) finely chopped. Leave the seeds in, a chilli without a bit of kick it's not worth this name!
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 1 sprig of thyme
  • 2 teaspoons of smoked paprika
  • 2 teaspoons of dried oregano
  • 2 tablespoons of finely chopped coriander
  • 2 tablespoons of tomato purée
  • 1 red pepper
  • 1 large white onion
  • 1 carrot
  • 1 celery stalk
  • 1 tin of kidney beans, drained
  • Salt & pepper
Roast the red pepper whole in the oven at 200°C for about 20 minutes, then take it out and place it immediately in a plastic bag, the ones you would use for freezing food. Close it tightly and leave it to steam for a few minutes, then take it out and peel off the skin - you will find it comes off very easily.  This process makes it the pepper more easily digestible and the overall dish less heavy, but you can skip it if feel you can't be bothered to go through with it, as it does not affect the flavour.

Dice the pepper in small cubes (with or without the skin) and finely chop the onion, carrot, celery and chilli pepper. Put all the vegetables in a casserole to cook at low heat until soft and translucent. Add the chopped beef, turn the heat up and let it colour, stirring frequently to prevent it from sticking to the bottom of the pan. Add the tomato purée and cook for about 30 seconds, then tip in the ground cumin, the oregano, smoked paprika and thyme sprig, and let it cook for a further 30 seconds of so. Next, add the tinned tomatoes, the water, bay leaf, a bit of salt and pepper, bring it to a simmer and let it cook it gently for two hours.

After the two hours have passed, add the drained kidney beans and cook the chili for a further 30 minutes. Taste it, adjust the seasoning (you may need to add a bit more salt or smoked paprika), stir in the chopped coriander and leave it to rest for about 10 - 15 minutes before serving it. Like with any stew, its flavour will develop when left it to rest and will taste better the following day, therefore by all means make it in advance and reheat it just before serving it. It's a great dish to feed a crowd, all you need is some steamed rice (I suggest a mix of white long grain and wild) and if you want, a bowl of green salad. It also freezes very well, so it can be a great mid-week dinner to have up your sleeve (or better, in your refrigerator) in the colder months.

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