Tuesday, August 6, 2013

Grub at Home: Chili

Chili is one of THE great American foods.  Now, don't get me wrong, I don't really plan to start focusing on American cookery, not only because this is sort of a travel blog, but also because I am not a meat and potatoes sort of girl, and that's what America's famous for.  However, I was lazy this week and didn't feel like coming down from the Lonely Mountain to get what I needed to cook Korean, so suck it up (no one's making you read this, after all).
One of the great things about chili is there's no "right" way to make it.  When I was in college I had a great job working for the financial aid office, and every year for Halloween we would host a huge chili party for all of the administrative offices, and there was no end to the varieties of chili.  There are, however, a few things that will normally be in it.  First, meat.  You can make vegetarian chili, of course, but it's just not the same without the texture the meat gives it.  Ground meat, of any kind - I usually use ground beef because it's cheap and simple, but my Uncle John makes it with Italian sausage, which gives it additional kick.  I have to say that I'm not a fan of ground chicken, for anything, because it doesn't have enough fat in it.  It cooks too fast and tends to stick to my pans.

I also chop up an onion and - when I think about it - some garlic and cook those along into the meat.  The onion is a pretty standard part of chili, too, although you could leave it out; I have, on occasion, since neither of the two Evils in my life like onion.
Two more crucial ingredients are tomato sauce and beans.  I don't like my chili to be too thin, so I generally use one large (15 oz) can of tomato sauce if I'm using a pound of meat.  Red kidney beans are typically what people put in chili, but while I'll eat them, I prefer black beans; they're a little bit smaller, and have a nice taste.  I use bell peppers in almost every dish I make, but my last one went bad before I made my chili.  However, I did have some jalapeno peppers in my freezer that needed used, so I thawed them out and threw them in there.
So you put all this into the pot, and the meat and onions when they're cooked, but your chili's not finished yet.  It's supposed to be spicy, and normally you do this by going to the store and buying a packet of chili seasoning.  I didn't have any chili seasoning, but once upon a time in Korea I ended up using taco seasoning because I had no other choice, and it turns out that has most of the same spices in it, and the chili was as good, if not better, than usual.  There's probably a certain amount that you're supposed to put in, but I just shake in as much as I need to get the flavor right.
You can stop there if you like, or you can add other things.  Chili being a kind of Tex-Mex sorta dish, I sometimes put corn in. 

Once you've narrowed down what you want to put in your chili, you have the delicious task of what to serve it with.  Growing up, it seemed like everyone ate chili with crackers.  I don't like how mushy crackers get.  Instead, I like eating my chili with tortilla chips (did I mention how it's kind of a Tex-Mex thing?), although at the Financial Aid Halloween Chili parties someone introduced me to eating it on rice, and in spite of being a white bread kid who grew up thinking rice was a Chinese food, I really, really liked chili served on rice.  Cheese is another standard, and it's one that's hard to improve on.  I like adding a bit of salsa, too, or if that's not available, vinegar adds just a hint of complexity to the flavor (that's also a good idea if you make lentil soup...Bronte and her hubby were not the first ones to clue me in to vinegar, but they were the ones to teach me about it with lentils, and...wow.  I'd kill for Vasilis' lentil soup recipe).
I thought I'd leave you this week with a shot of my teeny tiny little freezer.  Strangely enough, this is normally more than enough space for me - the bottom would be filled with chicken breasts and a couple pounds of ground beef.  However, I've inherited a lot from my friends who abandoned ship.  I imagine in the next month or so of not really having any money I will use up most of this.  It's made the last month of it a little easier to get through, at any rate.  There's a bag on top of cubed beef that I'm planning to use making Korean for next week's post, so if you like spicy stuff, check in then.

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