Friday, December 4, 2009

Chili, Chili, Chili

I have never in all of my life made the same pot of chili twice. I love Tex-Mex seasonings, ingredients, and flavors so much that there is no possible way that I could dislike a well-made pot of chili. Whenever I am in the mood for some, I dig through the pantry and usually find a theme to base that pot of chili on. Whether I find a can of chipotles in adobo sauce, powdered ancho chiles, black beans, or tomatillos, I usually get inspired and base all the other ingredients around it.

Chilis almost always have a few base ingredients in common. They start with onions, garlic, and peppers (sometimes bell peppers, sometimes poblano or spicy chiles). From there they could have ground meat, shredded pork, fish, beans of many varieties, tofu, veggies, or almost any other savory morsel you can come up with. If it's seasoned right, it will probably turned out tasting good.

Often chilis are red and tomato based. I love these, but also appreciate green chilis which are tomatillo-based and white chilis which have neither and are typically white bean-based and simmered with chicken, hot chiles, and other various pale ingredients.

I like to use a good amount of garlic in my chili. The flavor marries with the other seasonings, mellows, and really rounds out the aroma. Chopped fresh or garlic powder are both good and lend different notes to the pot.

Other herbs and spices that I love to use in various combinations are:

Ground Cumin
Sweet Paprika
Smoked Paprika
Good old Fashioned Chili Powder
Cayenne Pepper
Dried Chipotle or Ancho Chile Powder
Cocoa Powder
Dried Thyme or Oregano (sounds weird but a GREAT chili seasoning along with cumin--see Pork Chili Verde recipe below)
Dried and/or Fresh Cilantro
Smoked Sea Salt
Lime juice/Lime zest

**By the way, "chile" is a type of pepper and "chili" is the stuff you eat with a spoon.**

Here are two recipes that I often use as base ideas for the chilis I invent. They are both excellent as written, but when you add your own twists, the chili recipe will be all yours. After all, who doesn't love homemade chili with a secret ingredient?

Three-Bean Chili
This one is a classic tomato-based chili with traditional red chili seasonings and kept vegetarian. If you are looking for a meaty red chili, use this as a starting point and brown beef and/or chicken and add them when you add the beans.

¼ c extra-virgin olive oil
2 medium onions, diced
2 large green peppers, seeded and diced
3 lbs chopped roma tomatoes
4 cloves garlic, minced
1 jalapeno, minced (remove seeds for less spicy)

3 T sweet paprika
3 T chili powder
2 t ground cumin
Cayenne to taste
Sea salt
Black pepper
1 t smoked paprika (optional)

1 15.5 oz can black beans, rinsed
1 15.5 oz can kidney beans, rinsed
1 15.5 oz can pinto beans, rinsed
1 28 oz can diced tomatoes (regular or fire-roasted)

Optional, but yummy topping:
Grated cheddar cheese
Shredded lettuce

Heat oil in a large pot. Cook onions, peppers, tomatoes, garlic, and jalapeno over medium heat for about 10 minutes.

Season with spices, salt, and pepper. Stir and cook 3-4 more minutes.

Add beans and canned tomatoes.

Cook for at least an hour and up to 3 hours over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, tasting, and adjusting seasonings as you go. Serve with shredded lettuce and grated cheddar on top!

Pork Chili Verde
This one takes all day to cook, but is so worth it! The prep is basic, then it goes into a low oven for 5-6 hours.

Also, chicken or a white bean and potato combo works really well if you are looking for something a little healthier than the authentic pork version. Keep the seasonings the same and reduce the cooking time to 3 hours.

4 T chopped garlic
2 t ground cumin
2 t sea salt
Freshly ground black pepper
6 springs of fresh thyme
3-4 cups diced onion

3-4 lb pork butt or shoulder (with bone)
Extra virgin olive oil

3 green peppers, diced and seeded
8 cups tomatillos, removed from papers, washed,roughly chopped (canned is okay, use the juice!)
a large handful/about 1/2 bunch cilantro, washed and roughly chopped
2-4 jalapenos, washed and minced

2 jars Recaito (Goya makes one in jars or tubs in the freezer section)*
1 cup dry white wine
2 t ground cumin
about 4 cups water or chicken broth

Preheat oven to 250 degrees.

Combine garlic, cumin, salt, and pepper. Rub pork with seasoning, using all of it. Press thyme sprigs into sides of meat. It's okay if they don't stick well. They just need to get into the pan and brown with the meat.

Heat oil in a large pan over medium heat. Add pork, thyme, and diced onions. Brown all sides of the pork, about 7 minutes per side. Stir onions around occasionally if they are browning fast.

Transfer meat, onions, and thyme to a deep roasting pan when meat is nicely browned.

Evenly distribute prepped green peppers, tomatillos, cilantro, and jalapenos over and around meat. Add recaito, wine, cumin, and water or broth. You want the liquid the mostly cover the veggies and go up about 2/3 of the meat so depending on your roasting pan, you may need more or less liquid.

Roast in the oven, covered, for about 2 hours. Uncover and roast 2-3 hours more or until meat is very tender. You may want to occasionally check in with the veggies and give them a stir. You can also flip the meat halfway through if you so desire. If it gets very dry and things are charring a lot, you can add more water or broth.

When it's done, remove the meat from the veggies and liquid carefully and place in a large bowl or on a large cutting board. Let cool for 30-60 minutes.

Remove thyme stems or other unwanted stuff from the mix and discard. Shred meat with a fork and/or clean hands and transfer back in to the pan. Taste and adjust seasonings.

Serve warm with fresh tortillas.

*If you cannot find recaito, substitute a mild or medium green salsa/salsa verde.


If you're feeling surly, here is an authentic recaito recipe I just copied and pasted from The extras can be frozen and used to make enchilada sauce or other Mexican concoctions!


  • 1 medium Spanish onion, cut into big chunks
  • 8 garlic cloves, peeled
  • 6 ajies dulces, hot peppers, cored, seeded, and cut into chunks or 1 cubanelle pepper, cored, seeded, and cut into chunks
  • 4 leaves culantro (if you can't find culantro, increase the amount of cilantro by half)
  • 1 cup packed fresh cilantro, stems and all, coarsely chopped


  1. 1
    Place the onion and garlic in the work bowl of a food processor fitted with the metal blade.
  2. 2
    With the motor running, add the remaining ingredients, one at a time and process, until the mixture is smooth.
  3. 3
    Set aside the amount you need for the recipe you're preparing.
  4. 4
    Pack the remaining recaito in ½-cup portions in sealable plastic bags and store in freezer.

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