Sunday, September 23, 2007

Chilli Con Carne

Such a simple dish and yet I have had more revolting versions of this ‘student’ grub that I care to think about; insipid, watery, heatless and yet all it needs to be great is a little bit of care and attention.

Another brilliant thing about this dish is that you can recycle it as tacos or enchiladas at a later date so do make up a big batch and freeze what you don't use.

I will confess that a long time ago I stole the basic idea of this recipe from an article I read about an annual chilli cook off competition in the States and they printed the recipe of the winning entry. I have played around with it a little but essentially it remains close to the original winning formula. Let’s see if we can repeat that feat!

You will need:

1kg minced beef (not the lean stuff, you need a bit of fat for flavour)
1 large brown onion chopped very fine
3 cloves garlic chopped very fine
1 carrot, peeled and grated
1 can chopped tomatoes
1 red bell pepper diced finely
Button Mushrooms (small handful) chopped very fine
1 can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1tbsp tomato puree
500ml homemade beef or lamb stock
1 330ml bottle lager
2 tbsp chocolate powder (cooking not drinking type)
1 tsp cumin seeds
2 tsp cumin powder
2 tsp coriander powder
2 tsp paprika
½tsp pimenton picante
2 (or more) thai chilli chopped very fine

This dish is very heavily populated with ingredients from the nightshade family (tomatoes, chilli, red pepper, paprika, pimenton) and the healthy eating people believe that sufferers of arthritis, psoriasis or cystitis should avoid this food group. I have absolutely no idea if this is just mumbo-jumbo or if it actually works but I thought I would pass on the information anyway.

If you want to make a more authentic Mexican dish don’t use mince but instead use rump steak and mince it roughly by hand. This will obviously create a more ‘lumpy’ texture but it closer to what you will find in Mexico.

I have used Thai birds eye chilis, which are fiery little buggers, because they are easy to find here but for a true Mexican taste you should use fresh jalapenos, anchos or poblano chillis. If you are really brave, and a little mad, use habanero chillis. With the quantities below do not under any circumstances use more than one habanero otherwise the Pacific Ring of Fire will be positively polar compared to what you will be feeling.

Right, here we go:

• First of all in a heavy casserole dish over low/medium heat put a good glug of olive oil and gently soften the onions, garlic and grated carrot.

• Once soft add cumin seeds, cumin powder, chopped chilli, coriander powder, paprika and pimenton picante and cook for 2 minutes or so, stirring all the while to make sure nothing sticks.

• Add beef and cook until all browned

• Add the beer and stir

• Add rest of ingredients and bring to a simmer.

• Cover with tight fitting lid and place in 350F/175C oven for two and a half hours. This slow cooking gives all the flavours a really good chance to develop and meld.

And that is all there is to it.

This recipe with the special super ingredients of the grated carrot, beer and the chocolate powder really do produce a wonderfully thick, deep, dark dish with both heat and sweetness. Delicious!!

As I said at the begiining the good thing about cooking a big batch of this is the other dishes you can make with it.

Buy some flour tortillas, put two or three tbsp of chilli in the middle of one tortilla, roll it up and place in baking dish. Pack as many tortillas in as the dish will take, pour over a tin of enchilada sauce and cover in grated cheese (needs to be a strong hard cheese like mature cheddar or Monterey Jack), bake in 400F/200C oven for 25 mins and there you have some great enchiladas!

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