Friday, March 1, 2013

The chili con carne fairy tale

There is nothing better to write on a food blog than the -- undoubtedly -- magical story behind the presented dish.  What inspired the dedicated blogger to take this particular culinary path? 

Maybe they found the recipe in some old, discolored notebook left as a treasured legacy by their great-grandmother?  Or maybe they had an epiphany and in a flash of culinary genious brought together the perfect combination of flavors and textures?  Surely they couldn't have just chucked random stuff in a pan and on a plate -- serious food bloggers are per definition supposed to do better than that.

Since I've been pretty much writing about random, not necessarily food-related things lately, this post will cater to the needs of all the true-blooded foodies out there, and focus on the dish itself.  Interested?  Well, read-on!

Spice it up!

The recipe for this chili has been in my culinary repertoire for 13-14 years -- which basically means half of my life.  When I first made it, I would never have guessed it would become my family's favorite dish and that I would be making it to this day.  I guess it's just like with all great things in life -- you don't see them coming.  

But enough with the philosophizing (I already see the foodies frowning and rolling their eyes).  Let's talk about the history behind the recipe.

Once upon a time, in a land far, far away, lived a teenaged girl.  During the summer, her Mum went away on holidays for a few days, and she decided to prepare dinner for her hard-working Dad.  On the same day, she happened to visit her Grandma in her summer house, deep in the middle of the forest.  I must dissapoint you -- the girl did not wear a red hood nor carry a picnic basket, and the Grandma was not eaten by a bad, scary wolf (or any other wolf, for that matter).  What the girl did find at her Grandma's was a collection of culinary magazines, which she decided to skim for inspiration. 

In one of these magazines (the exact name has long escaped her memory), the girl found a very inviting recipe for chili con carne.  Since she knew her Dad was highly fond of spicy food, she copied the recipe and rushed back home (yep -- through the forest again, and nope -- no wolf).

The teenaged girl prepared the chili and her Dad really liked it.  She later made it for the whole family.  The chili quickly became a family favorite and the girl prepared it several times afterwards -- and still does until this day. 

And they lived happily even after.  

Stages of filling the tortilla wrap

The chili is very simple and basic.  No super fancy ingredients, no cocoa, no elaborate side dishes or salsas.  But the great taste is based on this simplicity.  Make sure you use good quality meat -- that's really crucial.

Because it's so good -- side dishes are absolutely not needed.  I served this with great tomato salsa, sour cream and/or guacamole -- all was nothing more than "a nice touch". Even the flour tortilla is not crucial -- you could just serve the chili as it is.  And I guarantee -- it will disappear from the plates in a blink of an eye (it was super hard to take the attached pictures, because people DEMANDED they want to start eating.  NOW!).

To round up -- I didn't give you a wolf.  So let me at least show you the unexpected guest I found in the leek.  Not quite as scary as a wolf, you'd think.  Clearly -- you haven't met me.

Serves 4 (or 3 very hungry men)

  • 1-1.2 kg of ground beef (good quality)
  • 2 cans of red kidney beans (I used bio), drained
  • 2 cans of peeled tomatoes (good quality -- I used bio & Italian)
  • 1 leek 
  • 2 medium onions, chopped
  • 2-4 cloves of garlic (I used 4), minced
  • tabasco to taste (I used around 4 "shakes" -- a few drops each)
  • chili powder to taste (I used 4 tsp)
  • olive oil (around 2 tbsp)
  • 2-3 pieces of dark chocolate (70%)
  • salt & pepper
  • soft flour tortillas
  • Sauté the onions with the olive oil in a big pan.  Add the meat and fry until it is not red anymore -- around 5-7 minutes.  (Ground meat has a tendency to clump when cooked, so use a fork or spatula to separate the clumps and get the fine, ground texture.  Do this from the beginning -- it gets harder with time). 
  • Add the minced garlic to the meat, and season with salt and pepper, tabasco and chili powder.  Stir to combine.  Add the drained red beans and combine.  
  • Add the peeled tomatoes, and cut them a bit with your spatula (not a lot since they are soft anyway and fill fall apart -- just in half is fine).  Cover with a lid, and let simmer for 20 minutes.
  • Slice the leek in half, lengthwise and wash thoroughly in cold water (get rid of any "visitors", if you find them).  Chop off and discard the roots and the top of the green part (leave some of the green -- the part that looks fresh).  Chop in slices and add to the pan.
  • Let simmer for 15 more minutes, until the leek is tender.  If there is too much liquid, leave the lid off.  
  • Crumble in the chocolate and let it melt.  Stir.
  • Season to taste, if needed.  Serve on it's own or with warm flour tortillas.  Glass of full-bodied red wine highly recommended!
Bon appetit!

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