When my friend and farmer Bob Borchardt called a couple of weeks ago to tell me about the Harvest Moon CSA member party and chili cook-off, his first question was, “Do you want to cook or judge?” I immediately said, “I wanna cook!” And then I asked, “Wait – who else is cooking?” That’s when I found out I’d be putting my bowl o’ red up against not only a number of passionate home cooks, but several top Chicago restaurant chefs. Yipes. Well, it was too late now. I had to rise to the Red Challenge!
My friend Tom, who also happens to be a farm owner, found out about the event and offered to bring me several pounds of fresh ground beef from his own farm. Then I found two big jars of Harvest Moon’s own heirloom tomatoes in my cupboard. I figured I could do this. So I turned to my battered and splattered page from Nigella Lawson’s “Feast,” which is all scribbled with notes, tweaked the recipe just a bit, and whipped up a huge batch of chili. And guess what? I was the runner-up! I about fell over with surprise! First place went very deservedly to Chef Rick Gresh, of David Burke’s Primehouse (everybody was talking about his chili, rich with braised beef shoulder and toasted spices – that was some damn good chili.) Here we are with farmer’s Jen and Bob Borchardt.
The judges included Chicago food photographer extraordinaire Grant Kessler, Chicago Foodies editor Josh Brusin and Families Farmed founder Jim Slama. The judges judiciously tasted each chili and while they figured out the winners, everyone ate chili, drank some good Goose Island beer and even got to do some farmer’s market shopping from Harvest Moon. And now that I’ve got one cook-off under my belt, I’m a little hooked!
So I share with you my recipe, adapted from Nigella’s (love her). It’s a little untraditional, in that it does not contain chili powder (which I’m really not wild about), and it does contain some warm spices like cardamom, coriander and cocoa powder! Instead of chili powder, I used ground Turkish Aleppo Chili (available at the Spice House), and I even added some brewed coffee, which, I think, lent it a depth of flavor that brought out all those spices.
I hear there is a big football game this weekend, so maybe it’s the perfect time to try it! Ready? Come on, I’ll show you how!
Warm Winter Chili – Serves up to 15 people (just halve the recipe to make a smaller batch, but it does freeze beautifully if you make a whole lot of it.)
3 large sweet onions, chopped
2 large cloves of garlic, minced
1/4 C. olive oil
3 red peppers, cored, seeded and chopped
2 tsp ground coriander
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground cardamom
2 tsp ground Turkish Aleppo chili
2 Tbls cocoa powder (the unsweetened kind; I used Hershey’s)
2.5 pounds good-quality ground beef
6 C. canned, chopped tomatoes, with their juices
1/4 C. ketchup
1/4 C. tomato puree (I used the left-over tomato sauce from a recently used can of San Marzano tomatoes, which I’d frozen)
3/4 C. water
3 14-ounce cans of black beans (you could use kidney beans if you prefer); drained and rinsed (a colandar is handy for this)
1/4 C. brewed black coffee
What You Do
1) Chop your onions and garlic – and I recommend going straight to the Cuisinart for this to save time. Toss in the garlic cloves while you’re at it.
2) Heat the olive oil in a BIG pot. Big. Saute the onions and garlic for about 15 minutes, until they’re almost caramelized.
3) Add the Turkish Aleppo chili, coriander, cardamom and cumin and stir it all about. Cook for five more minutes while you chop your red peppers (again, the Cuisinart does wonders here, with the thin slicing blade).
4) Add your chopped red peppers to the onion-garlic mixture. Stir. Confession: This is when I realized I was going to have to split the recipe between two large pots. I just took half the veg and transferred it to a second pot, and split the ingredients between the two pots for the rest of the recipe.
5) Add the ground beef, breaking it up with your hands and two wooden spoons. Brown the meat – yes, it’s a lot, all in one pot (see my confession above!), so just do the best you can.
6) Add the chopped tomatoes, the beans, ketchup, tomato puree and water, stirring carefully so you don’t slop it all over the stove and yourself and the floor.
7) Bring the whole lot to a boil, and sprinkle the cocoa powder in, stirring it in well. Add the coffee and stir again. Now, turn down the heat, and let the chili simmer, partially covered, for 90 minutes to 2 hours, over low heat, stirring every so often.
And that’s it! Serve right away, or let it cool down and refrigerate it and re-heat it the following day. I actually find chili improves a day after you make it, as the flavors really develop with a little time. I like to serve it with, yes, Jiffy corn bread, or corn or flour tortillas. And yes, Fritos are also a divine accompaniment for chili! You can also serve it with classic chili condiments, like sour cream and/or shredded cheese if you like.