If I had to pick one dish that I make that encapsulates my approach to cooking, it would be chili. What follows is not a recipe by even the loosest definition; but rather an explanation of my method. The results are never the same, but are always good. I will entertain discussion about why this is not really chili, but in the Fabulous Household, that’s what it goes by.
I love chili because the cooking time can be as short as 30 minutes and as long as several hours. It freezes and reheats well, has good nutritional value, and is very forgiving. And its damn tasty.
Usually, I make chili in my large dutch oven on the stove. Sometimes I start it on the stove and finish it in the crockpot, much to the dismay of my husband who does all of the dishes.
Chili has some essential components:
Garlic and onion, softened in oil (I like extra virgin olive), beans (I usually go with canned beans that are drained and rinsed, red kidney and black in some combination), something tomato (fresh chopped if in season, canned diced or whole if not), some type of “meat” (ground beef, ground lean turkey, chopped up boneless skinless chicken, or something with a toothsome quality like diced sweet potatoes or even large pieces of carrot), whatever other vegetables I can cram in there (diced red bell pepper, the aforementioned carrots in small pieces, summer squash or zucchini if in season, chopped frozen spinach if I am feeling the need to be extra virtuous), and seasonings/spices (salt and pepper, cumin, ground coriander, chili powder, cilantro unless my one friend that hates cilantro is eating over, and usually hot sauce – Tabasco or other).
The basic method:
Put the dutch oven or other sturdy pot on medium-low, with a few good glugs of olive oil in the bottom. Chop the onions, garlic, and any other fresh produce (peppers, carrots, sweet potatoes – but not the tomatoes) that you are using and add to the pot with some salt and pepper and your base round of spices (a teaspoon each or so). Let them soften for a few minutes. Then, if you are going to add meat, increase the heat to medium-high and put it in the pot, pushing the veggies to the side to allow the meat to brown in the middle. When the meat is mostly cooked through, (either transfer to the crockpot on low if you are maybe leaving the house for several hours before dinner, or keep in the same pot and) add the tomatoes and the beans. Reduce back to medium-low if you’ll be eating soonish, low if it will be a while.
If it seems too watery, keep the lid off for some evaporation. Heat the beans and tomatoes thoroughly, but watch for it getting too bubbly and dial the heat back as needed. Add some Tabasco and more spices to taste. If you are sneaking in spinach, stir that in a few minutes before serving. Serve with your favorite tortilla chips and shredded cheddar cheese on top. I usually make a large batch (so, one onion, a few garlic cloves, 3-4 cans of beans, 2 pounds of meat, a mess of tomatoes) and freeze a few portions.