Mom’s chili

Jeremy asked me to write down my chili recipe today. He’s decided that he wants to start cooking. I don’t think he picked a particularly easy thing to start with, but it’s always been one of his favorite dishes that I make. When the kids were young, our town had a chili contest. I won it several years in a row, and they stopped having the contest. But I’m from Texas and we like our chili there. I’m a fan of beans, so mine has lots of them. We all call this “Mom’s chili”, but I didn’t learn it from my mother but rather my grandmother.

Here’s what I told him:

So — how big is your chili pot? Use the biggest one you have. I will assume you are making a smaller batch because you don’t have the huge ones I have, but all of this can be doubled or tripled — I actually make four times this recipe in my chili pot. You need two pots to make chili. One to cook the beans, one to cook everything else. Then you add them together when the beans are almost finished.

  • 1 pound grass-fed beef stew meat
  • 2 onions
  • 2 red or orange bell peppers
  • 1 cup diced celery
  • 3 fresh jalapenos
  • 1 tablespoon diced garlic
  • 1 cup diced mushrooms
  • 1 cup diced Hatch green chilies (I use frozen, canned is fine)
  • 2 large cans whole tomatoes (I use my canned heirloom tomatoes)
  • 1 package dried pinto beans (or black) (or half and half, best)
  • 1 handful dried black trumpet mushrooms
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon chili powder
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon garlic powder
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon salt
  • 1 tablespoon unsweetened cocoa powder

Shredded cheese for serving
Sour cream for serving (optional)

The night before you are going to make the chili, put the beans and black trumpet mushrooms in a pot, fill it with water, bring it to a boil, turn it off, put a lid on it, and let it soak over night. The next morning, drain the beans, put them back in the pot, cover with water again, bring to a boil, then turn it down to a simmer and cook until the beans start to get tender, about two hours.

In a separate pan, put some oil or lard in to cover the bottom of the pan, but not too deeply, barely covering it, and heat it up. When it starts to sizzle, put in about half of the stew meat. Don’t move the meat for a few minutes, let it get dark on one side, then turn each piece over and let it get crusty on the other side, then take it out of the pan and put more meat in. Brown all of the stew meat that way, and then take it all out of the pan.

Soon to be chili Put in the diced veg – onion, bell pepper, celery, mushrooms, and jalapenos – and cook them for a few minutes until they start to get soft, using the same oil that you used to cook the meat.

Then turn off the heat and add back the meat and add all of the spices, the green chilies, the tomatoes. Cover with a lid and let it sit and wait for the beans to finish cooking.

Then when the beans are starting to get tender, you are going to add everything to the chili pot. Add all of the spices, the cooked meat, the veggies and the cans of tomatoes and green chilies. I usually add a bit of water to the pan that I cooked the meat and veggie in, stir that around, and add all that goodness into the pot. The little browned bits of meats and veg shouldn’t go to waste, that’s lots of flavor. Let all of that simmer until the beans are done. Stir it pretty often so nothing burns on the bottom of the pot. Make sure you break up any tomatoes that are still holding together. I use my hands and squish them. Doing that is one of my earliest memories from my childhood.

One of the last things I do is decide what I think about the thickness of the chili. Is the liquid too thin? If it needs to be thickened up, I pull out about a cup full of beans, smush them up with a blender, then stir that back into the pot. That uses the starch in the beans to thicken the goop, making it have that nice consistency that chili has. Depending on how much liquid evaporated while the stuff was cooking, you might need to do more than one cup, but start there.

One of the tricky bits is deciding when the beans are done enough that it’s time to add all of the stuff to the pot with the beans. If the beans aren’t almost ready and you add the tomatoes too early, the acid in the tomatoes keeps the beans from getting tender. You can cook them for hours and they just won’t ever get soft and tender. So I keep tasting the beans as they cook. When you can bite into them and they are starting to be tender, then I add the rest of the stuff. If I’m not sure, I add everything except the tomatoes, let them cook for 20 minutes or so, test again, then add the tomatoes.

I guess the other thing that I wasn’t very specific about is how much water to add to the beans when you first start. Beans need a pretty good amount of water to cook, so cover them with a good three or four inches of water on top of them. Then as they cook, they will absorb water and water will evaporate, so the level of water needs to be watched. You want to make sure that they always stay covered with water by a few inches, so watch them and stir them every now and then, and keep the temperature pretty low as they cook. They need to cook low and slow.

If you wanted an easier method for your first time, you could buy cans of cooked beans instead of dried ones. I used to do that when I was young. You’d want two cans of beans for every pound of stew meat, and could get one of pinto beans and one of black beans which is a nice mixture.

One of the things that I do too is add a couple of dark beer when I cook the beans instead of just using water. I just use whatever beer Dad has at the time, but definitely dark beer. You might ask him for some suggestions. If I have beef stock, I’ll use that in combination with the beer, and no water at all.

As it’s getting close to being done, taste it and decide if you want more spices. You might like it hotter — if so, add cayenne pepper. You might need a little more salt.

Dinner When it’s done, I add shredded cheese on top, in the bowl. Don’t add it to the pot because it doesn’t store well. I also like sour cream on mine, in the bowl.

Enjoy! It freezes well, though I now can mine so I can store it in my pantry and I never have room in my freezer these days.

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