A bowl of red – store cupboard chili

In England, 1960s school dinner mince was grey and eaten with boiled potatoes. But at Montemalaga Elementary in Los Angeles it became sloppy Joes, tacos, enchiladas, hamburger and chili. Columbo is often seen eating a bowl of chili at his friend’s bar. Despite the LA location, it is Mid-West chili, garnished with Saltine soda crackers. Moving further South, there are half a dozen different chili recipes in Cooking Texas Style. Way out in Terlingua, the definitive chili cook-off championships are held every year.

Not sure whether this here chili would be popular with nine year olds, help solve any cases, feed any ranch hands or win any prizes. But it fitted the bill yesterday. Running out of fresh food, with only some root vegetables left, I found a forgotten bag of mozzarella in the freezer and started making pizzas. Then, halfway through, I uncovered some supermarket mince in the freezer, and decided to keep on cooking and make chili.

  • Ingredients: One packet of supermarket steak mince (10% fat), a tin of kidney beans, 300ml sugo, one large red onion, 2 small carrots, a few slices of raw beetroot. Two dried chili anchos, toasted and soaked. One fresh chili, garlic cloves, a small bunch of fresh oregano/marjoram and the same of coriander, one tsp each of ground cumin and coriander. Olive oil (10-20ml depending on how much fat is in the meat). Ground black pepper and salt. A glass of robust red wine (I used an Argentine Malbec).
  • Alternatives: I would usually use cubed ribeye steak or something similar. There has to be a bit of fat in chili. Other vegetables like celery, celeriac and butternut squash would work here too. The dried anchos are earthy and mild, and you can overlay with more heat if you want to. If not a wine drinker, add the same amount of water, beer or stock. Red peppercorns would be good here to.
  • Method: Make sure all frozen meat is defrosted. Rehydrate the dried chillies according to the instructions on the package. Wash, peel and slice the vegetables. Pour the olive oil into a largish pan on a medium heat and put in the mince, breaking it up with a wooden spoon. When it is browning nicely, add the chopped onion, then the garlic and dried spices. Stir around for another few minutes until the onions are soft. Then transfer the meat mixture to a deep heavy cast iron pot. Add the sliced carrot and beetroot. Stir it all around, then continue with the rehydrated chopped chili anchos, sugo, and fresh herbs. If these have woody stalks, as pictured above, discard them – just strip off the leaves by running your thumb and forefinger down the stems.

Now deglaze the first pan with the glass of wine. Pour it back over the pot and give a good stir, bring to the boil, then turn down, cover and leave to simmer on the stove top or in a medium oven for at least 2 hours, stirring occasionally and checking that the stew is simmering, with enough liquid.

Open it up and taste it – season with salt and pepper. (Once cool, it may be refrigerated overnight or frozen for another time. ) Serve in a cup with crackers, or on a plate with fresh coriander, hot sauce, grated cheese, sour cream; over rice, or a baked potato – leave out the beans and slop it into a bun – it’s up to you!

When I got to Texas and my daughter was in third grade, I volunteered at the neighbouring elementary.

“Wednesday is cheese enchiladas. Have you eaten them before?”

‘Oh yes’, I replied happily.

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