Based on Twitter feeds and Facebook chats, it sounds like many of us around the country were feeling a sort of solidarity with all those on the eastern seaboard being ravaged by frenetic megastorm Sandy. Honestly, the blustery weather we’re having in Seattle would have been enough on its own. But hearing of those girding themselves against the extreme winds and rain, facing the dark and chill of the storm’s effects…I guess our mutual instinct was to cocoon a bit and act out–through cooking–our thankfulness for the comforts we often take for granted. A fridge that’s functioning. A warming stove. Electricity for light and heat.
My husband and I had just come home from a few days out of town, very fortunate to have flown home from Philadelphia Sunday evening, just before the major flight cancellations began at northeastern airports. I had to stock up at the store anyway (my version of roughing it was, upon realizing not a drop of milk in the house Monday morning, having to resort to a spoonful of vanilla ice cream in my coffee instead.) I picked up milk, lunch stuff, bread, and found myself adding extra vegetables and meat to my cart.
Next thing I know, all the burners are going, the stove simmering away with lentil soup, chili, and some chicken thighs braising with chickpeas, whole garlic cloves and fresh bay leaves from the back patio.
I don’t make chili very often, but a conversation about it over the weekend sparked the idea. After this batch, I definitely plan to work it into the dinner roster more often. Not only for its comforting, restorative, warming flavors, but for the outstanding aromas wafting about as it cooks.
Per usual, I didn’t follow any specific recipe, just riffing in the general technique. Retracing my steps, here’s what produced that aromatic bowl we had for dinner last night (plus just enough for a small bowl for lunch today). Next time I’d probably double it to be sure and have more leftovers and/or some to freeze for another time. But this was ideal for the two of us.
In a large pot, sauteed 1 finely chopped onion in olive oil over medium heat, just until tender. Added about 2 teaspoons ground cumin, 1 teaspoon dried thyme, 1/2 teaspoon garlic powder, 1/2 teaspoon chipotle powder and a big pinch of salt. Cooked for a few minutes longer to evenly coat the onions with all the spices and toast the spices a bit at the same time. I diced (roughly 3/4 inch cubes, but really not precise….) about 1 pound of beef sirloin and 1 pound of pork sirloin, then the meats went into the pot. Cooked over medium-high heat, stirring often, to just lightly brown a bit, 3 to 4 minutes. Stirred in 3 tablespoons of tomato paste until more or less well distributed, then added 2 cans (15 ounces) diced tomatoes.
I had intended to saute some fresh chiles with the onion, but my prep wasn’t as organized as it should have been. So while the meat was just starting to simmer, in a small saucepan I sauteed 1 finely chopped poblano chile and 1 finely chopped jalapeno chile in a bit of olive oil just until tender. Then I stirred all that chile goodness into the meat. Covered the pot, turned the heat down to low and simmered for a good couple/few hours. After it’s cooked an hour or so, I tend to set the lid a bit to the side so that some steam escapes and the chili thickens up. It’s not uncommon to thicken chili with a bit of cornmeal, but I prefer to just thicken by natural reduction when possible. Really important to taste the chili, I do so a few times while it’s cooking to see how flavors are developing, if there’s enough salt, needs a bit more heat (a good dose or two of Tabasco can quickly fix that). Of course you can correct seasoning just before serving, but it won’t so thoroughly influence the flavor throughout if added at the last minute.
The chili had a wonderful rich mahogany color, lightly spicy aroma and great flavor. Definitely wish I’d made a bigger batch! Next time I might swap out the fresh chiles and use dried instead. Use a load of fresh garlic instead of powdered. I like the blend of beef and pork, that’s a keeper. It’s a very adaptable recipe that inspires any number of variations from one cooking to the next.
I happened to have some smoked provolone in the fridge, which I’d originally thought about grating to just sprinkle on top of the chili before serving. Instead, I split a couple of pita breads, scattered the cheese over and broiled them just until melted and the bread lightly crisped. It made for an ideal complement to the chili, a hit for dinner.
Right now, the last of Monday’s cooking surge is warming on the stove for dinner tonight. Triple-lentil soup (using brown, red and green lentils, just because I happened to have all three in the cupboard), with a small frittata and green salad. Oh, how I love meals this time of year. Warming, rustic, aromatic, flavorful, comforting. It’s just what the season calls for.