Monday, October 11, 2010

Chili Chili Bang Bang

     In the past few weeks, my pregnancy cravings have gone in a different direction than before--these days, I'm content to eat a bowl of chili nearly every night for dinner (and sometimes even for breakfast and/or lunch, too). I don't know what it is about it--maybe it's the season change. Or the fact that chili is so hearty, meaty, and filling. Obviously I have a thing for comfort foods.

    But hey, at least they're healthy comfort foods, right?

     Chili is one of the most well-loved and easily converted Paleo Pot-of-Goodness meals around.  There are hundreds (thousands, probably) of different chili recipes floating around the internet for you to enjoy. And with most recipes, all you need to do is omit the beans (remember that whole lectins thing?), and you're all set. People in Texas have it right from the start though: Authentic "Texas-Style Chili" is never made with beans--and chili purists there insist that beans are just thrown in for filler. Word.

     The chili I grew up eating was a lot like the type of chili you'd find in a local diner: A very mild, spiceless blend of meat, beans, peppers, onion, and tomato sauce. While I loved that chili, and it will always have a special place in my heart, the recipe I bring you today is completely different. For my recipe, I use one of my most beloved food items--bacon--and some complementary spices that really bring a deep, smoky flavor to the table, as well as some vegetables that add to this chili's beanless heartiness.

And! When I'm done, I have some tips and ideas for putting together your own Paleo Chili--just in time for tailgate season. :)

"If You Know Beans About Chili, You Know Chili Ain't Got No Beans"
Paleo Chili
Serves: 1 Hungry Man + 1 Pregnant Chick with a Very Healthy Appetite for Several Days
(6 servings, maybe more?)

6 slices of uncooked bacon, cut into small pieces
2 celery ribs, chopped
1 green pepper, chopped
1 red pepper, chopped
1 medium spanish (yellow) onion, chopped
3 14oz cans diced tomatoes - I used one can of fire-roasted with green chiles, and two cans of standard, "no salt added" ones from Muir Glen. Be careful which ones you buy--I was really surprised to find that almost all the more common store-bought varieties contained High Fructose Corn Syrup or added sugar. Boo.
1 15oz can tomato sauce
1 1/2 lbs ground beef
4 cloves of garlic
2 teas cumin
2 T chili powder
1 teas. smoked paprika (or more to taste)
1 T unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teas. oregano
3/4 c. beef broth (optional)
  • First, cook bacon in a large skillet on medium-high. You want it to be brown and slightly crispy, but not burnt to a crisp (if you don't cook it enough, it is going to be overly rubbery in the chili).
  • Remove cooked bacon from skillet, and drain on paper towel, reserving bacon fat in a separate container.
  • Toss chopped vegetables with 1 Tablespoon of greasy, delicious bacon fat and cook in separate, large skillet on medium-high. Do not overcrowd the skillet--if you have to, cook a little bit at a time. You want your veggies to soften slightly and the onions to become translucent.
  • While all of that is going on, throw another Tablespoon of bacon fat back into the skillet you cooked the bacon in, and start browning your meat along with your garlic. Again, do not overcrowd the skillet. You want to brown the meat, not steam it.
  • Remove meat from skillet with a slotted spoon and mix with bacon pieces in stock pot (mine is 6 quarts), then add cooked vegetables, along with the canned tomatoes and sauce. Then add your spices.
  • Bring the whole mess to a boil for a few minutes on Medium, then reduce to Low, partially covered, for at least a few hours to let the flavors develop. This is flavor-developing thing is kindof important, and critical in the chili-making process.
  • Depending on how awesome you are, garnish the finished product with additional bacon crumbles (the boyfriend feels that this really makes the dish. I concur.)

A few things about this recipe:

     This recipe, like many others I make on a regular basis, is different just about every time I make it. I play around with the spices a lot, so use my recommendation as a guide, altering it to suit your own tastes. The fire-roasted tomatoes with green chiles give a little bit of a kick to the chili, so if you want it spicier, go with more cans of the kind with chiles, and if you want it more mild, go with less. Or, of course, you could always add something else spicy (extra chilis, or chipotle peppers in adobo sauce would go really well with this chili for added heat)
     Also, I know it sounds like a lot of tomatoes. They cook down quite a bit, so don't be expecting huge chunks of tomatoes in every bite. If in doubt, start with two cans and see what happens. Chili is a very personal kitchen experience. Make it your own.
     Smoked paprika is completely different than standard paprika--so don't go substituting it expecting the same results. Smoked paprika is really awesome stuff with a very potent scent--it smells very much like the BBQ flavor in a bag of BBQ potato chips (Remember those? Good. Now forget them again.)--it goes well with the bacon in this recipe--and so does the cocoa. You can omit it if you'd like, but along with the smoked paprika and bacon, it really adds a deep, rich dimension to the chili, much like a mole.
    And last, with the bacon, use 6 slices as a starting point. If you're anything like me, only four of them will actually make it into the pot, so make sure you account for the 'tasting' that will go on in the cooking process. You can add more bacon if you want. :)

Ok, now that you've checked out my recipe, here are some tips to throw together one of your own:

Assuming you're going with the standard red-sauce variety chili, you're going to start with a tomato base. You can use any combination of these things:
-Canned diced or crushed tomatoes. These come in lots of varieties, namely regular and fire-roasted. Some, like the ones I used above, come with green chiles in them for a little spiciness. Some varieties even have added things like basil, oregano, or garlic. These all go well in chili, just make sure you avoid the ones with the HFCS (or even 'organic cane sugar' as some organic versions have), as mentioned above.
-Tomato sauce, tomato puree, or tomato paste. Unsure what the difference is? This link breaks it down, short and sweet.
-Fresh tomatoes - I prefer to use the canned ones, tastewise (they also have more lycopene), but fresh always works, too.

You can really go to town here. Any type of meat will do. The more the meatier (and merrier):
-Ground beef is sort of standard, but you can also go with cut up chuck or sirloin roast (or any steak, really).
-Also: Ground pork or chunks of pork, lamb, bison, venison, veal, ground turkey, chorizo, sausage, bacon, or a mix of any of these, etc.

In the absence of beans, use fresh vegetables to add some bulk to your chili.
- Onions - You can use whatever you like, it's all about personal preference here. Check out this neat visual guide to onions to help you pick.
-Peppers - Most chili contains some sort of sweet or poblano peppers, and many contain hot ones to spice it up, too. Not sure which ones are hot, and which ones aren't? Mark Sisson breaks them all down here.
-You could always add other vegetables too, if you want, such as celery (see above), carrots, or even zucchini. Just remember kids, corn is not a vegetable, it is a grain. So don't go sneaking that in!

Herbs, Spices, and Additional Additions
There are some typical chili spices and additions, and some not-so-typical ones. Here are a few more common ones:
-Chili Powder
-An array of chile powders, like chipotle, ancho, and others. McCormick has a lovely selection in their Gourmet Collection (avoid the "Cocoa Chile" blend though. While it sounds awesome, its first ingredient is sugar. Wah-wahhhh).
-Paprika or Smoked Paprika (also called Spanish Paprika).
-Cayenne or Crushed Red Pepper
-Cacao or Cocoa, or even squares of Dark Chocolate
-Beef Broth: Often used in chili, this will help thin out a chili that is too thick.
-Hot Sauce
-Adobo Sauce (the smokey, hot sauce found in a can of chipotle peppers.)
-Beer: Not Paleo, but a lot of people swear by it in their chili, including Mel Joulwan, one of my favorite Paleo bloggers.
  • Always brown meat before adding it to your chili--it helps seal in the flavor.
  • Always let chili simmer a few hours before serving. It's almost always better the next day.
  • Used to chili served over rice or pasta? Try it over cauliflower rice or spaghetti squash.

Also, chili is awesome over eggs.

I'd feel somewhat irresponsible if I didn't mention something about Nightshade consumption, in the midst of this tomato & peppers extravaganza. While it's not necessarily something you need to really worry about, if you have a lot of problems with inflammation or auto-immunity, you may want to limit the amount of peppers and tomatoes (as well as eggplants and potatoes) you eat. Here are some good links if you want to know more:
- Mark's Daily Apple - Nightshades
- Fitness Spotlight - Do Nightshades Promote Inflammation?

That's all for now. Have any special ingredients or chili recipes you'd like to share? Post them here!