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Chili (Basics)

Chili (Basics)

 

Who doesn’t love a “bowl of red”, that infamous hot and spicy earthy red chili stew from Texas and the American Southwest. Chili’s popularity really took hold when local chili joints starting popping up across the country in the early 1900’s. A Chili nation was born and chili has been embraced as real North American food ever since!

But hold on, beans, tomatoes, chile peppers, and cacao are all native to the Americas and cultivated by native central American peoples as staple foods along with maize as cornerstones of their diet. Stews not unlike what we now know as chili were likely being cooked up by the Aztecs long before the Europeans ever set foot in the new world. With the arrival of the Spanish and the Portuguese spices like cumin from the eastern Mediterranean and cinnamon from south Asia were introduced into the local native cuisine and influenced the evolving cuisines of Central and South America.

So yes, Chili’s North Americanization and enduring popularity is undeniable, but it is also a testament to the ingenuity of earlier native American cultures as well.

Making an authentic chili is really quite simple. What follows is a very basic recipe to build from. For me, a well made chili hinges on using the very best authentic ingredients. A stellar chili is a stand alone dish that needs little embellishment. Forget the chili season mixes, the cheese, and the sour cream. It is all about savoring the deep the earthy flavors and aromas of chile combined with the earthiness of the beans!

Authentic New Mexico pure ground red chile, ground chipotle chile, Mexican oregano, and chorizo are all available on line if they are not available where you live.

 

Chili:   serves 6

Ingredients:

  • ¼ cup cold pressed peanut or olive oil
  • 4 cups diced onions
  • 5 garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 2 teaspoons sea salt
  • 1 ¼ pounds/570 grams best quality ground beef
  • 3 tablespoons pure ground red chile (New Mexican is ideal)
  • 1 tablespoon ground chipotle chile
  • 2 tablespoons toasted cumin seeds, coarsely ground
  • 1 tablespoon dried oregano (Mexican is ideal)
  • 2 tablespoons pure unsweetened cocoa powder
  • ¼ teaspoon ground cinnamon
  • 1/3 cup tomato paste (imported Italian is best)
  • 1 quart beef stock, hot
  • 2 cans kidney beans or pinto beans (or home cooked), partially drained
  • 1 oz/28 g thinly sliced chorizo, cut into thin strips
  • 4 chopped fire roasted green chilies
  • diced red onions

Place 2 tablespoons oil in a heavy bottomed soup pot over medium heat. When the oil is hot add the onions and reduce the heat to medium low. Season with a little salt and cook, stirring frequently, until the onions are soft and translucent, about 20 minutes. Add the garlic, stir, and cook another couple of minutes.

While the onions are cooking, place a skillet over medium heat and add the remaining 2 tablespoons oil. When the oil is hot add the ground beef, season with a little salt, and saute until the beef releases its juices and is lightly brown and crumbly, about 15 minutes.

Transfer the beef to the soup pot with the onions and stir to combine. Add the ground chile, ground chipotle chile, cumin seeds, oregano, cocoa, and cinnamon. Season with a little salt and stir until well combined. Then form a well in the center of the pot and add the tomato paste, smashing it against the bottom of the pan to caramelize the paste for about 2 minutes. Then add about two thirds of the hot stock, stir to combine, and bring the contents back up to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.

Stir in the beans and add the remaining stock. Bring the contents back to a low simmer, add the chorizo, and cook for another 30 minutes, or until the chilli has thickened and is a beautiful deep red. Taste and add salt if needed.

I like to serve the chili family style with individual chili bowls set out for each person. Be sure to have small bowls of chopped fire roasted green chilies (see here) and diced red onions for those who want to add some fiery heat to their chili. I love to serve my chili with freshly steamed tamales (see here) as well, but a basket of warm flour tortillas or cornbread will do nicely as well.

Paella Mixta photo: Kevin West

Paella Mixta photo: Kevin West

 

Paella needs no introduction. It is one of Spain’s most celebrated culinary exports. A Spanish rice dish that delights like non other and loved the world over. A paella makes a spectacularly colorful presentation that promises a tantalizing combination of simmering Mediterranean ingredients seasoned with distinctly Spanish herbs and spices that bring this rustic Spanish dish to life.

Imagine a gigantic paella pan filled to the brim with locally sourced ingredients from land and sea simmering over a fragrant wood fire out in the open air, wafting aromas beckoning one and all. The pleasures of Paella are all about savoring the robust flavors of traditional Spanish cookery with friends and family.

Paella is simple in concept and, with a little organization and planning, will come off without a hitch. Over the holidays I managed, along with a friend’s help, to have three paella pans simultaneously bubbling away on the stove top. Miraculously they were all perfectly finished and on the table as planned to everyone’s great delight.

For the recipe that follows I have broken down the cooking sequence and ingredients, including portions of ingredients per person, into steps which should be easy to to follow and apply to any paella you want to make no matter what ingredients you choose to use. A paella is truly a dish for all seasons!

Paella Mixta photo: Kevin West

Paella Mixta photo: Kevin West

 

Paella Mixta:        serves 12

Paella Mixta is very popular, but not a traditional paella in the strictest sense. Liberties have been taken that traditionalists would certainly frown up, but the idea of mixing seafood and meats does make a splendid feast for the eyes as well as the stomach.

Following the ingenuity of early Spanish cooks, using a traditional paella pan really makes sense. If you do not happen to have one a cast iron skillet is your best alternative option. That said, for a small investment, a paella pan will serve you very well for years to come and available online (click here).

As appealing as the idea is, cooking a paella over an open fire is not likely. The next best option is a two step cooking method that I have been using in my kitchen  for years that turns out consistently beautiful paellas time and time again. Beginning the cooking on the stove top insures that you have the much desired thin layer of crisp rice in the bottom of the paella pan. The pan is then transferred to a very hot oven to quickly finish the paella with a perfectly colored surface and moist rice in the interior.

Equipment: 1 to 3 paella pans (depending on size)

Ingredients:

  • 12 cups fish or chicken stock (1 cup per person)
  • 48 saffron threads (4 per person)
  • 3 tablespoons white wine
  • ¾ cup Spanish olive oil (1/3 cup per pan)
  • 6 chicken breasts, skin on (½ breast per person)
  • 6 links paprika sausage (½ link per person)
  • 3 cups diced onions (1/4 cup per person)
  • 12 garlic cloves, peeled and finely minced ( 1 per person)
  • 2 large green bell peppers, seeded, cut into thin strips, and halved
  • 2 red bell peppers, seeded, cut into thin stripes lengthwise, and halved
  • 3 small fresh hot chiles, seeds removed and minced
  • 4 cups Spanish Bomba rice (1/3 cup per person) or Arborio rice as a substitute
  • 3 fresh tomatoes, grated, skin discarded
  • 6 tablespoons sweet Spanish paprika (1 ½ teaspoon per person)
  • 24 large shrimp, shell removed, deveined (2 per person)
  • 24 mussels, well scrubbed and steamed until opened, top shell removed and discarded
  • 1 large handful green beans, blanched and halved
  • 3 teaspoons smoked Spanish paprika
  • 3 oz/ 80 g thinly sliced Spanish chorizo, slices halved
  • flaked sea salt
  • freshly ground black pepper
  • chopped flat leaf parsley
  • fresh lemon wedges
  • aioli, (recipe below)

Heat the stock and have it ready on the stove top.

Place the saffron threads in a small bowl. Add the wine and set aside.

Heat the paella pan, or pans, and add enough oil to cover the bottom of the pan. Add the chicken breasts, skin side down and cook until lightly browned. Turn the breast and lightly brown the other side. Transfer the browned breasts to a platter to cool. When cool enough to handle cut each breast into quarters and set aside to use later.

Using the same pan, or pans, brown the sausage on all sides. Remove and set aside to cool. When cool enough to handle, cut into bite size rounds and set aside to use later.

Preheat oven to 400 f/ 200 c

At this point if you are cooking more than one pan at a time enlist a friend to help you stir the ingredients in each pan.

Using the same pan, or pans, saute the onions over medium low heat for a couple minutes. Then add the garlic, bell pepper strips, and chiles and saute until softened. Season lightly with salt and pepper.

Add the rice to the pan, or pans, and turn up the heat to medium and cook the rice until it is completely coated with oil and just beginning to

Paella Mixta photo Kevin West

Paella Mixta photo Kevin West

color slightly. Add grated tomato and sweet paprika and most of the smoked paprika and cook until incorporated into the rice.

Add the saffron and the white wine and sir into the rice. Then add enough hot stock to just cover the rice and simmer while continually stirring, being sure to release the rice from the bottom of the pan so it does not stick. Continue to cook until the stock is nearly absorbed into the rice.

Repeat the same quantity of stock to just cover the rice and cook, stirring continuously, until the stock is once again absorbed. Taste the rice to test for texture. Ideally the rice should be cooked until soft, but a little on the al dente side.

With that in mind, you may need to continue with another cycle, adding stock to the rice and cooking until you reach the right consistency for the rice.

Once the rice is the right consistency there is no need for further stirring. You want the rice in the bottom of the pan to develop a crisp base.

Add the browned chicken to the pan and push it into the rice until just the top is visible.

Likewise add the sausage, again pushing it into the rice until just visible. Then add the chorize partially pushed into the rice but leaving half still visible.

At this point add just enough stock to just reach the surface of the rice.

Cook for about 10 to 12 minutes and then add the shrimp gently nestled into the rice with most of the body exposed. Position the mussels over the surface around the shrimp. Tuck in the green beans between the shrimp and mussels. Lightly season the surface with sea salt and light dusting of smoked paprika.

If the rice is looking dry around the edges of the pan add a little more stock until just visible. Transfer the pan to the preheated oven and cook about 10 minutes or just until the surface is lightly colored.

Serving:

Remove the paella from the oven. Garnish with a light scattering of parsley and transfer to the table while still piping hot.

Serve with lemon wedges and Aioli.

Delicioso! photo: Paul Milton

Delicioso!

Aioli:  makes 1 ½ cups

  • 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated/ microplaned
  • ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt
  • ¼ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
  • 1 egg yolk
  • 2 teaspoons freshly squeezed lemon juice
  • 1 cup olive oil
  • 10 saffron threads soaked in 1 tablespoon hot water

Place the garlic, salt, pepper, and lemon juice in a food processor and pulse until the ingredients are combined.

With the motor running very slowly add the olive oil. As the mixture thickens stop the machine and scrape down the sides of the work bowl, then continue adding the remaining olive oil with the machine running. Once the aioli is thick and emulsified slowly add the saffron and hot water until combined.

Taste and adjust salt and pepper to taste.

Store in an airtight container in the refrigerator until you are ready to serve.

Sumac Roasted Chicken with Bulgar and Hummus

Sumac Roasted Chicken with Bulgar and Hummus

 

I have been a great fan of Rick Stein’s varied food oriented travel series over the years. His curios nature and infectious passion for regional foods combined with  simple cooking methods makes for compelling viewing that has you itching to get right into the kitchen and do some newly inspired cookery of your own.

His recipe for Sumac Roasted Chicken from Turkey appeared in Rick Stein, From Venice to Istanbul which aired in 2015. I have cooked similar recipes in the past (see here), but with a stash of Sumac and pomegranate molasses already on hand I was raring to give Rick’s recipe a try.

Sumac is a wild shrub that grows thought the eastern Mediterranean and the Middle East. Sumac’s deep red berries are dried and ground into a powdered seasoning with an assertive citrus like flavor. Sumac is also combined with other herbs and seeds for another popular regional seasoning mix called za’atar (See here). Both are ideal seasonings for various salads, grilled vegetables, meats, poultry, soups, and stews. Also an ideal finishing flourish for hummus (see here) and muhamara (see here) that I like to serve along with this dish.

Sumac is available at Middle Eastern shops and online.

For the recipe that follows I have made a few adjustments that ramp up the flavors a bit, but otherwise true to the regional recipe. I like serving it with a simple cooked Bulgar wheat with fried onions and red peppers along with a side of zesty hummus or muhammara to compliment the chicken.

 

Sumac Roasted Chicken    serves     4 to 5

For the chicken:

  • 1 whole chicken or 5 skin on breasts
  • olive oil for drizzling
  • sesame seeds

Rinse the chicken well, remove the backbone, and cut the chicken into 10 pieces. If you are using chicken breasts, slice the breasts in half crosswise.

If you are using a whole chicken, rather than discarding the backbone and trimmings why not make a stock for cooking the bulgur and for the marinade.

Place the backbone and trimmings in a stock pot and fill with water. Add a chopped onion, 3 bay leaves, a teaspoon of whole peppercorns and a teaspoon of dried thyme. Simmer for about 1 hour or until the stock has reduced by a little more than half.

For the marinade:

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 3 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
  • 1 tablespoon fresh squeezed lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons ground sumac
  • 1 teaspoon pure ground red chile powder
  • 1/3 teaspoon chile flakes
  • 1 tablespoon tomato paste
  • 2 tablespoons pomegranate molasses
  • 1 ½ teaspoon flaked sea salt
  • 1 or 2 tablespoons chicken stock

Combine all the marinade ingredients except the stock in a non-reactive bowl large enough to hold all the chicken. Stir until all the ingredients are completely combined. The consistency of the marinade will be quite thick and sticky. Ideally you want the marinade to stick to the chicken, but you might want to thin it out just a bit with a little chicken stock.

If you are squeamish you may want to use disposable plastic cloves for massaging the marinade into the chicken pieces, otherwise use your bare hands as I do. Take your time and press the marinade into each piece of chicken and patting it over the surface so it sticks to the flesh.

Once all the marinade coated chicken is in the bowl compress it so the marinade reaches every crevasse. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside for at least 1 hour or ideally 2 hours at room temperature.

Preheat the oven to 400 f/ 205 c

Select a baking pan large enough to hold all the chicken pieces in a single layer without crowding. Lightly oil the dish and place the marinated chicken skin side up in the pan. Spoon any remaining marinade over the chicken and spread it out evenly. Scatter sesame seeds over the chicken and lightly drizzle with a little olive oil.

Sumac Roasted Chicken

Sumac Roasted Chicken

Transfer the pan to the oven and roast for 30 minutes. The chicken and sesame seeds should be nicely colored and the chicken just done. If not, give it another 5 or 10 minutes depending on the size of the chicken pieces.

Remove from the oven and cover loosely with foil for 5 minutes before serving.

Serving:

Transfer the chicken to a platter or several pieces of chicken onto each individual plate. Add a generous portion of warm bulgur and a good dollop of hummus or muhammara.

Fennel Spiced Pork with Cabbage and Potatoes

Fennel Spiced Braised Pork with Cabbage and Potatoes

 

When cold weather comes around I really long for some simple hearty one pot meals like braised pork with cabbage and potatoes. It’s got its northern European roots, Poland comes to mind, but surprisingly it’s a combination you will find, with regional adaptations, in northern Asian countries as well.

With a recent cold snap, well relatively speaking that is here in northern Thailand, my mind was made up. I was having a braising pot of pork, cabbage and potatoes on the stove steaming up the windows by sundown.

The recipe that follows is decidedly Asian in flavor but otherwise much like a traditional western version in that it embodies the idea of hearty cold weather fare.

 

Fennel Spiced Braised Pork with Cabbage, and Potatoes     serves 4

Prepare ahead

Brined pork

  • 2.2 pounds/ 1 kilo pork tenderloin
  • 2 tablespoons sea salt
  • 1 ½ tablespoons sugar 
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • 4 bay leaves
  • water to cover

Place the salt, sugar, thyme, and bay leaves in a large non-reactive bowl. Fill the bowl about half full with warm water and stir until the salt and sugar has completely dissolved. Let the water cool to room temperature and then submerge the pork into the brine, adding more water if needed to completely cover the pork. Cover the bowl with cling film and refrigerate overnight.

Fennel seasoning mix 

  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1 tablespoon Szechuan peppercorns (or black peppercorns)
  • 1 tablespoon sea salt

Combine the fennel seeds, peppercorns, and sea salt in a small mortar. Coarsely grind with a pestle and set aside to use later.

 

Braised pork, cabbage, and potatoes

Needed: a large braising pan or Dutch oven with lid

  • 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 4 rashers bacon, thinly sliced
  • brined pork loin, patted dry
  • fennel seasoning mix
  • 2 cups finely diced onions
  • 2 large garlic cloves, peeled and minced
  • 4 large heads Chinese cabbage, trimmed, halved, and thinly sliced crosswise
  • ½ cup Chinese Shao Hshing cooking wine (or white wine)
  • 1 additional teaspoons fennel seasoning mix
  • 2.2 pounds /1 kilo small gold potatoes, unpeeled, cut into bite size wedges
  • hot chicken stock or water
  • sea salt and ground black pepper to taste

Preheat the oven to 350 f/ 180 c

Place a large braising pan or Dutch oven on the stove top over medium heat. When hot add the olive oil. When the oil is hot add the bacon. Stir and turn the bacon frequently so the fat is rendered and the bacon is evenly lightly browned. Promptly remove the bacon from the pan and set aside on a plate to use later. Lower the heat briefly while you season the pork.

Remove the pork from the brine and pat dry with paper towels. Discard the brine.

Generously rub the pork tenderloin with fennel seasoning mix, firmly pressing the seasoning mix into the surface of the pork on all sides, so it sticks to the flesh.

Turn the heat up to medium high. When the fat is hot add the seasoned pork and brown on all sides. When evenly browned remove the pork to a platter and set aside.

Lower the heat to medium low and add the onions and garlic to the pan. Stir frequently until the onions soften and become translucent, about 5 minutes.

Then begin adding the sliced cabbage by the hand full, stirring until it wilts before adding the next hand full. Continue adding the remaining cabbage until it is all in the pan and wilted. Stir in the Shao Hshing wine (or white wine) and the reserved cooked bacon. Fold the bacon into the cabbage until evenly distributed. Season the mixture with 1 additional teaspoons of the fennel seasoning and stir to combine.

Place the pork tenderloin loosely coiled over the cabbage in the center of the pan and tuck the potato wedges pushed in and around the edges and in between the pork loin. Add enough hot stock or water to reach the top of the contents in the pan and bring to a simmer. Cover the pan and transfer it to the oven and cook for 45 minutes.

Check the pan after 45 minutes and add more hot stock to again to reach the top of the contents in the pan. Cover and return the pan to the oven for another 45 minutes.

Remove the pan from the oven and remove the lid. The pork should be very tender and easily pulled apart with a fork. Taste the broth and season with more salt and pepper if needed and stir to combine. 

Set the pot aside, covered, for 10 minutes.

Serving:

Spoon the cabbage and potatoes onto individual plates. Using two forks pull chunks of the pork apart and place them in the center of the potatoes and cabbage. Generously spoon both over all and serve.

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