I can’t think of any dish more satisfying than a steaming bowl of earthy chili when winter’s grip bears down in earnest. Not that that happens here in Thailand, but vivid memories of winter’s bite are forever embedded in my psyche none the less. Chili’s colorful cultural past adds an almost palatable celebratory air that makes it an ideal choice for those informal holidays meals that lie ahead. Chili does freeze beautifully so why not get a head start and have chili essentially ready on demand.
Whenever I sit down to write about chiles there is that lingering conundrum about spelling and usage of the words that always comes to mind. When to use Chile and when to use Chili? Having lived among both Spanish and Mexican communities in the American Southwest and in Los Angeles for some time I have have sorted out the usage, but there are still ongoing heated debates about the correct spelling, definition, and usage of the words chile and chili.
In short chile is the Spanish word for all varieties of peppers (capsicums) that they discovered when they arrived in the new world. In Mexico however the word chili stems from the Nahuatl/ Aztec language dating back to at least the 7th century which describes the plants that produce all varieties chilis (capsicums).
Of course today both words have garnered various meanings not only for the peppers themselves but also for dishes that are made with them.
For example, in the North American southwest the word chile is used to describe varieties of capsicums associated with various levels of scoville heat as well as dishes made with the them. In the rest of North America the word chili (chili con carne) describes the popular spicy Tex Mex stew like dish that contains ground meat in a chile and tomato based sauce that often includes beans. South of the border chili con Carne is a chunky meat stew in a spicy chili based sauce without the addition of beans.
Confused? Just to make the differentiation even a little more complicated the Nahuatl language is still widely used in rural central Mexico as is the word chili. So in Mexican communities living on both sides of the border use both words interchangeably.
Generally speaking, it is safe to say that chile is the appropriate word to reference all varieties of capsicums with heat. Chili is reserved for describing the popular dish chili con carne as well as the seasoning mixture of ground dried chile powder mixed with other seasoning spices. Pure ground chiles without other seasonings would be called chile powder.
For more tasty information on this spicy subject (click here) for Chili (Basics).
The recipe that follows more closely follows a Mexican chili con carne that includes dried chiles to deeply flavor the sauce. However I have used ground beef instead of chunks of beef, and included beans in the chili which are served separately in Mexico. For me, including the beans in the chili makes a more complex and richly flavorsome Mexican meal in a single bowl. But maybe I’m just biased having grown up eating Tex Mex chile.
Chili con Carne serves 6
- 12 dried guajillo chiles, split lengthwise, seeds removed
- 1 or 2 dried chipotle chiles (or canned chipotles in adobo)
- 6 garlic cloves, skin on
- 3 tablespoons lard or cold pressed peanut oil
- 2 onions, peeled and finely chopped
- 2 teaspoons toasted cumin seeds, ground
- 2 teaspoons dried oregano (Mexican if available)
- 4 vine ripe tomatoes (or canned Italian plum tomatoes)
- 2 pounds ground beef
- ¼ teaspoon ground clove
- 2 bay leaves
- 2 tablespoons cocoa powder
- 1 tablespoon pure ground red chile powder
- 1 ½ teaspoons salt + more to taste
- 1 quart beef or chicken stock + more as needed, preheated
- 2 cups cooked beans (pinto, kidney, or black)
- salsa fresca
- crema or sour cream
- warm corn and flour tortillas
Warm a heavy bottom skillet over medium heat. Place the guahillo chiles in the skillet. Using a spatula press the chiles against the bottom of he pan. Let them toast for a minute or so and then flip them over, again pressing them against the bottom of the skillet and toasting another minute. Remove them and set them aside to cool briefly. Then remove the stems, tear the chiles into pieces, and place them in a sauce pan. Add the whole dried chipotle chiles and add just enough water to cover all the chiles and place the pan over low heat. Bring to a low simmer and cook until the chiles are soft and pliable, about 15 minutes. Remove the pan from the heat and set aside to cool. Remove the stems from the chipotle chiles and transfer all the chiles to a blender jar and add enough cooking liquid to cover. Reserve the remaining cooking liquid to use later as needed,
Using the same skillet toast the unpeeled garlic cloves until they are lightly colored on all sides. Remove them and set them aside to cool. Then peel off the skin, mince the garlic, and set aside.
Add 1 tablespoons lard or oil to the skillet. When the oil is hot add the onions and saute until they are soft and translucent, about 8 minutes. Add the chopped garlic, ground cumin, and oregano and saute another couple of minute. Then transfer the contents of the pan to the blender jar.
Add 1 tablespoons of the lard or oil to the same skillet set over medium heat. When hot add the tomatoes (fresh or canned) and fry them until they are soft and lightly caramelized. Break them up and continue to cook until very soft. Then transfer them to the blender jar including the juices.
Add enough reserved chile liquid to to fill the blender jar to about half full. Begin pulsing until the ingredients are broken down and then increase the speed to high until the mixture is very smooth. If it is very thick thin with the remaining reserved chile liquid or stock.
Heat the remaining tablespoon of lard or oil in a soup or stock pot set over medium heat. When hot add the ground beef and cook until the meat is evenly browned, stirring from time to time. Add the clove, bay leaves, cocoa powder, red chile powder, and salt. Stir until well combined. Then pour in the hot stock and stir. When the contents reach a boil, lower the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes.
Add the beans and continue to cook another 30 minutes. The consistency of the chili should be very thick, but add a little stock to thin it out a bit if needed. Taste and add additional salt to taste. Skim off excess fat floating on the surface of the chili and discard.
At this point the chili is ready to serve. Otherwise transferred the chili to containers and cool to room temperature before covering and refrigerating or freezing.
This chili is so rich and flavorsome it needs very little embellishment other than a dollop of sala fresca and a swirl of sour cream or crema with each serving. Be sure to have a basket full of warm corn and flour tortillas and a bowl of salasa fresca placed on the table.
Crema is a Mexican sour cream that you can make by simply stirring a small amount of whole milk into a bowl of sour cream.
Watching Christina Martinez making barbacoa in her South Philly Barbacoa restaurant (Chef’s Table, Se 5 Eps 1, Netflix) was, for me, the next best thing to being back in Mexico where food celebrates the very heart and soul of the country and its people.
Barbacoa originates from the central plains east of Mexico City where traditionally a lamb or a goat is slowly steamed in a deep pit lined with rocks preheated by a wood fire. The meat is marinated and wrapped in maguey (agave) leaves and steamed underground overnight. Cooking a barbacoa in Mexico is all about having a special meal for large family gatherings on weekends and for special holidays and fiestas.
A deeply flavored succulent Barbacoa is built around using a variety of locally grown sun dried chiles, traditional herbs and spices, and a seasoned cook’s attention to the nuances of slow cookery and taste. Most Ingredients can be found in Mexican shops and markets, in some super markets, or online. Once you have your sourcing resolved, you will find yourself making barbacoa on a regular basis. This is the kind of authentic Mexican food everyone loves to eat!
That said, home cooks can replicate a traditional barbacoa with a few adaptations in their own kitchen oven. No pit required.
I would suggest using beef in lieu of lamb or goat unless you and your friends and family are seasoned regional Mexican food enthusiasts. Goat in particular is definitely an acquired taste and best cooked outside.
Making a barbacoa requires both time and effort, but you will will be abundantly rewarded with a truly authentic taste of Mexico. If time is a real issue you may want to speed up the cooking time using a pressure cooker or instant pot. Another tip, barbacoa freezes beautifully so you may want to double or triple the recipe and have barbacoa nearly ready on demand.
Beef Barbacoa serves 6
- 2.2 pounds/ 1 kilo beef brisket or chuck roast, cut into 3 equal size pieces, trimming off excess fat and skin
- juice of 1 orange
- juice of 2 limes
- 1 small onion, peeled and finely diced
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram or Mexican oregano
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
- ¼ cup cider or white vinegar
- 1 teaspoon sea salt
Combine all of the marinade ingredients in a non-reactive bowl just large enough to hold the meat. Stir the marinade and add the meat, pressing the meat firmly down into the marinade to cover.
Cover the bowl with cling film and marinate for at least 4 hours or overnight.
- 8 dried New Mexico Red or Mexican Guajillo chiles
- 3 dried ancho chiles
- 2 dried smoked chipotle chiles
- 4 large garlic cloves, dry roasted and peeled
- 1 small onion, peeled, chopped
- 1 tablespoon peanut oil
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
- 1 teaspoon dried marjoram
- ½ teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
- ¼ teaspoon ground clove
- ½ teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon cider vinegar
- 1 ½ teaspoons sea salt or to taste
Heat a skillet over medium heat. When hot place some of the dried chiles in the skillet without crowding. Using a spatula, press the chiles against the bottom of the skillet and toast them for 30 to 45 seconds. Turn the chiles and repeat, remove them, and set aside. This dry toasting intensifies the flavor of the chiles.
When the dry toasted chiles are cool enough to handle remove the stems, slit them open lengthwise, remove all the seeds and discard. Then tear the chiles into pieces and place them in a saucepan. Add enough water to cover and bring the pot to a simmer. Simmer for about 15 minutes and then set aside to cool. Drain the chiles, discard the cooking water, and set the chiles aside.
Using a blender, add the prepared softened dried chiles, sauteed onions, cumin, marjoram, black pepper, clove, sugar, cider vinegar, and salt. Blend all the ingredients together, scraping down the sides of the blender jar as needed, adding water as needed, until the sauce is very smooth. This may take several minutes.
Place a fine mesh strainer over a bowl and, using a silicon spatula, press the pureed sauce through the strainer until all the liquid has been extracted, Be sure to scrape off the residual sauce on the underside of the mesh strainer into the sauce. Taste the sauce and add salt as needed.
Transfer the adobo sauce to a container, cover, and refrigerate.
Preheat the oven to 325f/ 170 c
- 1 small onion, peeled, quartered and separated
- 4 garlic cloves peeled and thinly sliced lengthwise
- 6 bay leaves
- 6 whole cloves
- sea salt
- freshly ground black pepper
- 1 tomato quartered, core removed
- 2 jalapeno chiles, quartered and seeds removed
Select a Dutch oven with a tight fitting lid or a roasting pan. Place a shallow rack in the bottom of the pan of choice.
Remove the beef from the marinade and place it on the rack in the pan and discard the marinade. Add water to the pan to just below the bottom of the meat sitting on the rack..
Distribute the onions over the meat and tuck in garlic, bay leaves, and cloves. Season with salt and pepper, and top with tomatoes and jalapeno slices.
Cover the pan with a lid or tightly secured foil and transfer to the oven. Set the timer for 1 hour. Check to see if there is still water in the bottom of pan and replenish if needed. Repeat this each hour until the beef is very tender and easily separated with a fork.
Cooking times will vary, but after 2 ½ hours check for the beef for tenderness. I would say about 3 hours should do it.
When the beef is fully cooked, carefully transfer to an ovenproof dish or bowl and cover with foil.
You will find there is a lot of rendered fat floating over the pan juices in the Dutch oven or roasting pan. Remove the fat and discard or save for another purpose, like frying beans.
Transfer the pan juices to a sauce pan and add the vegetables that topped the beef. Bring to a boil and reduce by half. Strain the liquid through a fine mesh strainer set over a bowl, again using a silicone spatula to press all the liquid out of the solids. Discard the solids.
Before serving pull the beef apart using a fork and add some of the reserved pan juices to moisten it.
Then warm the reserved adobo sauce. The adobo should be the consistency of cream. If needed thin with pan juices. Generously add adobo sauce to the pulled beef, distributing it evenly before serving. The remaining adobo sauce can be served with the barbacoa once tucked into tortillas.
- corn and flour tortillas, warmed in a hot dry skillet (or comal, pictured)
- Salsa fresca
- salsa verde
- quesso fresca or mild feta
Place the Barbacoa on the table along with corn and flour tortillas, various salsas and Mexican queso fresca. If queso fresca is not available a mild feta is a very good substitute.
Sweet, sour, salty, spicy, crispy, sticky, tender succulent, and aromatic….
These Thai baby back ribs explode with all the elements that make Thai food so popular the world over.
Tamarind? The tamarind tree originates from Africa, but now found across the tropics including South and Southeast Asia. India is now the largest producer of tamarind. Tamarind is used in many Thai dishes and available fresh or in paste form. Here in Thailand tamarind is available in fresh clusters of pods or in blocks of the sticky contents of the pods that include the seeds. The flesh and seeds from the pods are boiled until vary soft. The seeds are then removed and sticky flesh is passed through a fine mesh strainer. The resulting tamarind paste has a unique tart, sweet, and slightly fruity flavor.
The methods used for this recipe are adapted for the home kitchen. Some of the ingredients may be somewhat unfamiliar, but most can be found in Asian markets or in the Asian foods section of you local supermarket.
Keep in mind that cooking is always an adventure! Discovering new and unfamiliar ingredients and flavors are all part of the fun and open up new windows of possibilities. Tamarind is a subtle flavor enhancer you will find yourself using again and again when cooking Thai or other Asian dishes.
Thai Tamarind Baby Back Pork Ribs Serves 4 to 6
- 1 kilo/ 2.2 pounds baby back pork ribs
Separate the ribs and remove the silver skin membrane from the underside of each rib using a very sharp knife. Rinse the ribs and pat dry with paper towels, and transfer the ribs to a bowl.
- 1 tablespoon sea salt
- 1 tablespoon back peppercorns
- 1 ½ teaspoons fennel seeds
- 2 teaspoons coriander seeds
Place all the rub ingredients in a spice mill and pulse until finely ground.
Then sprinkle the seasoning rub over the ribs. Using your hands, rub the seasonings evenly over all the ribs. Cover the bowl with cling film and set aside.
Basting sauce: makes 1 ½ cups
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and finely grated
- 2 inch knob ginger, peeled and finely grated
- 1 medium size shallot, finely minced
- 1 bunch of coriander, leaves and roots chopped
- ¼ cup light soy sauce
- 2 tablespoon dark sweet soy sauce
- 4 tablespoons fish sauce
- 3 tablespoons fresh lime juice
- 4 tablespoons tamarind paste (available at Asian markets)
- 3 tablespoons palm sugar or light brown sugar
- 4 tablespoons rum or brandy
- ½ teaspoon red Thai chile powder, or ¼ teaspoon cayenne
- 1 tablespoon cold pressed peanut oil
- 6 kaffir lime leaves, fresh or frozen (optional)
Using a mini processor or mortar and pestle, combine the grated garlic, grated ginger, minced shallot, and coriander leaves and roots and pulse or grind into a coarse paste.
Transfer the paste to a non reactive bowl. Add the soy sauce, sweet dark soy sauce, fish sauce, lime juice, tamarind paste, palm sugar (or light brown sugar), rum or brandy, Thai chile powder, and the peanut oil and mix until well combined.
Select a rectangular baking pan and fit the pan with a shallow baking rack. Lightly oil the bottom of the pan as well as the rack.
Preheat the oven to 325 f/170 c
Place the seasoned ribs on the rack, bone side down and flesh side upward in a single layer, tucking the kaffir lime leaves here and there between ribs. Pour about an inch of water into the baking pan, generously brush the ribs with the basting sauce, seal the pan tightly with foil, and transfer to the preheated oven.
Total cooking time will be about 1 ½ to 2 hours. At 20 minute intervals brush the ribs with more basting sauce. Add water to the bottom of the pan if needed, re-seal the pan, and return the pan to the oven front to back to insure even cooking.
After 1 hour check the meat for tenderness. The finished meat should be very soft, but just short of falling off the bone. So continue checking and roasting the meat until tender as described.
Once the meat is sufficiently tender you want to raise the heat to 400 F/ 200 c.
Remove the foil and brush the ribs generously with more basting sauce. Pour the remaining basting sauce into the bottom of the pan and add more water as needed. Move the oven rack to the upper position, return the ribs to the oven uncovered and cook until the tops of the ribs are deeply colored, sizzling, and crisp on the top surface.
Promptly remove the pan from the oven and, using tongs, transfer the ribs to a platter and cover lightly with foil. Remove the roasting rack and skim the fat off the surface of the pan juices and pour the pan juices through a fine mesh strainer into a saucepan.
Place the saucepan over medium flame, bring to a boil, and if the juices are looking very thin boil until reduced to the consistency of a thin sauce.
Alternatively, mix a couple of teaspoons of corn starch mixed with an equal part of cold water, and stir it into the simmering pan juices while stirring until the sauce thickens to a thin sauce.
- 3 tablespoons tamarind paste
- 1 tablespoon fresh lime juice
- 1 tablespoon fish sauce
- 1 tablespoon honey
- 1 tablespoon finely sliced green onion
- 1 tablespoon finely sliced coriander leaves
- 1/4 teaspoon sea salt
- 1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon red hot chile flakes
Place all of the ingredients in a small bowl and stir. Chill until ready to serve.
Serve the ribs on individual plates or on a large platter. Drizzle some pan juices over the ribs and, if serving on individual plates, add a small pool of pan sauce to each plate, or place a bowl of pan juices on the table.
Serve with a bowl of the tamarind dipping sauce and Thai jasmine rice as pictured.
I just love beans, any which way, and I’m always trying out new variations just to keep the dialogue evolving. And, of course, it is fall and a perfect time for cooking beans for some hearty cool weather meals.
Borlotti beans may not be as popular as many other bean varieties, but why not try something new. Borlotti beans, also known as cranberry beans, originate from Mesoamerica and first cultivated in Colombia. The Colombian caramauto beans eventually found their way to Italy where they are favored for their thicker skin, creamier texture, and nutty flavor when cooked. Fresh borlotti beans have a pale buff background color streaked with red. Dried borlotti beans vary in color and are popular in Portuguese, Turkish, and Greek, as well as Italian cooking.
Like all common dried beans, Borlotti beans are cooked in a seasoned broth until soft. A flavorful meat is often added to the beans to give them an enticing aroma as well as a tantalizing note to what would otherwise be a pot of rather bland earthy boiled legumes.
All common beans (phaseolus vulgaris) originate from the Americas and were brought from the new world to the old world by European explorers in the 1400’s. Like many other new world indigenous foods, beans were then traded eastward into Asia, and the rest is history.
For this recipe I have used a well seasoned local sausage, but an Italian, Portuguese, Mexican chorizo, or your favorite local well seasoned sausage will do nicely.
When fall rolls around there is nothing quite like a hearty piping hot bowl of well seasoned beans to satisfy the appetite.
Borlotti Beans with Sausage serves 4
A cooks note: I like to make this recipe a day in advance which allows the flavors to develop and meld together.
- 1 pound well spiced sausage, cut into 6 inch lengths
- 2 tablespoons olive oil + additional for finishing
- 1 ½ cups chopped yellow onions
- 4 garlic cloves, peeled and thinly slice
- 3 fresh jalapeno chilies seeded and diced
- 1 large red bell pepper, seeded and cut into thin strips
- 2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 1 quart cooked borlotti beans For cooking beans (click here) or 3 400 g canned Borlotti
- 3 bay leaves
- 1 teaspoon dried oregano
- 1 teaspoon toasted cumin seeds, ground
- a pinch of ground clove
- 2 quarts stock or water as needed
- 1 bunch collard greens, leaves only with center ribs removed and leaves chopped
- sea salt to taste
- ¾ teaspoon Spanish smoked paprika (optional)
Place a medium sized stock pot on the stove top over medium flame. When hot add the oil. When the oil is nearly smoking add the sausage and deeply brown on all sides. Transfer the browned sausage to a plate and set aside.
Add the onions to the pot and saute, stirring continuously, until soft and translucent, about 6 minutes. Add the garlic and continue to saute 1 minute. Then add the jalapenos and red peppers and saute, stirring continuously, until the peppers are wilted, about 4 minutes.
Clear a well in the center of the pot, add the tomato paste and press it against the bottom of the pot to caramelize it, about 2 minutes. Then stir in the beans and add the bay leaves, oregano, cumin seeds, and the clove and stir all the ingredients until well combined.
Promptly add enough stock or water to cover the contents with an inch to spare and stir well. Bring the contents to a boil and then reduce the heat to a simmer and cook for 30 minutes, stirring from time to time.
Meanwhile cut the browned sausage into ½ inch rounds and set aside.
Add the chopped collard greens, the sausage, and additional stock or water if needed. Bring back to a boil. Reduce heat to a simmer and cook for 15 minutes.
Taste and add salt to your liking as well as the paprika if using and stir to combine.
At this point the beans and sausage are ready to serve. That said, as mentioned, you may want to transfer the beans to several containers and refrigerate overnight. Be sure to reserve stock for reheating.
slowly reheat the beans and sausage and simmer for several minutes, adding some stock or water if needed. Be sure the beans and sausage are piping hot just before serving.
Ladle the beans, sausage, and broth into individual shallow bowls, stirring in a drizzle of olive oil into each just before serving.
Serve with crusty warmed bread or focaccia.