From the files of Jonathan Valelly, two-time iconic champion of the Swarthmore United Methodist Church cook-off (2005 & 2006)
Make your aromatic base. Add oil to your biggest pot and turn the heat to medium low. Add diced onion, carrot, celery, and a hit of salt and pepper. Stir and let sizzle. When the onions are glistening at you like, “why me?” (about 5 minutes) mix in the garlic and hot pepper. Let sizzle for 3 minutes.
Add your protein and season it. Raise the heat to medium. Add your protein and break it up a bit. Now is your chance to season the meat itself before swaddling it in glorious tomato gruel, so get hype! Add salt and a lot of pepper, duh, and then get saucy — splash the meat with kecup manis and any other salty sauce(s), plus a squirt of ketchup. Stir a few times until the meat is just cooked to brown. Add your wine or whatever liquid. Bring heat down to low and simmer until liquid reduces by half.
Add tomatoes and beans.
The fun part (add everything else). You now have your basic chili. But who wants to be basic? Go ahead and get creative! Add all the fun veggies and spices you can find! Tinker with the texture — I thicken with tomato paste or bean-can goo, and thin it out with stock or water. And let it all blend.
Use any of these. Or I mean, literally anything you want, just make sure all veggie chunks are about the same size and add them in order of longest to shortest cooking time.
ESSENTIAL CHILI BASE
salt and pepper
1/2 onion, diced
1 celery, diced
1 celery rib, diced (and another, sliced, if you life)
3-4 cloves minced garlic fresh or dried hot pepper to taste (jalepeno, poblano, red chili, scotch bonnet… I’ve never been a chipotle girl, but get your life)
1kg protein (1 use beef, the classic. But turkey, chicken, or any crumbly non-meat option will do. Extra yum points/street cred for anything gamey – moose meat, anyone?)
2tsp kecup manis, a sweetened soy sauce found at quality Asian supermarkets
2 tsp Other salty brown sauce, such as soy sauce, browning sauce, worcestershire sauce, even a blase of beef bouillon mixed in water
1 tbsp ketchup (because people are all children and low-key love ketchup)
3/4 cup dry white wine or another cooking liquid like stock, beer, or good old water
1 can of whole tomatoes (the Jolly Green Giant told me to always buy whole tomatoes because he puts the janky ones in the chopped or puree cans. Also, chunks)
3-5 cans of various beans. I like to get all different kinds. Red kidney beans are a must, then black beans and white beans. Romano, black eye, pimento — all great. “Medleys” can work, but often have chickpeas — not my style.
HEARTY VEGETABLE OPTIONS
- Chopped carrot, especially garden-grown ones or fancy fun colours
- Celery slices
- Half a can of sweet corn
- Bell peppers
- Sweet potato or squash, small cubes
There are a few things I simply can’t abide in chili. Potatoes, eggplant, leafy greens — miss me with that! Save that shit for your minestrone, lady! Just kidding, that’s me, do whatever you want.
UNENFORCEABLE SEASONING SUGGESTIONS
- Chopped fresh parsley (dry works too)
- Garlic and/or onion powder
- Season salt (Lowrys is common)
- Goya sazon or bean seasoning
- Brown sugar
- Black pepper
- A bit of cumin
- A bit of oregano
- Cayenne or other dried red pepper
- Green Onion
TOP SECRET INGREDIENTS
It pays off to be brave and add some wacky shit too. We are still young, spontaneous punks, right? I tipped you off to kecup manis. Here are some more secret ingredients I’ve used and liked. I wouldn’t advise mixing them all — pick one at a time and taste often.
- 8 spears okra, sliced in 1/2″ rounds. Adds amazing slimey texture, woody taste.
- Peach jam
- Lime juice
- Cotija cheese, melted in
- Fish sauce
- Good ol’MSG — if you still have hangups, um, try Google?
Add taste, tweak. By the time you’ve balanced the flavors to perfection, the chili is ready to eat. I keep it on low for another 15 minutes and let it cool some to let the flavors mingle. They’ll marry even more in the fridge overnight.
Chow down. Top each bowl with fresh herbs, cheese, and one last spin of the pepper grinder. Serve with hot buttered cornbread (JV’s own recipe, exclusive for BP subscribers on brokenpencil.com).
Tell me how it turns out! [email protected]brokenpencil.com