I participated in a chili cook off this weekend, and brought two chilis with me: one is just the usual tomato chili I make and have been refining over the last few years. The other was a Cincinnati chili (served over noodles with cheddar cheese, of course) that went over way better than I thought likely, since it's a pretty unusual flavor. But both were very well received, if running out of both is any measure to go by.
My chili recipe has its origins back in Kurdzhali, Bulgaria. I had been cooking for myself during college, of course, but Bulgaria offered me a real opportunity to experiment and try different things. Chili was one of the things that I made once a month or so. I remember making one particularly spicy batch that my friend, a fellow American, and I really enjoyed, but his Bulgarian girlfriend found it a bit too much.
I didn't have a set recipe for chili when I began preparing for the chili cook off, so I had to sit down and type one out and think about my options. It's really a pretty straightforward recipe. I think one of the important tricks to it, though, is to add the spices to the ground meat and saute them for a few minutes, until fond begins to develop on the bottom, then deglaze with red wine. Sauteing the spices in the fat from the meat really helps to open up the flavors. Other than that, the nice thing about chili is that it's forgiving. It's very easy to make changes, try different ratios of meat or veggies, more beans or fewer. It would be easy to adapt it into a vegetarian chili by using seitan or other protein replacements.
For the Cincinnati chili, I used this recipe and doubled it. I also backed off on the cocoa a bit -- I found it to be a little overwhelming the first time I made it. So I would only use one and a quarter tablespoons instead of one and a half. Otherwise, that's a great, simple recipe.
2 tbs chili powder
1 tbs salt
1 tbs cumin
½ tbs dried oregano
1 tsp cayenne pepper
1 tsp red pepper flake
½ tsp sugar
1 large onion, diced
2 large red pepper, diced fine
2 large poblano peppers, diced fine
2 jalapenos, diced fine, seeds removed
1 serrano pepper, diced find, seeds removed (optional – this adds some heat)
8 cloves garlic, minced
1 lbs lean ground beef (I usually use 85/15)
1 lbs hot Italian sausage, casings removed
2 tbs tomato paste
2 cups black beans, drained
2 cups kidney beans, drained
1 cup dry red wine
1 28oz can of crushed tomatoes
4 cups chicken stock or water
In a large dutch oven, heat olive oil until shimmering and sauté onions until translucent. Add the peppers and sauté until soft. Add garlic. Once vegetables are fragrant, remove them to a bowl and add the beef and sausage. Brown the meat, breaking it up fine as you go. Once all of the meat is browned, five minutes, add the tomato paste and stir until combined. Once the color begins to darken, add the seasonings. Stir until aromatic and bottom of dutch oven begins to develop fond. Add red wine and deglaze until the wine is mostly incorporated. Return the vegetables, add the beans, crushed tomatoes and stock or water. Bring to a boil, and then reduce to a bare simmer. Add sugar and adjust seasonings to taste. Cover and cook on low for half an hour to an hour, or until the sauce thickens to desired consistency.