If you’ve worked for a Chinese company before, you probably know a thing or two about being put on the spot. Perhaps part of your job title, for visa purposes, is literally “foreign expert,” or perhaps you’ve been perceived as one simply for being non-Chinese. You may even know what it’s like to perform in an ambiguous “team building” or “promotional” activity for which you’ve found yourself singing, dancing or acting on stage. Regardless, it’s likely that you know what it’s like to be expected by bosses, colleagues, students, friends or acquaintances to be able to spout wisdom on a topic, on-demand.
When this happens to me, I try to remember this silver lining: such moments of feigned expertise are character-building, since they teach me to go with the flow or sometimes even assert a firm, “No!” But, of all the experiences I’ve had in China in which I found myself pretending to be an expert on a topic, the one that has challenged me most is chili.
Yes, that’s right. If you’re currently remembering that I was a judge in the last Shooters’ Chili Cook-Off and a contestant the year before that, then don’t hold it against the ball boys. They didn’t know that I’d previously only made one other chili—incidentally, in another cook-off a few months before. And, why would they? I write a cooking column, after all.
Even after poring over tons of recipes online and in trusted cookbooks, neither of my cook-off chilies came out exactly to my liking. But, since then, I’ve begun exploring chili on my own terms without the pressure of competition. I’ve figured out one thing that I really like: being able to make it fast.
The recipe below can be whipped together in 30-45 minutes, but of course, it can also sit on the back burner for another hour after that, getting more scrumptious by the minute. Top that baby with whatever you have of green onion, sour cream, cheddar cheese and—if you really want to get crazy—sliced avocado and you’re good to go. You can even scoff at pressure cookers, whole-day recipes and overnight meat marinades while you eat it.
Once I really started thinking about various methods for makingchili and what flavors and textures I prefer, I realized what a truly versatile dish it is. It can be overwhelming to make or impossible to get wrong, depending on how you look at it. There is widespread disagreement about what secret ingredients give it a winning edge because it can be taken in so many directions. You can add chocolate, cayenne, smoke flavoring, brown sugar, vinegar or a little of it all.
Mine has lime juice and vinegar, and, I’ll admit, sometimes even a few scoops of chili spice mix from Chugwater, Wyoming when I’m out of the spices shown below (it was gifted to me by someone that I’m pretty sure must be an expert on chili just for coming from America’s heartland, so why not?). But, this recipe doesn’t list a chili powder mix because I believe you never really need one; and, it’s pretty darn good after 30 minutes or 90, even without that extra boost.
Since I can’t really tell you what makes a chili authentic or traditional (even though I hail from Texas, where we’re supposed to know a thing or two about that) you might call this chili unorthodox. The way I see it, who cares if your beans are black, white, red or brown if they taste good. So, instead of feigning expertise yet again, I offer here a fast and hearty one that’s perfect for the cold month of February. It’s easy to make with local ingredients, but if you want to spice it up, check out the cooking tips below.
When mincing the tomatoes, go to town on them. I mean it—you want your knife to be tap-dancing across that cutting board until you can’t chop them down any more (or, you can get fancy and use a food processor). You can also add them one-by-one to the pot to ensure that they integrate more slowly with the other ingredients.As well, in the recipe below, I’ve kept “beans” unspecific for a reason – you can use black, kidney, cannellini, pinto or any other variety you prefer.
For the meat and spices, I’ve provided ranges because you should add as much as pleases your taste. Start with the amounts below and work your way up. In fact, just add whatever you have of the listed dry ingredients. Some or all of them are still going to taste fine. By dry Italian herbs, I mean any of the following: oregano, basil, thyme, sage, parsley and rosemary.
Easy No-Chili-Mix Chili
- 300-500g (or more) ground beef*
- 1 large white onion, chopped
- 1 bunch/4-6 stalks celery, diced
- 1 large/2 small carrots, in thin half-moon slices
- 5 cloves to 1 bulb garlic, minced
- 1 large green bell pepper, chopped
- 2 medium-spice green peppers, minced
- 1-2 spicy green peppers, minced
- 4 large tomatoes, minced*
- 3 cups cooked or 2 cans beans*
- 15-45mL tomato paste (optional)
- Salt and black pepper
- 15mL or more dry Italian herbs*
- 15mL or more paprika
- 5-10mL ground cumin
- 15mL or more ground red pepper or red pepper flakes
- 5mL cayenne
- 15-30mL red wine vinegar
- Juice of ½ or 1 lemon or lime
- Brown meat in the bottom of a large pot over medium heat and then add onions, celery, garlic and carrots. When onions are softened, add peppers and cook another 5 minutes.
- Add tomatoes* and then spices and tomato paste (if using). Mix completely and then add beans. Let simmer for 10-15 minutes and add 1-1.5 cups water and bring to boil.
- Add lemon/lime juice and vinegar to taste. Reduce heat and let simmer until you’re ready to eat, boiling off liquid if consistency is too thin.
- Serve over rice and/or garnish as desired.
Serving size: 6-8 Serve with: dry red wine