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Cynthia Stone: Chili weather

Cynthia Stone photo — 
The secret to depth of flavour in chili is using tons of herbs and spices and cooking it long and slow so the ingredients get comfortable with each other.
Cynthia Stone photo — The secret to depth of flavour in chili is using tons of herbs and spices and cooking it long and slow so the ingredients get comfortable with each other.

Warm up with a little heat

The fall weather isn’t complaint worthy yet but I feel the cold coming and it makes me crave a hot and spicy kitchen.

Whether you freestyle your chili or are always scouring cooking sites for new recipes, stick with me today. There’s something for everyone.

Chili Con Carne

Meaty and spicy, this concoction is thick and rich and perfect on top of a crisp salad, hot dog or baked potato or under onions and avocado in a big bowl.

The secret to depth of flavour in chili is using tons of herbs and spices and cooking it long and slow so the ingredients get comfortable with each other.

You can use lean ground beef but I get a better result with medium. Just let it sit off heat for 10 minutes before serving and it’s easy to skim off the fat with a spoon. Actually you could use a mixture of any ground meats you like. For Texas-style chili use a blade roast cut into 1-inch cubes. Brown the meat thoroughly if you go that route.

Beef broth will work instead of concentrated bouillon but allow extra time for the liquid to reduce. I like the little plastic cups with jellied concentrate in them and I always use a low-sodium version if I can.

Be careful not to add too much salt early on because it concentrates quickly at the end. You can always add more but you can’t take it out.

If you can’t find dried chilies substitute two heaping spoonfuls of bottled ground chili powder. It loses oomph as it ages so if it’s been in the cupboard for a while you might have to increase the quantity. That’s the advantage of whole dried chilies—they always pack more punch.

Let’s talk about canned chipotle chilies for a minute. They add intense smoky spice to the pot but don’t add more than three or they will blow your head off. When I open a can I separate them—that plastic wrap that sticks to itself works great—and freeze them individually so I can take one or two out of the freezer whenever I want them.

As for the fresh chilies, use Serrano, which are hotter, or Fresnos, which are milder—whatever variety you like, but please don’t omit them. For more heat include the seeds.

If you don’t have corn tortillas on hand you can substitute tortilla chips, although they are not quite as good. If you have masa marina—corn flour for making tortillas—by all means use a heaping spoonful of that instead. Whichever you pick the addition of the corn flavour is worthwhile.

Beans are optional but adding your favourite variety lets you customize the result. Garbanzos have bite while kidneys have chew. I chose navy beans for this batch because I wanted a creamy addition. If I’m lucky enough to have canned hominy, which is giant soft corn kernels, that’s my first choice but it’s not easy to find here.

These quantities make about 8 servings but double or triple the batch to put meals in the freezer—chili is one of the few dishes that doesn’t suffer at all reheating from frozen.


2 lb. medium ground beef
1 large yellow onion, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
6 cloves garlic, minced
1 or 2 fresh jalapenos, seeded or not, minced
1 tbsp. ground cumin
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes, squashed
concentrated beef bouillon—quantity needed to make 3 cups of broth
1 large bunch fresh cilantro, chopped, stems and leaves divided
4 fresh thyme sprigs
4 fresh or 6 dried bay leaves
2 canned chipotle peppers, minced with 1 tsp. of the adobe sauce from the can
4 to 6 whole dried chilies
2 corn tortillas, torn into pieces
½ tsp. each salt and freshly ground black pepper
½ cup warm water
1 15-oz. can beans, any kind you like, optional


Fry beef, onion and celery in a big heavy pot until the meat is no longer pink and the veggies are starting to soften. Stir in garlic, jalapenos and cumin and cook another 2 minutes.

Add oregano, tomatoes and bouillon and bring back up to a slow simmer.

Twist off about half the cilantro leaves, chop coarsely and set aside for serving. Mince the stems and chop remaining leaves and add to the pot along with thyme, bay leaves and chipotle.

Break the tops off the dried chilies and shake out and discard as many seeds as you can. Put the chilies in the oven at 400 degrees F about 5 minutes. You can toast them in a dry frying pan if you prefer. Place them in a blender or food processor. Add the broken tortilla pieces, salt, pepper and warm water and process until you have a smooth paste. Add it to the pot.

Cover tightly and simmer on top of the stove or put it in the oven at 300 degrees F for about 2 hours, until everything has cooked together and formed a sauce. Drain and add the beans and cook another 30 minutes. Taste and add more salt and pepper if needed.

Discard thyme stalks and bay leaves.

Toppings are whatever you like—grated cheese, corn chips or fresh corn are all great. My favourites are chopped onion, sliced avocado and sour cream, and don’t forget the fresh cilantro you set aside earlier.

Cynthia Stone is an information manager and writer in St. John’s. E-mail questions to her at

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