A basic chilli recipe
As written, this recipe is vegan friendly! Non-vegans can add non-vegan elements as you like.
This recipe makes A LOT. About twelve quite generous adult servings. Go ahead and reduce the quantity if you like-- I find it difficult to make a small amount of chilli, and kind of pointless, as it's a satisfying couple of hours' worth of cooking, so with that amount of input you are due more than one good dinner. It freezes extremely well. Freezing might even make it better. This is just a base recipe. You can add anything else to it that you like, but it's pretty tasty on its own. Please don't be put out by the apparent length of the recipe-- this is lazy cooking at its laziest, and I am rubbish at keeping things concise.
I must warn you: I don't really measure anything. Guidelines only! You will have to work to your own taste. If you have any questions, please post, and I'll try to answer.
You will need:
A really big pot. A good-sized stock pot is what I use.
Beans: the heart and soul of your chilli. I usually use a mixture of kidneys, pintos, black turtles, and black-eyed peas, about three small handfuls each, cooked up from dry. You can use tinned beans too: I would recommend two tins of kidneys, one of pintos, one of turtles, one of black eyed peas. There is nothing wrong with tinned beans. I just like mine with a little more bite to them, and dry beans are so cheap and so much lighter to carry if you're not in a wheeled and powered conveyance.
Four tins of tomatoes. You can use fresh ones if you are absolutely heroic, or have a garden full of them. Any kind.
Two big nice onions, three if they're smaller. I usually use brown ones, but sometimes red, or red, brown and shallot. Whatever-- the point is yummy onion.
Three bell peppers, two if they're huge. I like to use green and yellow, because the colour contrast against the tomatoes is pleasing, but use whatever you like.
One entire celery, leaves included. They are the best part.
Four or five fresh chilli peppers, or to taste. You can use dry flakes or powder, but I really like the sweetness that a fresh chilli brings. If you want it less hot, take out the seeds. If you want it more hot, add more. If you leave it on the milder side, you can always spice it up later.
Fresh garlic. As much as you like. You could use powdered, if that's what you have.
Ground cumin. A lot. Like, really a lot. Two tablespoons, minimum.*
Parsley-- fresh or dried.
Salt and pepper-- to taste, and you will need to taste, depending on your ingredients. Tinned beans and tomatoes will often come already salted. I tend to under-salt things. You can always add it later, but you can't take it out.
A pinch of sugar, any kind. It brings out the flavour of the onions and tomatoes.
You can use concentrated tomato paste if you like (if so omit or reduce the sugar) but I find it isn't necessary.
Olive oil, or any good vegetable oil.
Fresh coriander leaf (cilantro)-- to serve. Keep it separate unless you know that absolutely everyone who is going to be eating this is a coriander fan! See below for the Coriander Controversy.
Have your cooked or de-tinned and drained beans ready and cool enough to handle.
Chop up your onions, peppers, and celery. Warm enough olive oil over a medium heat in your Really Big Pot to coat them all comfortably, tip them all in together, toss them well in the oil and let them sweat until they are soft, but not mushy-- they should still have some crunch. They're going to cook more after this, so a fair bit of crunch is OK. Season with salt, pepper, pinch of sugar, and a generous amount of cumin-- you should have the glorious cumin scent all over your house. If it starts to stick to the bottom of the pot, add some water. Don't be tempted to add more oil-- cold oil added in can make the veggies too oily. Ew. If you really want more, please warm it first.
Tip in your tomatoes. If you're using fresh, you could peel them before chopping up small, but I don't mind little bits of peel. If you're using tinned ones and they aren't already chopped, chop them or just shred them to bits with your hands. Use all the juice, too. Turn the heat up until everything's hot through, then return it to a gentle simmer. If you're using dry parsley, add it now.
Now for your beans! If you have a little kid to hand, this is the time to get them involved, because this is the fun part. Tip in 1/2 to 2/3 of your beans, depending on how many whole beans you want. Take the rest and mash those suckers good in your bare hands! Sure, you could use a food processor or a potato masher, but where's the fun in that? Get them into a good lumpy paste, then grab it in lumps and pop it in, scraping the beany mess from your hands as you go. Lick your fingers. The squished beans will thicken your chilli, giving it a bit more oomph.
If you're using fresh chopped parsley, add it now, along with the garlic, chopped fine or crushed. You don't want these to be too thoroughly cooked-- the flavours should stay nice and fresh. Stir it well. Let it all burble at a pleasant simmer for about half an hour or until the tomato juice has cooked down and you're happy with the texture, stirring occasionally so it doesn't stick to the bottom. Taste and adjust the seasoning as you like. If you think you might want more cumin, go ahead and add it, but you'll need to let it sit a little longer to really get those flavours in there.
Now the controversial bit:
Some people-- myself included-- love this herb. Zingy, fresh, cooling, it is a natural accompaniment to all things hot or citrusy… but some people, owing to a slight genetic difference, cannot detect whatever it is about coriander that makes it so lovely to the rest of us. To them it tastes like a particularly strong and malodorous soap that poisons everything with its disgustingness. If in doubt, leave it out-- anyway, these people are mutants; they probably have superpowers so you really don't want to get on their bad side. Anyway, I think coriander is best used as a fresh topping.
That's it! Good right away, or you can cool it and leave the flavours to meld anywhere from several hours to overnight. If you're going to freeze it, it is best to let it cool thoroughly. Serve it with rice and your choice of anything else-- salsa, cheese, sour cream, creme fraiche, avocado, yogurt, a squeeze of lime, whatever you like. Make it go even further with tofu or TVP or seitan. Try it mixed with shredded lettuce, in or out of a wrap, for a light lunch. Make nachos out of it. Most of all make it your own. Let me know if you like it!
* This kind of thing could get rather expensive if you restrict yourself to those tiny little spice jars they sell in the supermarket, but you may find, if you have access to a good Chinese, Mexican or Asian grocery, you can get it in bigger bags for a fraction of the price. If you don't, check whether your supermarket has a section for exotic foods. You might find it there.