A few weeks back I hit a large patch of homesickness. I am not sure if it was because my husband had just left or if it was the fact that I am nearing the end of my Italian experience. Whatever the reason, the desire to be home was almost palpable. In addition to my sense of melancholy was the turning of the weather. The sky had grayed and the moisture hung in the air causing a sense of dampness to invade your bones. After calling my family several times, facebook stalking my friends, and watching as many corney Hollywood movies as I could, I decided it was time to be done with this feeling. I got myself into the kitchen and made myself a big bowl of comfort.
Chili and cornbread are that cozy sweatshirt version of food that warms you from the stomach out. With each bite I could feel the corners of my mouth slowly tilting upward. Of course when you are in need of comfort you end up cooking for a small army. Chili soon filled every tuber ware I owned. When my classmate Nicoline from Denmark stopped by that week for dinner I asked her if she was interested in chili. Normally cooking with classmates are more elaborate fairs, with fresh made pasta, artisan products recently acquired from the latest festival, or a unique vegetable that the farmer at the weekly market insisted we try. The meals are not the sweatshirt version of food. You can imagine my surprise then when Nicoline’s eyes lit up and she enthusiastically replied, “Yes! I have wanted to try Chili and cornbread!” It is easy to forget that those unglamorous everyday dishes can hold a sense of intrigue to people outside of your culture. So we dined, both getting our stomachs hugged by the comfort of the meal leaving the table with a sigh of contentment.
A few weeks later at the end of a long dreary and stressful week, Nicoline looked at me and asked, “Want to make chili and cornbread??” I guess there are some dishes that are just universally comforting.
Nothing Fancy Just Good Chili:
3 slices of thick bacon
1 small minced yellow onion
½ red bell pepper, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, peeled and sliced
1 minced red chile (can use dried chile flakes or hot sauce)
½ lb of ground beef (can add more if you like a meatier style, also consider a mix of beef and pork)
½ t- 1 t of dried oregano
1 bay leaf
½ t Worcestershire sauce
2-3 cups cooked beans (I prefer a mix of beans like kidney, cannellini, garbanzo, and pinto)
1 cup chunky tomatoes (can use fresh peeled or canned)
16-24 oz of tomato sauce (depends on the thickness you prefer)
Cheddar cheese to grate on top
Everybody has different styles of chili they prefer. I like them chockfull of beans, thick in texture, with a bit of spice. This recipe may read like a “choose your own adventure” but the beauty of chili is finding the style the makes you happy.
In a large pot, render the bacon over medium heat. Remove the cooked pieces (you can top your chili later or use it for another dish). Add the onion and garlic to the bacon fat. Cook until onions begin to sweet 2-3 minutes. Add the carrots, bell pepper, and chile. Saute for a couple more minutes.
Add ground beef and stir to break up the meat. Cook until the beef is mostly browned but still a bit pink. If you have rendered a lot of fat out of the meat, drain most of it. It is ok if there is a little bit of fat at the bottom of the pot but if there is too much it will add an unpleasant taste to the chili.
Add the beans, oregano, bay leaf, tomato chunks, Worcestershire sauce, and tomato sauce. Stir to incorporate and add a bit of salt and pepper. Bring to a simmer and simmer for 20 minutes stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust for salt, pepper and spice. Simmer for an additional 10 minutes and serve.
Chili is a great dish to cook and forget about. The flavors just get better the longer they cook. The longer you can let the flavors mingle the better but it can also be ready after about 30-45 minutes of simmering.
I recommend topping with cheese and accompanying it with a big hunk of cornbread with honey. Click Here for a cornbread recipe.