Wednesday, January 8, 2014

Dad's Famous Chili

I have watched my Dad make this chili so many times, it is imprinted on my memory for life.  When our humble U.S.military family was stationed in Germany, Dad entered his chili into a local on-base chili contest, with 200 other entries.  He got 2nd place, only because his competition used "Filet Mignon" instead of regular steak.   But our whole family grew up eating this chili for years.  On cold winter days, Dad would just go all out and make a GIANT pot of it, usually doubling this recipe, so we could all munch on it for days, and make "chili-mac" or tacos and burritos with the thickened leftovers.  Dad never really used a recipe, but I have seen it made so many times, I knew the exact amount of every ingredient, and I myself have made it many times, under his supervision, and by myself.  people used to say it had "healing properties".  Especially my Mom...  Whenever she came down with a case of horrible cramps, Dad would make his chili and she would eat a big bowl of it-- it would just sedate her.  Timeless home comfort in our family.

Dad’s Famous Chili

1 16-oz bag pinto beans, uncooked
Water (enough to cover the beans by about 2 inches)
3 tablespoons cooking oil
1 large onion, diced
1 bell pepper (any color) seeded and diced
1 lb ground beef
1 large beef steak (any kind, fat trimmed), cut into chunks the size of the tip of your thumb, from the first joint.
4 to 6 large cloves garlic, crushed and finely chopped
1 to 2 fresh green chilies, chopped (optional, more if you like it hotter)
3 tablespoons McCormick Chili Powder (its not hot)
1 tablespoon paprika
3 tsp ground cumin
2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce
2 large diced tomatoes (you can also use canned stewed tomatoes, drained and diced)
1 can (15oz.) tomato sauce
1 heaping tsp sugar
2 tablespoons ketchup
Salt and pepper to taste

Step One:  The Beans.

QUESTION:  Do I really have to sort the beans?

ANSWER:  Yes!  I have never purchased a bag of dried beans that DID NOT have small rocks in it.  At least one.   Even if you are lucky enough to get no rocks, sorting is also to get rid of any beans that are discolored, or noticeably disfigured.  Those usually taste bad and can ruin the flavor of your dish, should someone bite into one.  My Dad had a super-easy method of sorting beans:   He sat down at the table, with the empty cooking pot in his lap.  He would dump the beans out on the table, spread them out and then gradually scoop them towards him in small batches, checking for discolored or disfigured beans and rocks. If he found any, he would make a little “throw away” pile off to the side.   Then all the good beans, he would slide to the edge of the table and down into the pot. You can use canned beans and compensate the liquid, but frankly…  Canned beans were total sacrilege to Dad and if he ever saw someone do that, he would have something to say about it, lol.


1.        Sort the beans, placing the good ones in a large cooking pot. 
2.       If you choose to rinse the beans, do so now, in COLD water, through a colander. 
3.       Fill the cooking pot with COLD water. Cover with a lid and let the beans soak overnight.  The next day, strain the water, rinse the beans and put them back in the pot, filling it with water about 2 inches above the beans.

OR, if you want this dish for dinner tonight, you can use this faster method—Bring the beans to a boil for 2 minutes.  Turn off the heat and let them soak for 2 hours.  The water will be very cloudy (or mauve-colored with red kidney beans).   Strain and rinse the beans, and put them back in the pot, covering them with about 2 inches of water.  **Getting rid of the old water removes a lot of the components that cause “gas” when you eat beans, by the way.    

4.       Boil the beans for an additional 2 to 3 hours, or until they are tender to your liking.    While the beans are boiling, start to work on your “chili meat sauce”.

The Chili Meat Sauce:

1.       In a large skillet, heat the 3 tablespoons cooking oil over medium heat.   Add the diced onion and bell pepper.   Fry until onions are clear, stirring occasionally.  
2.       Add the ground beef, cut up steak meat, garlic, green chilies, chili powder, paprika, ground cumin and Worcestershire sauce.  Blend together and cook until the meat is done. 
3.       Add the diced tomato, tomato sauce, sugar, ketchup and salt and pepper to taste.  Blend well.   Reduce heat to medium-low and allow this sauce to simmer, until the beans are tender.  Stir occasionally and add small amounts of bean water if it gets too dry.

Putting It All Together:

1.       Once beans are tender, carefully add the chili meat sauce to the pot of beans.  You can do this by pouring the pan over the bean pot, or (if the pan is too heavy) gradually spooning the sauce into the bean pot.  Stir to blend well.
2.        Allow chili to cook for at least an additional hour, stirring occasionally.  You may boil the water down to make it thicker, or add water to thin it out, to your liking.  You may also add anything else you like at this point (more salt? More green chilies? Tomato paste for thickening?).

Serve chili hot.   In our home, Dad usually served it with corn bread, or Saltine crackers. 

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