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Thursday, May 3, 2012

Chili con Carne y Tortillas

This is kind of like 'clean out the fridge and cupboards' chili.  I had just enough vegetables (and fruit, if you need to be technical) in the crisper to pull this off, and I had a bag of black lentils in the cupboard which needed using... so this seemed like a good idea.  Sometimes it isn't truly convenient to head to the grocer and replenish the stores here, so once in a while I'll have a relatively creative batch of meals in a row.

Anyway, this is fairly close to other chili-like dishes I've made in the past (see Chili sin Carne y Tortillas), although unlike those, this one actually can be called chili because it contains meat.  Apparently it isn't really 'chili' unless it has meat in it.

So, my prep ingredients are:

Green onion (would have loved some white onion too... it's on the grocery list), garlic, and a couple tomatoes I needed to use up.

I had started some lentils earlier... I rinsed them extremely well, and pre-boiled them for an hour or two before cooking.  

I then rinsed them again.   :D

The trick (I find) with lentils is to just baby them.  If you have the foresight, give em a really long soaking beforehand... but pre-boiling does soften them a fair bit.  It also lessens that dry, dusty, flavour a little bit.  In any case, it is absolutely necessary to pre-treat your lentils before cooking with them.  Dried lentils especially.

Anyway, as that was going on, I started the ground beef.  I cooked it up only about 3/4 of the way - basically cooked to about rare or medium-rare if such a thing could apply to ground beef.

Still want there to be a bit of pink in there is all...

Dump and scrape the pan into a slow-cooker pot (grease and all!) and leave it for now.

I threw the now-done lentils on top too... along with a few bay leaves.

Now that I had a beefy, greasy pan sitting out, I decided to quickly toss the garlic and onion in that.  This softens them a little bit, and begins the process of diffusing their flavours out.

I positively adore sauteed garlic and onion.

So much freaking flavour.  This stuff could make pretty much anything taste awesome.

Anyway, I pureed the tomato quickly in my trusty immersion blender (what would I do without this, I wonder?)

And then threw that in with the garlic and onion, after a few minutes.

Just to get those three evenly distributed.

Then it goes into the slow-cooker.

Stir gently, and then add a can of brown beans.

Stir again, and add a can (small one... like 150ml or so) of tomato paste.

Stir it all up gently, and add a can (again, the small size, so around 150ml) of water.

And it's starting to look like chili.

Now come the value-adds.  :)

I used to use chili powder.  You'd think it a no-brainer, right?  Well... if you know me you'll know I never like someone to cut corners for me when I can start further back on the path myself.  So...

When you look at your run-of-the-mill chili powder...

It says quite clearly on the label, that it is in fact a BLEND of spices.  In this particular case, dried chili pepper, cumin, salt, oregano, and dehydrated garlic.


This particular chili powder is almost a decade old.  Because I just don't use it.  Because I make my own.  After all, why use this dried facsimile when you can just make your own fresh with real ingredients?

So, normally I'll throw in a fresh chili or two, a hefty helping of freshly-ground cumin, a spattering of oregano, and several cloves of fresh, minced, garlic.

Doesn't that sound better (not to mention better for you) than dried chili powder?

Anyway, it's not as hard as it sounds, nor is it all that time-consuming.  When I started doing this, I never looked back.  So I should really just throw this guy away, I guess... Although I will admit (en secret, d'accord?) I might use it once in a while to flavour some white trash item such as nachos or chili-fries or something like that...  SHHHHH!!!

However, in the vast utter majority of meals, fresh is always better.  And fresh, from scratch, with the least amount of processing, or human intermediation, is even better.

So, in addition to the above ingredients, I mixed up some spices consisting of:


 Lots of cumin.

Oregano.  Dried was all I had.  Still flavourful, however:

Salt and pepper:

And, for my own tastes, a dash of red-wine vinegar:

And a dash of lime zest:

Lime goes really well with this sort of thing I find.

Now... you'll note that the chili is conspicuously absent.  I've recently been under a lot of heat (heh heh heh) about using peppers.  Part of the reason is, well... I like them... but the other reason - at least lately - has been that I bought a really cheap bulk bag of habeneros which I wanted to use in pretty much everything I could.  Now... habeneros can be pretty hot.  Not scorching or anything, but definitely not a mild pepper.

Suffice it to say, I was pretty sure I would have angered the wife if this was too spicy...  it's ok once in a while, but there were just too many too recently this month...

So... this was an extremely mild chili.  :(

I did sneak a couple dashes of hot sauce in there (I mean, let's not be stupid-cautious, right?) but not enough for this to be considered even remotely hot.

Anyway... this was all ready, and stirred-well, and so it got put in the slow cooker.  

I started this mid-afternoon, in order for it to get at least 3 hours in there.  It ended up getting about 4 and a half.  Which is good.  The longer the better... almost.  I suppose more than 8 hours would be too long.  But I'm a fan of really long, slow, cooking.  For stuff like this anyway, where you want everything in it to taste like everything in it.


About an hour before serving, I mixed up my famous (famous to my wife, anyway) home-made tortillas.  These things are stupid-easy to make.  It's literally flour (corn flour is better, but all-purpose wheat flour is fine) and water.  Throw a small pinch of salt in and you're done.  Add a sprinkle of cumin or something, and it's flavoured.

I never really follow any math here... and I probably should.  Sometime I'll try and remember my portion sizes here, but for the most part it's like a 1:3 ratio of flour to water.  YES, 1:3.  This works better as an extremely runny mix.  In fact, I'll know that it's at the right consistency when it become just as viscous as water itself.  At first I tried experimenting with this recipe using all manner of tricks, including milk, eggs, baking powder, etc.  But tortillas are not pancakes, dude.  The BEST tortillas are literally just flour and water.  With salt.

What makes these a little bit of a pain, is just the time it takes to cook them.  If I had 2 stoves and 8 small frying pans, I could get this all done in about 15 minutes.  But who has that?  Even with 2 pans going at the same time, it takes me about an hour to cook em all up.  So... that's the tedious part.  But it's worth it.


These are even delicious on their own!  YO ME GUSTA!

Anyway... the good thing is that they can sit out, at room temperature for a while before serving, and it's just fine.  So, I've taken to making these early, and just letting them sit until we're ready to eat.

I suppose, if you were busy and had no time on weekdays you could make up a big batch on the weekend, and it would sit just fine in a sealed container for a few days on the counter, or even a few weeks in the fridge.

Anyway, if you're NOT a soccer mom, it's only an hour or so to make like 8 of these puppies, and you can do it while you're cooking your meal so it's not a big deal.

So... when the wife came home, everything was ready to go.  After a quick and easy spinach salad, we chowed down on some burrito kind of things made out of the lentil chili and the tortillas.

Double yum.

This particular guy had some cheddar, some salsa, and some 0% greek yogurt on top.

Triple yum.