When the cottonwood trees along the Animas River in Durango look like this, it’s time to pull out the winter sweaters and scarves, remember to take the camera everywhere, check the wood pile, and make a bubbling pot of tasty homemade chili.
Yesterday I made this, first batch of the season. The beginning of many chili nights to come.
It’s an original recipe that was inspired by time spent in Santa Fe talking with mom and pop cafe owners. After a dozen or so test chilis it became an ‘I’d Order That.’ I found the right seasoning combination and rarely vary from it.
A few years ago it won the honor of being featured on The Fountain of St. Louis’s menu for one week. A beautiful, landmark restaurant that used to be an auto showroom and is now an art deco treasure of St. Louis. They held a chili contest and I was elated when mine made the cut. I love that place from their hot roast beef melt, retro cocktails, to the World’s Smallest Hot Fudge Sundae. When I asked why they chose my recipe, what caught their eye, they said that it was my ‘secret ingredient.’ More on that in a sec…..
I start by browning 1 pound of ground beef with no-salt chili powder, cumin and brown sugar. That’s chili powder with an ‘i’ that is pre-seasoned with garlic and cumin and all sorts of spices. The kind we use for taco seasoning.
Tip: use no-salt chili powder so you have better control over the saltiness of the chili and can taste and add as you cook.
My secret ingredient — masa harina, the fine ground corn powder used to make tortillas. It adds a wonderful layer of flavor to the chili, something people taste and ask ‘what is that?’ And it thickens the batch beautifully. I realize it’s not such a secret when listed on the header of a recipe: ‘With Masa Harina.’ But this is the first time I’ve listed it that way, it used to be called Santa Fe Beef Chili.
A pretty palette of spices. Onion powder, red chile powder, garlic powder, celery seed, mustard, salt, black pepper, cayenne (optional.) The red chile powder with an ‘e’ is pure ground red chile, that’s it. Chili powder with an ‘i’ has garlic, onion and other spices.
1 can of tomato puree, a little white vinegar and 2 cups of water.
It all goes into the bubbling pot of browned meat for 5 minutes, then reduces to simmer for an hour. I stir every 15 minutes. And write down exactly when an hour is up, because I always lose count with the stirring schedule. ‘Was that the second stir or the third?……Am I done? Wait a second….?
Some favorite toppings — sharp grated cheddar, chopped scallions, sour cream, diced roma tomato. Especially the cheddar and sour cream for creamy coolness over the spicy hot chili.
This time of year when the nights are in the chilly mid-30s, this really says comfort, warmth, and seconds please! With a handful of tortilla chips. And a bottle of hot sauce (Cholula Original) on the table is always a good idea.
I’d Order That……