In Search of the Perfect Bowl of Chili

2 Oct

I had a Monday off work, due to the Harvest Festival here. It’s one of the two biggest holidays on the South Korean calendar–the other is the Lunar New Year–and one of the few times I can rely on my friends also getting a day off.  The weather’s starting to turn a bit nippy here, especially at night, and for some reason, holidays among our crew of ex-pats seem to invariably mean Tex-Mex food makes an appearance.  Chili was the logical conclusion.  And before anyone starts, I know that “real Texas chili” doesn’t include beans.  However, I’m not Texan, and the way I grew up eating chili, it never lacked them.  To me, a pot of chili without beans seems more like sloppy joe topping than a filling meal in its own right.

Preconceptions about beans aside, this hasn’t stopped me from experimenting with different spices and blends to find the perfect combination of spicy-sweet-rich for a bowl of chili.  Monday’s, I think, was a success I’ll keep on permanent file.


1 lb beef stewing meat, chopped
2 slices extra-thick bacon, chopped
1 lb ground beef
1 onion, diced
5-6 fat cloves of garlic, roughly chopped (if you have a mortar & pestle) or minced (if you don’t)
6-7 small dried red peppers, ground (if you have a mortar & pestle) or about a tablespoon of dried red pepper flakes
chili powder to taste (about 2 tsp if you have sensitive palates to please, 2 tbsp if you like it spicier, but keep the heat of your dried pepper in mind, too)
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp dried oregano
1 and 1/2 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon
2 tsp unsweetened cocoa powder
1 can beer (nothing fancy, I used the cheapest can I found, an all malt variety)
2 cans kidney beans, drained
1 can black beans, drained
1 can diced tomatoes

Start by browning the stewing meat and bacon in a large pot, thoroughly.  Add a little oil if necessary.  Don’t be afraid to let the pieces get a little crispy around the edges, this adds a lot of flavor to the finished chili.  After these are mostly browned, add the ground beef until everything is cooked through.  Finally, add the onion and garlic.  Cook and stir until the onion is softened and translucent.

Add red peppers, chili powder, cumin, oregano, salt, and cinnamon.  Turn to medium low heat and stir constantly to avoid burning, for 1-2 minutes.  Add cocoa powder, stir thoroughly, then add the beer.  The kidney beans, black beans, and tomatoes go in while this returns to a simmer.  Once it’s simmering, cook uncovered on low, stirring occasionally, until thickened to your taste–about an hour should be plenty.

Ladle out and serve. Garnish with a bit of grated cheddar, cilantro, or sour cream.  It’s delicious eaten as chili in a bowl, or scooped up with tortilla chips.  Leftovers can be easily reheated.  Add a bit more water (or beer) if they start to look too dry.

Serves 4.

2 Responses to “In Search of the Perfect Bowl of Chili”

  1. Quinn at 7:31 am #

    Would this mixture work as a enchilada mixture? It sounds delicious, but not too sure about the beer/cinnamon/cocoa combination

    • oddvocado at 7:34 am #

      It might not be bad as an enchilada filling, though you’d have to add tomato sauce of some sort and a lot of cheese as a topping, which might change the whole flavor profile. You can’t really taste the beer, the cinnamon, or the cocoa in the finished product, but it adds a depth to the flavor that wouldn’t otherwise be there.

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