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better chilli

friends and i have been talking chilli recently. this is a dish which i’ve never been very excited by and very rarely make. as a result i’ve not really thought much about the various questions which relate to how to make the perfect chilli. however, that has all changed.


there are three key issues which are much-debated.

  1. whether to add tomatoes or not
  2. which herbs and spices should be used
  3. the power of cocoa. or chocolate.

the only thing that wasn’t up for debate was that chilli should be made at least a day before you want to eat it. this i already knew.


the chilli recipe i’ve used recently is one which i got from another food blogger and apparently it commits heresy by its inclusion of tomatoes. okay, tomatoes are out. chocolate on the other hand is in – apparently adding a few squares of dark chocolate towards the end of the cooking time adds an extra layer of flavour which is worth having.


choosing which herbs and spices to use is complicated and there don’t seem to be any definitive answer so i decided to play pic–n-mix from the various recipes i found online. i ended up with toasted cumin and coriander seeds, fresh thyme, smoked paprika, bay and vietnamese cassia (similar to cinnamon but less fragrant and more savoury).


the result was pretty good – i really liked the spice mix although i think i’d up the chilli content to add a bit more heat next time, maybe using a smoked chilli or two. the lack of tomatoes doesn’t detract from the dish so i’m happy to wave them goodbye (despite my tendency to add vegetables to contribute to my 5-a-day) but will stick with the chocolate which adds a wonderful earthy quality to the dish (the cocoa content is noticeable if you taste the chilli just before and just after the addition of chocolate but settles overnight).


so, this is better chilli than i’ve made before. any ideas about how i make it the best?


better chilli (serves 4)


1 teaspoon cumin seeds

1 teaspoon coriander seeds

2 tablespoons vegetable oil

1 large onion, chopped

3 cloves garlic, finely chopped

1 red chilli, finely chopped

2 teaspoon fresh thyme leaves

1 heaped teaspoon smoked paprika (i used the hot version)

500g beef mince

400ml stock (beef would be ideal, i only had vegetable to hand)

50 ml milk

½ teaspoon vietnamese cassia (or use a cinnamon stick)

1 bay leaf

1 tablespoon tomato puree

400g kidney beans, drained and rinsed

3 pieces dark chocolate

3 tablespoons coriander leaves, roughly chopped

salt and pepper


toast the cumin and coriander seeds in a dry pan. remove from the heat and grind to a powder in a mortar and pestle.


in a large pan, heat the oil and gently cook the onion, garlic, chilli and thyme. when the onion has softened add the cumin, coriander and paprika and cook for another minute. add the mince and sauté until the meat is cooked through – let it brown a little to add extra flavour.


add the stock, milk (this helps tenderise the meat), cassia, bay leaf and tomato puree and simmer gently until half the liquid has evaporated. add the kidney beans and chocolate. simmer until the chilli is thick and of a consistency which you like. if you want to cook the dish for longer add more water/stock. let the chilli cool and then refrigerate overnight.


when you are ready to eat the chilli, reheat it, removing the bay leaf (and cinnamon stick if you used it), adding the coriander and seasoning to taste just before serving.


i ate this as a filling for tortillas but you could serve it in a more traditional style with rice and sour cream.


Reader Comments (5)

So you did it too! Looks good.
May 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterPip
after all that talk, i had to give it a try pip!
May 18, 2009 | Registered Commenterabby
Why are tomatoes heresy in chili? I don't really get that; after all, tomatoes are from the Americas, just like beans, chillis and chocolate. I thought that true chili purists thought that including meat made it a whole different dish (con carne)?
May 18, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterBreadintheBone
breadinthebone - i've seen chilli and chilli con carne used interchangeably but not the vegetarian/not debate. if you like the veggie option the recipe on here for white chilli is worth a try.

as for tomatoes, i don't know whay that is the particular focus of some people's definition of chilli - maybe too many bland dishes which resemble ragu with beans?!?

the question of whether the meat should be minced or finely cut is another big issue for some. and whether to just use beef of add pork too. and which beans are best, if they are in there at all.
May 19, 2009 | Registered Commenterabby
The best chilli is the one that you like best Abby! Everyone has different heat tolerences, and my tolerence changes dramatically from day to day so my perfect chilli varies dramatically!

It is a debate, and one that I need to revisit. I think that a freeze and a defrost helps the flavours develop even more than making it the night before, and I try and cook it in the slow cooker.

My top tip for bean chilli is to puree half a can of black beans for a meatier, thicker sauce.

Star anise or a pinch of Chinese 5 spice mix are also reputed (on some parts of the internet) to help towards the perfect chilli.
May 19, 2009 | Unregistered CommenterHelen

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