I’ve heard all the hype. I’ve seen it on menus and read about it on the internet food blogs. I’ve even indulged in an occasional Mayan Mocha when the mood was right for something spicey and sweet. But until now, I’ve never cooked with chili and chocolate together in a savory dish. It’s not that I’m bothered by messing with the chili powder, but it’s the perception of chocolate flavor that I’m worried about. What if my taste for chocolate is forever tainted by a flavor of something savory? It’s almost like cooking with vanilla – some things just aren’t meant to be paired with salt, pepper and tomatoes. Yet the culinary combination of chili and chocolate is an old, old choice, and a popular one at that. There must be something to this spicey duo.
While we’re talking about spices… there are a few spices that I just don’t like. All-spice is one of them. Chipotle chilis are another. Yet when I went grocery shopping on Saturday, they were calling to me – smokey, deep, earthy, flavorful… if the peppers smell that good, they must taste good too, right? I threw caution to the wind and brought home a small box of the dried and shriveled shells, figuring with a light touch on the seasoning maybe I could enjoy the flavor. Turns out I could.
And while we’re talking about flavors… my favorite secret ingredient for chili is beer. I love beer in chili. I don’t love beer. I don’t even like beer. But put it in a tomato base and it transforms typical flavors into something amazing.
Thus a recipe was born. Half jalepeno, half chipotle for a smokey spiceness that wouldn’t overwhelm me. Including plenty of canned tomatoes and light on the veggies equals a sweet broth, so the beer was used for a little bitter contrast. Finally, as I was tasting the soup / stew in its final stages, I thought “this needs a little something else…something to match the smokiness of the chipotles”. Chocolate and coffee powder it was.
This was a really, really yummy bowl of chili. The flavors all balanced so well: the bright spiciness of the jalepeno, the smokiness of the chipotle and dried chili powder, the bitter fresh taste of the beer and the smooth, mellow depth from the coffee/cocoa powder combo. I actually ended up using substantially greater amounts of all of the dried spices than what I listed below (twice as much, to be exact)– but I provided the more conservative amounts in the recipe as a starting point to season it to your own taste.
I would highly recommend a little cocoa powder or coffee next time you make chili at home. I promise you that you won’t be able to taste the chocolate specifically, you’ll just now that the chili flavor is whole and complete. The only change I would make to this recipe next time would be a little chopped fresh cilantro and maybe some more veggies (this is a very broth-y chili). I’d say this was easy as pie, except pie crusts aren’t easy for me. Let’s just say it is a quick with very few ingredients.
1 large red onion, chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 red bell pepper, chopped
1 generous tablespoon tomato paste
1 fresh jalepeno pepper, scraped of the seeds and chopped
1 dried chipotle (rehydrate in a small amount of very hot water, scrape the insides and finely chop)
1 28 oz can stewed whole tomatoes with juices
1 16 oz can cannelini beans, rinsed well
1 16 oz can kidney beans, rinsed well
1 bottle of beer (the darker the better)
3-4 cloves of garlic, chopped roughly
1/4 cup chili powder
1.5 tbsp ground cumin
2 tbsp instant coffee powder
2 tbsp cocoa powder
Cayanne pepper for spicey heat
Salt and Pepper
1. Heat oil in soup pot and add onions, bell pepper and tomato paste; cook over medium heat, stirring, for about 10 minutes or until softened
2. Add chopped peppers and cook for an additional 2-3 minutes
3. Add tomatoes, beans, beer, garlic and an extra 16 oz of water (stir carefully from now on to avoid breaking up the beans)
4. Allow to cook over low for at least 45 minutes. Uncover, pull apart the whole tomatoes with two forks and reduce to a desired consistancy (for me that was about 15 minutes). Then season to taste.