The Love of Chillies & A Recipe for Chilli Con Carne With A Little Twist




Being an Indian, I am on best mate terms with chillies. Along with spices, chillies are the essential flavouring agents in the various curries, stews, pickles, preserves, mash, grills, stir and deep fries in all parts of  our diverse country. Indians also love biting into fresh green chillies during their meals. So while serving meals a bowl of fresh chillies and slices of juicy limes are always kept just like salt and pepper are kept in the West. Even the sick eating boiled food would have a chilli or two for some kick. Hardly is there any Indian recipe where chillies are not used. We use the chilli in three different forms-- the fresh green peppers either sliced or made into a paste, the dried red pepper and powder of the dried pepper. Often among Indians there is a certain amount of smugness & pride about the amount of chilli they can consume and digest. The reverse is also true. Like I hail from western part of erstwhile undivided Bengal. After Bengal got butchered in 1947 and east Bengal became part of Pakistan {eventually going on to become Bangladesh in 1971} the migrants from the east started flooding the west. We may have  belonged to the same race but there were/are lots of cultural and habitual differences among the two groups of Bengalis. The food we eat, while remaining the same at the core, have acute differences. The westerners like subtle, delicate flavours, balancing our savoury food with a little bit of jaggery while the easterners like their food fiery hot, the more tears you shed while eating your food, the better it is. Being swamped by the refugees and migrants, west turned inwards and closed rank. Among the many things they sneered at, food was one of them. They picked up their noses at the excessive use of chillies, while the east retaliated by mocking the restrained use of chillies, calling it the food for the sick and/or the ninnies! More than half a century has passed but these differences still linger.



So I grew up with the childish presumption that chillies have always been an integral part of our cuisine. Imagine my surprise when I realised that chillies were relatively new to our shores. They are a mere 500 years old in India. They were bought by the Spanish seafarers from Southern America where they have been growing and used in food for the last 6000 years. Not only chilli, we also got potatoes and maize among vegetables and chocolate from this far away continent. In turn they took our spices--pepper, cloves, cinnamon etc. Apparently chilli became a big hit once it landed in the Indies and cooks started flavouring their dishes with this exotic new import. Soon chillies started growing in the tropical climes of India and at present we grow a number of varieties including the hottest chillies in the world ~ the bhut jolokia This grows in the  eastern Indian states of Assam, Manipur and Nagaland and also in Bangladesh. Before long chillies became part of our food culture and we completely forgot that chillies were foreign to us. 

Once I discovered this, I had to read up more on chillies. The chilli trail took me from the fiery pod to the dish of the same name. A bit more digging and I realised that chilli is a short form of the Mexican and  eventually Texan spicy stew called chilli con carne. Translated in English it simply means chillies with meat. Along with meat (mostly beef) and chillies, the stew is cooked with beans, tomatoes, onion, garlic, spices like cumin and paprika, a bit of chocolate or a pinch of sugar, salt, so on and so forth. Numerous chilli recipes and variations exist all over the Americas which use these ingredients in various permutations and combinations. So far so good, till I discovered how contested the chilli recipes are and how people debate over which ingredients make an authentic chilli. It seems like a pot of chilli not only creates a culinary storm, it also created a historical one. Did you know there was once a group of chilli sellers known as 'chilli queens'? In the 1880s in San Antonio, Texas a bunch of brightly dressed  Mexican American women began selling chilli to the public. Around dusk they would light a roaring fire in the market place and heat up pre-cooked chilli which they sold to the passersby. The heady aroma of the stew drew the customers but not satisfied with just that, they also got mariachi street musicians to attract more people. I can just imagine the bustling mercado {local Mexican market} scene and the intense competition among the various stalls selling chilli. Like all good things, the queens ceased to exist when the town's mayor passed stringent hygiene regulations. At present the town hosts a return of the chilli queens festival every summer. It also went on to become the official dish of the US state of Texas.

After reading so much, I was curious to try this stew. But there was one problem. I am allergic to beef. Most of the chilli I have come across is made with beef. So I decided to make chilli at home, replacing the beef with pork*. I went through several recipes and quickly formed an idea. Once you know how to go about it, it's a fairly easy, though time consuming recipe to make. This is entirely my recipe where I have accommodated bits and parts from different recipes I found online. No way can I claim to have made authentic chilli, but it is super tasty.

*You could easily replace the pork with beef, lamb or chicken or even make it vegetarian to suit your dietary needs. The reason I used sausage meat and chorizo, rather than the usual minced meat, is because I wanted a different texture. This combination delivered plenty on that.

Ingredients for the Chilli:
{Serves 4 with rice}

1. 300 gm of pork sausage, the meat separated from the casing

2. 150 gm of Chorizo sausage, roughly sliced
3. 240 gm chilli beans or you can also use kidney beans
4. 200 gm of chopped tinned tomatoes {roughly half a tin}
5. 1 heaped table spoon of tomato puree
6. One medium sized onion, roughly chopped
7. 1 tea spoon of cumin powder
8. 1 tea spoon of paprika powder
9. 1 red pepper, chopped in small sizes
10. 2 jalepeno peppers, roughly chopped
{adjust the chillies according to your heat tolerance}
11. A few dribs of Tabasco sauce
12. 2 to 4 cubes of dark chocolate to balance the tartness of the tomatoes
13. Salt to taste
14. 1 tea spoon of dried mixed herb
15. 2 table spoons of olive oil. I used Spanish olive oil which was great for this dish. This light olive oil infuses well and helps in brining out the different flavours without overpowering at all.
16. 4 cloves of garlic, finely minced



How to make the chilli:

1. In a heavy bottomed pan {ideal would be a stalk making pan with a lid} add the olive oil and add the garlic so that the oil gets infused with the garlic-y flavour while heat up.
2. Throw in the chorizo pieces and fry till the sausage releases it's own oil and starts to brown.
3. At this stage add the add the sausage meat without the casing, fry till the sausage meat is brown.
4. Throw in the chopped onion, the peppers and the chillies along with the cumin, paprika and dried herbs. Mix everything well and let it fry for a couple of minutes till the onion are glassy and the cumin smells nice and fried.
5. Next the tomato puree goes into the pan and nicely mixed and left to cook for a couple of minutes.
6. By now you must be thinking how many more stages of frying do you have to go through, well the handholding is almost over. Now you add the tinned tomatoes and beans and a bit of salt to season. Then you add about 3 to 4 cups of hot water and mix everything together. By now the mixture will look thick and an insipid brown. Don't let that disappoint you.
7. Cover the pan, if you pan is not thick bottomed, place a frying pan underneath and leave the stew to simmer for about 3 hours on low heat. You will need to stir every 10 minutes or so. You will see that the more the stew cooks, the meat goes from tender to really tender and then finally melt in the mouth. If the stew gets too dry, you will have to keep adding water to it, half a cup at a time and mixing it every time.
8. You can cook this for 2 hours and it would taste perfectly nice, but if you want that wow factor you will have to be a little more patient and cook for 3 hours or so.
9. At the end of 3 hours you will need to adjust the water some more depending on the consistency of the stew you want. 
10. Finally just before you take it off the heat, add the chocolate cubes and watch the dark liquid disappear into the meaty stew. Give it a taste, adjust the seasoning and if you feel it lacks that sharp chilli kick, reach out for the Tabasco bottle and add a few dribs of the fiery sauce. 
11. A couple of minutes more for the flavours to incorporate and then your chilli is ready to rest. Rest the chilli for at least half an hour or more before serving it. This helps in infusing the flavours further. Chilli can also be cooked a day ahead and it tastes awesome the next day.

Serving suggestions:
You can serve this with plain rice with a bit of salsa and guacamole on the side to cut into the richness of the stew.
Or you could serve this with Mexican rice with a bit of cheese grated on top.
The most exciting serving option is to serve this on nachos with a bit of cheese which you grill quickly in the oven. It just tastes amazing!
Personally I prefer eating this with plain rice and a bit of guacamole with it's refreshing citrus-y  married with the silkiness of ripe avocado.


4 comments :

  1. Drooling looking at this Nice pictures nd perfect meal

    ReplyDelete
  2. You sure love a good feast on Mexican food. That looks divine :)

    ReplyDelete
  3. Awesome and delicious looking preparation.I too am a chlili buff and love so many types of such preparations.
    Deepa

    ReplyDelete
  4. Wow what an awesome chilli .Drooling

    ReplyDelete

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