Updated: Apr 26, 2021
I wanted to create a Mexican-style chili, one that uses a sprectrum of Mexican chilies, creating a depth of flavor. I also wanted to cook this dish slowly, over an extended period of time so that the flavors have some time to integrate and shine. This chili is a labor of love, it takes about 3 hours to make with multiple steps, but the results are outstanding. A used a combination of chilies, chipotle for smokiness, arbol for some heat, ancho for its distinctive sweet-spicy flavor, mulato for their smoky chocolate flavor and guajillos for their sharp and tangy flavor. Here is a wonderful article on the different types of chilies used in Mexico. I wanted to create a distinct mole-type flavor profile for this chili, without the nuts and additional spices used in a mole. This chili has a distinctly rich flavor, smoky, deep and with a hint of heat that lingers. The first chili I made was from an old cookbook, The new vegetarian epicure - by Anna Thomas. This vegetarian chili is still the best chili I have had. Over the years I have learned more about this cuisine primarily from the many cookbooks by Diana Kennedy. Her knowledge of this complex cuisine amazes me, her use of local herbs and spices (hoja santo, espozote, and avocado leaf to name a few), her complex and finger-licking good moles, and other regional recipes make me crave this cuisine. For this recipe I used the cooking technique from Anna Thomas, with the herb, chili and spice combinations from Diana Kennedy. Finally, if like me, you have ever wondered and been confused whether it is "chili" or "chilli", let me try and clear this up. The word chili is used for both the pepper and the US stew dish. The word "chilli" is a variant of the spelling used primarily in the UK for the pepper. Yes, I was terribly confused too!
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For the chili paste:
2 ancho chilies
1 guajillo chili
2 chipotle chilies
2 arbol chilies
1 mulato chili
For the beans:
1 cup black, red kidney, or pinto beans, soaked in water overnight
1/2 onion, chunked
3 garlic cloves, minced
A pinch dried oregano, Mexican variety preferred
A pinch dried thyme
1 teaspoon salt
5 sprigs cilantro
1 bay leaf
For the chili:
2-3 onions, diced fine
5-6 garlic cloves, minced
2 teaspoon cumin powder
1/2 teaspoon dried thyme
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon ground cayenne, optional or to taste)
1-2 sprigs fresh epazote, or 1/2 teaspoon dried (optional)
1 leaf hoja santo (optional)
3 large tomatoes, diced fine
3 tablespoons cilantro, minced
1-2 teaspoons pickled jalapeño juice
For the pickled onions:
2 onions, finely sliced
2-3 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
A pinch dried thyme
A pinch dried oregano
1 bay leaf
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon annato seeds, pounded, or a pinch annato powder or paste
Fresh cilantro. Minced
Grated cheddar cheese or Mexican cheese blend, or jalapeño jack cheese
Hot sauce of choice
Tortilla chips or rice or both
Pickled onions (see recipe)
Jarred pickled jalapenos
Scallions, cut into thin circles
Toasted pumpkin seeds
To make the chili paste:
Toast all the chilies lightly over an open flame taking cafe not to burn them. Cut them apart and soak them in boiling water for at least 2 hours or overnight. Tear the chillies apart with your hands, wear gloves if needed, and remove all the stems and seeds. Add the flesh to a small blender with the strained liquid that they were soaking in. Blend till very smooth. Set aside.
To make the pickled onions:
Add all the ingredients to an airtight container and mix well. Set to pickle overnight on your counter or fridge, shaking the box when y,or remember. Minimum pickling time is 4 hours, but overnight is recommended.
To make the beans:
Drain the water that the beans have been soaking in. Add 5 cups water and the rest of the ingredients and bring to a boil. Watch out the beans will foam and spill over. Remove the scum and simmer gently till the beans are cooked through but still have a tender bite, between 15-20 minutes depending on the bean you use and the age of the beans. Turn off the heat and remove the cilantro stems. Set aside.
To make the chili:
Heat the oil in a pot and add the onions And garlic. Sauté on medium heat till the onions start taking on a golden color.
Add the puréed chilies and cook till the paste has thickened and the oil begins to be released, about 15-20 minutes.Stir ever so often to prevent the paste from sticking to the bottom of the pot.
Add the cumin, oregano, hoja santo and epazote (if using) and thyme and sauté for 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes and cook till the tomatoes are broken down and form a sauce, and the oil begins to shine on the surface. Stir ever so often to prevent the paste from sticking to the bottom of the pot.You should have a pretty thick sauce at this stage. This step takes between 20-30 minutes.
Add the meat and break the mince apart with a spatula to separate the crumble. Cook stirring often to mix the sauce and break the meat crumbles. Cook till the meat has cooked and is beginning to fry in the oils Rae are released once again, about 30 minutes.
Add the beans with their cooking liquid and bring to a simmer. Simmer closed for about 30 minutes. Turn off the heat and add the pickled jalapeño juice and mix in. Do not forget to add this, the tartness from the vinegar perks up the chili. Taste and adjust for salt. The chili should have a bold and well integrated spice flavor at this stage. You can adjust the chili to a consistency that you prefer, I like to keep it quite thick.The chili will only improve with time, so let sit for a few hours or overnight.
To serve, heat the chili till piping hot and serve in bowls with your choice of accompaniments, or all of them as I do.