Archive for the ‘Latin Flavors’ Category

First, a confession: chili is one of my all-time favorite foods. For me, it’s all the spices and texture and rich flavor I love in one bowl. Better yet, it’s one of those modern “mother” recipes from which you can make a million different versions. Some of you have watched us make this is one of our cooking classes. But I thought it high-time I share my basic chili recipe broken down so you can see how easy and versatile it really is. Along the way, I’ll share some of my secrets and tips to what I humbly consider the “Best Ever Chili.”


makes about 2 1/2 quarts

FIRST – the vegetables

To me, chili is not chili unless you have some actual fresh chilies as the base. However, I know many people do like the heat of chilies or the tang of peppers, so you certainly can leave them out. But you absolutely must have plenty of onion and garlic. If you’re making this into a vegetarian chili OR just want to get a few more servings of vegetables in your day, you can add a cup of finely diced carrots or 2 cups of chopped mushrooms to this list.

2 cups diced onion

1 tbl chopped garlic

1 cup diced red or yellow bell pepper (or poblano chili)

1 finely diced jalapeno or Fresno chili (if you like it hot, add more chili or 1-2 canned chipotle chilies)

Heat a large pot over medium-high heat. Add a small drizzle of olive oil and all of the vegetables. Season with a pinch of salt and pepper and cook for 10 minutes, stirring often, until all of the vegetables are beginning to soften.

SECOND – the meat and spices

I have my favorite combination of four spices I always use for chili — this is one area I don’t mess with. And when it comes to spices, I love to get mine at Penzy‘s — they have a fantastic selection and everything is ground recently so the dried spices are so flavorful. However, when it comes to the meat, this is where you can really start to make this chili your own. If I’m in the mood for something rich and meaty, I like to use ground buffalo – it tastes like beef but it’s leaner and a better “eco” choice. If I want something lighter, I’ll use ground white-meat turkey or chicken. And if I’m having a vegetarian day, I’ll skip the meat and add more beans in the next step (OR add some crumbled tempeh in this step for some meat-like texture.). The key to this step of the recipe is to allow the meat to brown and then add all the spices and cook for another 5-10 minutes so the spices brown a bit and their flavor really begins to release.

2 lbs ground meat (or 8 oz crumbled tempeh)

1/4 cup ancho chili powder

2 tbl ground cumin

1 tbl ground coriander

1 tbl smoked Spanish paprika

2 tsp salt

1 tsp ground black pepper

Add the ground meat or tempeh to the vegetables and cook for about 15 minutes, breaking it apart as it cooks, until it’s nicely browned.

Add the spices, stir and cook for another 5-10 minuets until the spices are very fragrant.

THIRD – the “bulk” ingredients (and a secret ingredient)

Next up are all the ingredients the create the real bulk of the chili. Canned tomatoes are a must, but here, again, you have choices. My favorite are San Marzano whole plum tomatoes. They are tart and sweet and perfect. I like using whole tomatoes and just squeezing them apart with my hands on their way into the pot. Maybe because that’s the way I think my grandmother would have done it. Or maybe because I like to get messy with my food. Actually, it’s at least in part because I like the ragged texture of the tomatoes when treated that way. Your other options are to add diced tomatoes (if you like big chunks of tomatoes in your chili) or crushed tomatoes (if you want a more “saucy” chili). And then there are the beans. This is where chili purists will look down their nose and insist that real chili never has beans. But I’ve never been a purist, especially when it comes to cooking and making food your own. So my rule of thumb is to add at least two kinds of beans….possibly 3-4 different kinds if this is a vegetarian chili. The more color (and the more fiber!), the better. Lastly, I make one final addition that is my “secret” weapon: cornmeal. I add it at the end to thicken the liquid slightly and create a thick and hearty consistency.

1 15-oz can beans (any kind — my favorite are black and kidney)

1 28-oz can whole tomatoes, with their juices (OR diced OR crushed tomatoes)

4 cups beef stock (OR chicken OR vegetarian OR water)

1/4 cup cornmeal

Rinse the beans very well and drain. Then add them to the pot. Add the whole tomatoes to the pot, squeezing and crushing them as you go (OR you can use a more civilized approach and chop them with a large knife or pulse them in a food processor). Add the stock and stir to combine. There should be about 1-inch of liquid above all of the solids — add water as needed to achieve this. Bring to a boil over high heat, reduce the heat and simmer for 1 1/2 hours, stirring occasionally. Slowly sprinkle in the cornmeal, stir and cook for another 15 minutes. Remove from heat, taste, and season with salt as needed.

FOURTH – the garnish

Perhaps  I love  chili the most for all it’s potential garnishes. I’m always the one adding the extra sauces and salsas to my plate when given the chance and chili is no exception. While all of these garnishes are optional, I really must insist on, at the very least, a dollop of yogurt or sour cream (I use Greek yogurt these days exclusively in place of sour cream, but either works) and some chopped cilantro.

sour cream OR Greek yogurt, for garnish

chopped cilantro, for garnish

chopped tomato, for garnish

chopped green or red onion, for garnish

shredded cheddar cheese, for garnish

Fill bowls with steaming chili and top with any combination of the above garnishes. Enjoy!!


Read Full Post »

Do you ever get obsessed with a dish you’ve had at a restaurant? Happens to me all the time! The latest dish of my affection is the humble chipotle sauce that MChaya serves with their breakfast burritos (their burritos are delicious on their own — but that’s another post). This “salsa” is actually a smooth red-orange sauce that’s smokey and heavy with that iconic chipotle flavor balanced with a bit of vegetable subtle sweetness and the tang of fresh tomatoes. Saying I love this sauce is an understatement. It is, to me, what ketchup or sirracha is for many people — that ubiquitous condiment that I can eat on absolutely everything.

But how many days a week can I legitimately go to MChaya and ask for extra sauce to squirrel away at home? I decided it was high time I figure out how to re-create this sauce on my own. Good news — it was a success!




Here’s what I discovered about this sauce:

It’s success depends on sweet tomatoes (perfect this time of year), a few carrots for depth and texture (that was the secret ingredient I missed in the first batch), a light hand with the chipotle and some key spices. Most importantly of all, this is a salsa that is served cold but needs to cook for a while for all of the flavors to meld together first. The recipe below makes a generous 4 cups — probably more than you need on hand unless you’re a salsa junkie like me. So you can freeze half (then re-blend after defrosting to fix any separation issues OR you can simply cut the recipe in half).

Aside from being tucked inside a breakfast burrito or on a crispy tortilla chip, this sauce is particularly good on grilled pork chops, in huevos rancheros or on fish tacos. I think this needs to be added to our new Latin Cooking Party menu.

Chipotle Tomato Salsa

makes 4 cups

olive oil

1 small white onion, roughly chopped

4 vine-ripened tomatoes, halved and seeded then roughly chopped

2 medium carrots, peeled and roughly chopped

1 glove garlic, minced

2 chipotle peppers (from the can, with a little of the adobo sauce from the can, too)

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp smoked paprika

salt and pepper

2 tbl maple syrup, plus more to taste

Heat a skillet over medium-high heat and drizzle in a little olive oil. Add the onion and a pinch of salt. Cook for 5 minutes, stirring often, until the onions are soft. Add the tomatoes, carrots, garlic, chipotle, cumin, paprika and water to barely cover the veggies. Bring to a boil, reduce heat and simmer for 30 minutes, adding a splash more water as needed if it cooks out too quickly. Cook until veggies are VERY soft and the water is reduced by half.

Carefully blend the mixture (in batches as needed — only fill your blender half way up with the mixture!). Stir in salt and pepper to taste (NOTE: It will need more salt that you think!). Add the maple syrup and taste. Balance the heat by adding a little more maple syrup if desired.

Let cool completely and serve as a cold salsa. Will stay good in your refrigerator for up to 10 days.

Read Full Post »

The weather is cold, it’s getting dark in the late afternoon. That means Winter is here and soup season has officially begun. A couple nights ago I had a hankering for a big, steamy bowl of comfort and got to thinking about combining two of my Mexican favorites: Tortilla Soup and Pasole.


What I love about Tortilla Soup is the smokey broth and all those great garnishes — the crunchy tortilla chips, the cool sour cream, the flavors of the cilantro and radish. Then there’s Pasole, that rich and smokey pork stew with hominy. Hominy is one of those under-used items on the canned vegetable aisle that is so delicious and full of chewy corn flavor. So I decided to mix my favorite elements of the two together to make one delicious pot of soup. Turned out amazing! This one is a keeper. Here’s what I did:



Chicken Tortilla Pasole Soup

serves about 6

1 white onion, diced

1 poblano chili, seeded and diced

4 cloves garlic, chopped

2 stalked celery, chopped

1 tsp ground cumin

1 tsp ancho chili powder

1 tbl dried oregano

6 cups chicken broth

2 boneless, skinless chicken breasts

1 28-oz can hominy, rinsed very well

juice of 2 limes

sour cream, chopped cilantro and chopped radish for garnish

tortilla chips for garnish

Heat a soup pot over medium heat and add a drizzle of olive oil. Add the onions, poblano, garlic and celery and sautee until very soft. Add the cumin, chili powder and oregano and cook for a few seconds until fragrant. Add the stock and bring to a boil. Add the chicken breast and reduce heat to a simmer (NOTE: it’s important to reduce the heat so that the chicken is NOT boiling — it should be just barely simmering so the chicken poaches and doesn’t dry out). Cook for 10 minutes and remove the chicken from the pot.

Let the chicken rest for 5 minutes before chopping into small pieces and adding back into the pot. Add the hominy and let cook for 5 minutes. Taste and season with salt and pepper as needed. Add the lime juice and remove from the heat.

To serve, top with a dollop of sour cream, a crumbled handful of tortilla chips and some cilantro and radishes.

Read Full Post »