Thursday, December 12, 2013

Chili con carne

When it comes to meat stews, Greeks are unrivaled. From the simple and everyday tomato- and lemon-based meat stews (the two traditional types of Greek meat stews), to the more special kinds like Pastitsada and Sofigado hailing from the Ionian islands, Tas Kebab from Constantinople and Spetzofai from Pilio, they are like oases in the culinary desert of insipid and uninteresting meat stews from other countries, mostly Northwestern European, but let's not name names.

Greek meat stews may be wonderfully delicious but even I stray every once in a while from my culinary heritage when I become enchanted by new flavors and different combinations and by the promise of sensational gastronomic travels.

This time, the culprit is the chili con carne (chili with meat). A dish with American origins, that is mistakenly considered Mexican. It certainly has its roots in Mexican cuisine with its extensive use of chillies but it was a dish first cooked by the American settlers in the Southwest regions of the United States.

This is a dish whose versions are numerous with almost every part of the U.S. having its own special kind. With minced or cubed beef, with or without beans, beer and chocolate, with different levels of spiciness, I could go on and on.

This version here, I’d say is the least complicated because it doesn’t involve a lot of chillies, which I am unable to find here in the Netherlands, although it still contains several spices. I’m aware that chili connoisseurs (hi David!) will probably not fully approve of my chili con carne as it hasn’t got the hot Mexican chillies and it includes beans but hey, I love beans.

The white rice, avocado, lime and sour cream counterbalance the spiciness of the dish and complement it beautifully, making it a worthy rival of my all time favorite Greek meat stews.

Chili con Carne

Use fairly fatty meat which will add flavor to the dish and become tender when cooked. Chuck or blade roast are the ideal cuts of meat to use.
For those reading from the Netherlands, sucadelappen or schouderlappen are the ideal Dutch cuts of beef to use.

A Mexican beer like Corona or Sol will be a perfect pairing for this dish.

Yield: 6 servings

4 Tbsp olive oil
1 kg beef chuck or blade roast, cut into 3-4 cm cubes and patted dry
2 onions, chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
3 fresh red chillies, chopped (seeds not removed)
1½ tsp hot smoked paprika
1 tsp sweet smoked paprika
2 tsp hot chilli powder
2 tsp ground cumin
2 tsp ground allspice
1 large cinnamon stick
1 Tbsp dried oregano
1 Tbsp tomato paste
800 g canned diced tomatoes
450 ml boiling water
1 Tbsp soft light brown sugar
1 can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
Handful of coriander (or if you don’t like coriander like me, use parsley)

To serve
White rice
Sour cream
1 lime
2 avocados, sliced

Special equipment: colander

In a large and wide heavy-bottomed pan or preferably in a Dutch oven, add the olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. When it starts to shimmer, add enough beef pieces to cover 2/3 of the bottom of the pan (do not overcrowd the pan otherwise the beef will boil rather than brown) and brown the pieces on both sides. Remove pieces from the pan with a slotted spoon and place them in a bowl. Brown the rest of the beef pieces in the same manner and place them in the bowl.

Add the onions to the pan and sauté them over medium-high heat for about 4 minutes or until they soften, scraping the bottom of the pan to incorporate the caramelized brown bits that are stuck on there. Add the garlic and sauté for 1 minute. Then add the red chillies, all the spices and the oregano and sauté for a couple of minutes just until the spices start to give off their aromas. Don’t sauté them for longer otherwise they will burn and they’ll give a horrible taste to the dish.
Then add the browned beef, the tomato paste and canned diced tomatoes and pour the boiling water over the top. Stir well and turn heat up to high. When it comes to the boil, turn heat down to low and put on the lid.

Let the meat stew for 2-2½ hours or until it is tender. Check the meat every 20 minutes or so, stirring it around a bit.
About half an hour before the meat is done, season with salt. The reason you're adding the salt now is because if you add it at the beginning of the cooking process, the beef becomes tough.
Fifteen minutes before the meat is done, add the sugar and kidney beans and stir well.
Once ready, turn heat off and let it stand for 15 minutes before serving.

Serve the chili con carne garnished with fresh coriander or parsley, and with white rice, slices of avocado, a squeeze of lime and sour cream.


  1. Wow, you've just been hitting all the flavors of my childhood recently! :) This looks delicious, and your background on this is spot-on. Your flavors are my favorite and are a cross between chili and a mole. And we call these American/Mexican fusion recipes Southwestern or Tex-Mex cuisine. I usually make a vegetarian chili pretty similar to this one actually, and it's simply comfort food to me. I'm sure you'll agree too that the avocado and sour cream are not 'optional' toppings! They really enhance the dish.

    1. Thanks Katie for you feedback on the dish. I was worried my American readers were going to be disappointed by my rendition of such a classic American dish. It's good to get your seal of approval :) Yes, the avocado and sour cream do add a lot to the dish!

  2. greek meat stews are very similar to portuguese stews, full of flavor. Chilli con carne is something delicious and your recipe is similar to mine: with beans, cinnamon and oregano :)

  3. You chili is beautiful, Magda - and the flavors are perfect! Someday, I will send you some dried chiles to try - you will be amazed at the flavor they impart! You post is making me want some chili now! (Oh, and I took a photo of my cinnamon toast to send you... will do so once the photos are uploaded!) xox, David

  4. What a beautiful chili! It even looks photogenic and that is say something for chili!