HDL COOKS: Chilli Con Carne

Chilli con carne

As much as I am a clear introvert, and my kitchen is often where I retreat to be alone with my ideas, I love to cook for people. Part desire to show off, part innate need to please everyone I hold dear, part teaching opportunity for anyone unlucky enough to be in the vicinity, there are times when I welcome people into my home  – and occasionally, my kitchen – so that I can cook a lovely meal for them.

A few weekends ago, a group of my friends ventured to London to reunite with a former colleague who has moved into the big city, and as a thank you for having us in her home, I promised to make a meal for everyone. After polishing off a massive stack of pancakes, you would think that we would be too full to eat a bowlful of chilli con carne, but you would be wrong.

Chilli is such a good bulk meal to fill the tummies of a group of people. It’s flavourful, comforting, and can be eaten with such a range of different accompanying carbs (jacket potatoes, tortillas, nachos, just to name a few) that it really has become such a crowd-pleasing dish. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll know I love spice, but the great thing about making chilli con carne is that you can scale up or scale down the heat as much as you like and it will still have tonnes of flavour.

Flame ring

One thing I always find completely essential to a chilli is the presence of kidney beans. I’ve tried making it with no beans, black beans, and even chickpeas. It doesn’t taste the same, and I really struggle to enjoy it without the soft and sour kidney beans to offset the richness of the meat and sauce.

Another essential is green pepper. I don’t care if you think it’s bitter on its own, if you wouldn’t put it in any recipe that you were making; this is my recipe, and I promise it is such an important element. If you’re like me and kind of freak out if there’s no vegetable element to a dish to balance the heaviness out, you will know that there is little better than the satisfying (and oddly refreshing!) crunch of a slightly bitter green pepper, cutting through all the meat and spices to leave a perfectly balanced mouthful.

My mum would say that my obsession with balance in food – from flavours to textures to degree of freshness/richness – is because I’m a Libra. She’s wrong. It’s because I’m pretty good at what I do*. So  finally, I will tell you that using creme fraiche is optional, but improves the meal by a huge amount – because of this nifty little thing called balance. Just trust me on this one.

Here’s the recipe:

Chilli Con Carne | Serves 4

– 500g beef mince
– 1 large onion, finely diced
– 5 cloves garlic, crushed
– 1 green pepper, diced
– 7 fresh tomatoes, chopped (or alternatively, for a saucier sauce, use a tin of chopped tomatoes)
– 200ml beef stock
– 1 tin kidney beans, drained
– 2 tbsp ground cumin
– 1 tbsp ground coriander
– 1-2 tsp chilli flakes, to taste
– 1 tsp Worcestershire sauce
– 1 tsp aromat seasoning
– salt and pepper, to taste
– creme fraiche, to serve

1. Heat oil in a large saucepan and saute your onions until they’re beginning to turn golden. Then, add your garlic and stir for a few seconds until it becomes aromatic, before adding your spices and letting them cook for around thirty seconds, taking care to ensure that they don’t burn.
2. Brown your mince and then add the chopped tomatoes. Taste for spice levels and seasoning and adjust as necessary. I usually find that if it’s lacking in any flavour in particular, it’s usually cumin. After this, add your Worcestershire sauce, aromat seasoning, kidney beans, peppers and a splash of beef stock as required. How much you need will depend on whether you used tinned or fresh tomatoes, with tinned tomatoes producing more sauce and therefore needing less stock. Judge it by eye, but if you add too much you can just let it reduce for longer (which usually results in a more flavourful dish anyway, so you won’t be losing out either way!).
3. Once the sauce has reduced to a consistency that you’re pleased with, check a final time for seasoning and then serve with your choice of carb. I adore a classic pairing of white basmati rice, with a healthy dollop of creme fraiche.


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