Wednesday, March 23, 2011

Nix the Jalapeno

I’m a late comer to chili.  For many years it held a distinguished place on my scary food list.  In my culinary world food with enough heat to sear the flesh off the roof of one’s mouth is not consumption worthy.  Food is about flavor and texture, and heat is not a flavor and it is definitely not a texture.  This was the primary reason for chili earning a spot of my scary food list.  Secondary reasons--too much beef and a tomato sauce that had far too much in common with ketchup.

Then one day I stumbled across a low-fat cookbook with some very creative “facelifts” for classic foods.  It contained an impressive array of ideas.  The recipe for chili had distinct possibilities.  So I decided to give it a whirl.

The first thing I did was to nix the jalapeno.  For me, this pepper has no flavor and its only purpose is to add heat.  At the time of my chili experimentation, DH was growing some interesting pepper varieties, which we were enjoying grilled and sautéed.  So, out went the jalapeno and in went Hungarian Hot Wax and Poblanos!  The result was delicious.  The chili had a smooth flavor with a hint of smokiness and a mild to moderate heat that complimented, but did not dominate or overwhelm it the flavor.  The addition of kidney beans and corn helped round out the texture and added another dimension of flavor.

Notes for this recipe:  The higher the quality of ground beef, the better the chili will taste.  Use only the freshest spices.  I purchase my spices from Penzey's.  (Do not be fooled by the labels on the bottles in the picture, I buy my spices in bulk and reuse bottles.)  Adding the flour is optional.  It is added to thicken the chili and shorten the cooking time making this dish suitable for family meal preparation.

Chili Con Carne

1 lb. lean ground beef
Olive oil
6 good sized cloves of garlic, peeled & chopped
1 onion, chopped
1 large green pepper, seeded & chopped
1 small Poblano pepper, seeded & chopped
1 Hungarian hot wax pepper, seeded & chopped
2 Tbsp. chili powder
1 Tbsp. flour (optional)
2 tsp. cumin
1 tsp. oregano
2 bay leaves
2 quarts tomatoes or 2 14 oz. cans
1 tsp. kosher salt
1 15 oz. can dark red kidney beans, rinsed & drained
2 c. frozen corn
Grated sharp cheddar cheese to garnish

Select a 2 quart non-reactive pot and pour in about 2 Tbsp. olive oil, or enough to lightly cover the bottom of the pan.  Turn heat to medium and heat oil to hot, but not smoking.  Add the garlic, onion and peppers.  Cook until the garlic is fragrant, the onion is translucent, and the peppers are softened, about 3 minutes.  

Add the ground beef.  Break it up with a wooden spoon and stir to mix in the peppers, onion and garlic.  Cook until beef is no longer pink.  Add the spices and flour, and stir to combine.  Add the tomatoes breaking them up with the wooden spoon.  Stir to combine.  Bring to a boil, stirring frequently.  Reduce heat to medium.  Stir in the kidney beans and corn.  Cover and simmer until the chili is heated through and slightly thickened, stirring occasionally, about 20 minutes.  Adjust
seasoning.  Serve with grated cheddar and  corn bread sticks or a hearty bread.


  1. It's always a relief to discover that a food on one's Scary Food List can be made in non-scary versions. (There are some foods one should not be introduced to via institutional dining - grilled cheese sandwiches come to mind!)

    I've made chili with poblano peppers, but not Hungarian hot wax. How do they affect the flavor?

  2. Yes, Hungarian Hot Wax do affect the flavor, which is why I've taken to using them. The flavor is mellow with a hint of heat--the heat factor varies a bit, as does the flavor. But, rarely do I find the heat to be overwhelming. They are particularly nice grilled and mixed with other peppers and onions.

  3. Sorry, but jalapenos are not hot, IF you take the time to remove the seeds where the heat is.

  4. Dear Anonymous: Yes, the capsaicin in Jalapenos is concentrated in the seeds and ribs. However, the flesh closest to the ribs can contain high levels of capsaicin. In older Jalapenos, the capsaicin often spreads evenly through the flesh. Everyone's definition of heat is different--what may be hot for one person, could be considered mild by someone else.

  5. This is an excellent chili!
    I don't enjoy putting up with streaming eyes and a runny nose from super macho spices. This chili is so flavorful, and not painful to eat.