Warm up on chilly days with a pot of chili

Feb 20 2012 - 3:21pm


Whip up an easy pot of chili for a wintertime bash or family get-together.
Whip up an easy pot of chili for a wintertime bash or family get-together.

A big pot of chili is popular fare for a wintertime bash or family get-together.

One reason, I am sure, is that it is a fairly simple dish to put together. And it can be one of those "anything goes" dishes.

You start with a big pot. Then you start adding stuff. Meat, onions, tomatoes and anything else you like. Eventually you end up with a dish called chili.

You can add beans, too, although folks from Texas consider that a no-no. And forget about beans for competition chili.

Chili-making experts (some call themselves chili heads) who compete in cook-offs conjure up recipes with a laundry list of ingredients. Some call for using three or four varieties of chili powder along with other herbs, spices and different kinds of fresh chilies.

The goal, of course, is that when that list of ingredients is cooked and simmered for a while, it will all come together into an award-winning chili.

But many cooks just don't have time for that. And they don't keep exotic ingredients on hand. I often get calls from readers (and family members) who say, "Tell me how I can make this dish with ingredients I am familiar with," or "Give me a recipe for something that doesn't have a lot of ingredients."

Today's recipe is just that. It's made with six ingredients, not counting salt and pepper and the oil for sauteing the onion.

For this recipe, I sauteed the onion until it caramelized. This added a bit of sweetness to balance the chili powder. The other key point is to use a good bloody Mary mix -- one that has good seasoning and a little spice to it. One of my favorites is Mr. & Mrs. T spicy bloody Mary mix; another is Zing Zang. But you can use any variety.

Use diced tomatoes, with or without chilies. And pay attention to the sodium content. Look for a low-sodium brand -- some are labeled "no salt added" -- because the bloody Mary mix is often high in sodium.

I am not a chili purist. I find that people like to doctor it up when it's served.

My friend Lori B. serves chili in a convenient way. She sets out a round serving dish that has triangular-shaped containers that fit around a round bowl in the center. She puts toppings, typically shredded cheese, chopped onions (white or green), sour cream and tomatoes, in each container. And the part I really like? She puts corn chips in the center.

Super Easy Beef Chili

1 tablespoon canola oil

1 large onion, peeled, chopped

1 1/2 pounds ground beef (such as sirloin)

2 cups favorite bloody Mary mix (spicy preferred)

Two 14-ounce cans diced tomatoes with green chilies (or 28-ounce can diced tomatoes with juice)

Two 14-ounce cans kidney beans, drained and rinsed well

4 tablespoons (or more if you like) favorite chili powder, divided

For serving (optional):

Corn chips

Shredded cheese

Sliced green onions

Sour cream

In a medium pot, heat the oil. Add the onion and saute about 8 minutes until it becomes lightly golden brown. Add the beef and cook until it browns, breaking it up as it cooks. Stir in the bloody Mary mix and heat on medium-high, stirring and scraping up any browned bits on the bottom of the pan. Add the tomatoes, beans and 2 tablespoons of the chili powder. Stir well. Bring to just a boil and reduce the heat to a simmer. Cover slightly and simmer 30 minutes. Just before serving, stir in the remaining 2 tablespoons of chili powder. Serve with desired toppings. Makes 8 servings.

Analysis based on regular canned diced tomatoes and using lean ground beef: 366 calories (32 percent from fat), 13 grams fat (4 grams saturated), 31 grams carbohydrates, 32 grams protein, 647 milligrams sodium, 72 milligrams cholesterol, 9 grams fiber.

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