A tale of two chilis

Michael Yonan who lives in Ballinger, Texas, developed this recipe when asked to come up with a simplified version of a purist's chili. With only one kind of chili pepper but at least 6 hours of simmering, it's got the round flavors and slow-burning heat that define a "bowl o' red." If you want something hotter, add up to 1 teaspoon of cayenne pepper, to taste.
This chili can be made in advance, transferred to an airtight container and refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 1 month. (Skim congealed fat before reheating.) Serve with saltines, grated cheddar cheese, chopped onions and, if desired, pinto beans -- on the side, of course. It also makes fantastic chili dogs and chili burgers.
6 dried ancho chili peppers, rinsed
4 cups hot water, plus more as needed
2 tablespoons vegetable oil
2 to 21/4 pounds lean stew meat or chuck roast (trimmed of excess fat), cut into 1/2-inch pieces
Freshly ground black pepper
4 medium cloves garlic, finely chopped
2 tablespoons onion powder
2 teaspoons dried oregano, preferably Mexican (see accompanying box)
1 tablespoon ground cumin
Cayenne pepper (optional)
Cut or tear apart the ancho chili peppers, discarding the seeds and stems. Place in a dry skillet over medium heat and toast for 5 minutes, just until fragrant, without allowing them to char. Transfer to a blender, add 1 cup of the water and blend until smooth. Set aside.
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Season the meat generously with salt and pepper to taste, then add just enough meat to the pot to avoid overcrowding. Cook in batches, stirring frequently, for 3 to 4 minutes each, or until the meat starts to brown.
Return all the meat to the pot, add the garlic and cook for a few minutes, stirring constantly, until the meat has browned all over and the garlic has softened. Reduce the heat to medium; add the onion powder, stirring to mix well. Cook for 2 minutes, stirring constantly. Add the oregano, cumin and reserved ancho chili puree, stirring to combine. Add enough water to cover the meat by 1 inch (about 3 cups). Cover the pot and reduce the heat to low. Cook for 6 hours, stirring occasionally, then uncover and use a spatula to mash and break up the meat. Cook, uncovered, for another hour or two or until the chili has become quite thick and the meat has almost melted into the liquid. Taste and adjust seasoning with salt and cayenne pepper, if desired. Serve warm, with accompaniments of your choice.
Makes 4 servings/
Per serving: 712 calories, 47g protein, 17g carbohydrates, 51g fat, 154mg cholesterol, 18g saturated fat, 226mg sodium, 6g dietary fiber.
This nonpurist version, adapted from a recipe by California cooking teacher Linda Carucci, offers a little heat and a lot of comfort -- especially when it is served over pieces of torn bread, which is how her mother made it.
Attention to detail makes for a tender chili. Among Carucci's pertinent cooking tips: Add the dried herbs and spices to the sauteed vegetables to release their volatile oils. Use your fingers to crumble the dried oregano into the pot; that will release more of its flavor. Cook the chili over low, even heat to keep the ground beef juicy (boiling can shorten its protein fibers). If possible, don't let the condensation that forms on the underside of the pot lid slide off onto the chili and water down its flavor.
The chili, which takes about an hour to make, can be prepared ahead, covered and refrigerated for up to 4 days or frozen for up to 1 month.
2 tablespoons mild extra-virgin olive oil
1 medium yellow onion, chopped (about 11/4 cups)
1 large carrot, trimmed and cut into 1/4-inch dice
1 large stalk celery, peeled to remove strings and cut into 1/4-inch dice
3 to 4 teaspoons mild chili powder
1 teaspoon kosher salt
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano, crumbled
1/4 to 1/2 teaspoon cayenne pepper
2 large cloves garlic, finely chopped
11/4 pounds ground beef (80 percent lean)
1 (8-ounce) can tomato sauce (may substitute 1 cup homemade tomato sauce)
1 (15- to 16-ounce) can red kidney beans with liquid
1 cup water
1 dried bay leaf, preferably imported
4 to 6 slices day-old crusty Italian or French bread, for serving (optional)
Heat the oil in a large Dutch oven or heavy pot over medium heat until it shimmers. Add the onion, carrot and celery, and cook about 10 minutes, until the onion is translucent. Resist the urge to stir frequently, so the vegetables will caramelize rather than steam. Add 3 teaspoons of the chili powder, the salt, oregano, 1/4 teaspoon of the cayenne pepper and the garlic. Cook for 1 minute. Push the vegetables to the outside edges of the pot, increase the heat to medium-high, and place the ground beef in the center. Use the edge of a wooden spatula or spoon to break the meat into 3/4-inch pieces. Sear the beef until it begins to brown on the bottom; don't stir it until the beef sears and you see steam rising. Cook about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, until the meat is no longer pink.
Add the tomato sauce and the beans and their liquid. Rinse the tomato sauce can (or container from leftover sauce) with 1 cup water and add it to the pot along with the bay leaf. Bring the chili to a rolling boil, then quickly reduce the heat to low. Taste; add 1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper for a spicier chili or 1 teaspoon chili powder for a deeper flavor. Cover and cook, stirring occasionally, until the largest pieces of carrot are tender, about 20 to 30 minutes. Discard the bay leaf. Taste and adjust seasoning as necessary.
If serving over bread, tear 1 slice of bread into 3/4-inch pieces and place in the bottom of each wide, shallow soup bowl. Ladle the chili on top; serve hot.
Makes 4 to 6 servings (about 2 quarts).
Per serving (based on 6): 373 calories, 21g protein, 19g carbohydrates, 24g fat, 67mg cholesterol, 8g saturated fat, 838mg sodium, 6g dietary fiber.

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