Gluten Free Chili and Cornbread

Gluten Free Chili and Cornbread

This isn’t a recipe site and I don’t plan to turn it into one. But as I was cooking this past weekend, it occurred to me that this would make a good dish through which I could explore the way I approach meals and cooking in general and some of the specific ways we’ve adapted dishes to be gluten free. So I’m not going to write this up as a recipe, but there will be a couple of pretty decent recipes embedded in this post if you care to extract them from the text and write them down on recipes cards yourself. If not, I hope you’ll enjoy the post anyway.

Chili, of course, is everywhere in Texas and everyone has their own recipe. It’s also a dish that’s easy to make gluten free. Many chili recipes are gluten free without any adaptation. Many others only require slight adaptation.

I started developing my own chili recipe in my early twenties. I used a fusion of techniques and spicing, primarily Southwestern and Indian, I had learned from my Dad growing up. And I developed a few wrinkles of my own through trial and error. I never had a recipe for it or exact measurements, so it was a little different every time I made it. My father and some of my friends at the time loved it, but many others found it too hot. (The chili had both an up-front heat and a cumulative, developing heat that snuck up on you.) In particular, my kids wouldn’t eat it, so I gradually quit making chili much at all.

My wife, however, loved a good Texas red with a bite, but not overpoweringly hot, so she kept looking for a good recipe. One day, she stumbled across one in our local supermarket that looked easy to adapt into a chili like the ones she preferred. She gave it a whirl and it turned out pretty delicious. She tweaked it a bit until it was pitch perfect. And the kids liked it too (especially with a lot of cheese)! I pretty much follow her recipe, though I do tweak it just a bit. It’s a fun and simple recipe that produces a reliably yummy chili.

Start by browning a couple of pounds of ground beef. These days, with our increased awareness about what we eat, we prefer lean, organic, grass-fed ground beef, but any ground beef will work. When the ground beef is browned, drain it and set it aside for later. (If you have Yorkies you tend to spoil, set aside a little of the ground beef for them.)

While the ground beef is cooking in a large skillet, add a pound and a half to two pounds of diced beef cubes (about 3/8 inch or so) to a large pot. (We generally use one of our ceramic coated, cast iron dutch ovens.) Finely diced stew meat will work. Or you can pick your preferred cut of beef and dice it yourself.

Chop a medium to large onion. I’ll use different onions according to my mood. A white onion will give the chili a slightly sharper bite. A lot of the time I’ll use a yellow onion because I like them. When they are in season a Texas 1015 onion can provide a delicious change of pace. Add the onion to the pot.

Then seed and finely dice your fresh chiles. What chiles should you use? Well, that’s according to the flavor you want. Definitely include a larger chile. Most of the time I use a poblano, but a large ancho or, in season, a roasted hatch green chile or two are good alternatives. You always need 1-2 jalapenos for their distinctive flavor. Beyond that, use whatever chiles you like. I’ll sometimes dice up a serrano or two. We almost never have fresh cayenne peppers here, but I would love to try one or two in this chili some day. Some chile pequins could be nice. Really, just use the chiles you like. The ones you pick will shape the flavor of the end result. Toss the finely diced chiles into the pot.

Crush or mince at least six large cloves of garlic and add them to the pot. Really, you can put in just about as much garlic as you like. We like garlic, so we never go easy on it.

Cook the beef cubes, onion, chiles, and garlic mixture on medium-high heat until the beef is no longer pink. You’ll know when it’s ready for the next step.

Add the ground beef to the pot and add the spices. The spices include 2-4 teaspoons each of salt, black pepper, and cumin. Throw in half a teaspoon or so of ground cayenne pepper (assuming you didn’t have any fresh ones available for the step above). Cayenne’s a moderately hot pepper, so adjust according to your tolerance. And then add 3-5 tablespoons of chili powder. I suppose in some parts of the country, you pretty much only have the generic chili powder blend in a bottle. Here, though, we rarely have fewer than two chili powder blends in the bulk spices at any of our grocery stores. The chili in the picture above was made with a San Antonio fiesta chili powder. The chili powder used will, of course, influence the final flavor of the chili. Stir to combine without removing the pot from the heat.

Stir in tomatoes. Personally, I like to use a large can (30 oz. or so) of organic crushed tomatoes and a medium can (15 oz. or so) of organic tomato sauce. I also like chunks of tomato in my chili, so I usually add a can of organic diced tomatoes. (You can chop up fresh tomatoes as long as you recognize that will extend the cooking time.) If you want your chili without those chunks of tomatoes, it’s perfectly okay to skip them.

Purists will insist that a Texas red has no beans. Beans, if provided, are to be served on the side. My wife and I both like beans in our chili, so we thumb our noses at the purists and make our chili the way we like it. We both tend to like black beans, so we’ll normally throw in a can of drained black beans. (Or add some fresh cooked ones, but we don’t make beans from scratch all that often.)

Finally, add enough liquid to reach the desired consistency. Usually that’s going to be about 1-3 cups. (This is a part I always just eyeball rather than measure.) It will be a little thin at first, but as it simmers, and especially as the tomatoes cook, it will thicken. A lot of the time we’ll use a gluten free organic beef broth for the liquid. (We like the Central Market Organics beef broth.) But a gluten free beer works too. Red wine adds a certain richness. In a pinch you could even just use water, though obviously that won’t add any flavor of its own.

Heat the pot and simmer, stirring occasionally, until it’s done. That’s usually going to take at least an hour and the longer it cooks, the better it will be. Save the leftovers, of course. Chili is always better the second day.

We always make cornbread to go with our chili. My wife adapted one of our recipes to be gluten free, but didn’t tell me about the changes she made to it. I made it a couple of times just substituting all-purpose gluten free flour for the regular all-purpose flour on a one-for-one basis and, while edible, the result was not very good at all and had a strange consistency. Finally, she told me she had modified the cornbread recipe and wrote it down for me. As I’ve mentioned elsewhere, I’m not much of a baker, so I don’t play with the recipe.

Add 1 1/4 cups of gluten free (most should be gluten free, but always check) corn meal and 3/4 cup Jules gluten free all-purpose flour (or some other all-purpose gluten free flour, though I don’t promise the same result with any other) to a mixing bowl.  Add four teaspoons of baking powder, half a teaspoon of salt, and some cayenne (to taste). Mix the dry ingredients together thoroughly.

Add two eggs, 1/4 cup vegetable oil, and one cup of water to the dry mixture. Stir, just until combined. (Don’t use an electric mixer or stir past the point that everything is combined.)

Transfer to a greased pan and cook at 425 degrees until done. It’s going to take about 20 minutes, but I’m sure most people know the drill. When it’s pulling away from the sides and a toothpick or butter knife inserted into the center comes out clean, it’s done.

My kids like cheese in their chili and honey on their cornbread. I can’t eat cheese anymore and I just like butter on my cornbread. Gluten free tamales go well with it too.

And that’s pretty much what things look like when I cook. Hope you enjoyed my narrative description of the process!

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