The New England Patriots may not be playing, but there’s still a lot of interest in Sunday’s big game.
I’ve heard a lot of people say that even if they can’t watch Tom Brady, they want to see what Peyton Manning can do for the Broncos.
So maybe you aren’t having that big Patriots-themed party, but that doesn’t mean you have to cancel your Super Bowl soiree altogether. And what says “Super Bowl party” better than chili – gallons of it that you can leave simmering on your stove so your guests can help themselves? It’s easy, it’s delicious and it’s the perfect antidote for the frigid winter we’ve been having.
The usual beef chili is always popular, but why not try something a little different this year? I’ve gathered some ideas that will satisfy your guests’ chili cravings but also pique their culinary interest.
There’s a Cuban-style chili that gets unexpected flavor and texture from raisins, almonds and olives. Yes, it gets a little heat and intensity from cumin and chili powder, but it also gets rich undertones of flavor from cinnamon and cloves.
There’s a lamb chili that is lighter than a traditional beef chili and uses unsweetened cocoa powder to enhance the spices.
And there are two vegan/vegetarian offerings that get their texture and flavor from adding more vegetables to the mix – along with ingredients like molasses, maple syrup and chocolate.
The Cuban Chili that Becky Shepherd serves at Wild Oats Bakery & Cafe was inspired by Brunswick’s sister city relationship with Trinidad, a city in Cuba.
Every year the Brunswick-Trinidad Sister City Association hosts Cuba Week in town; restaurants serve Cuban fare, theaters show movies about Cuba and clubs play Cuban music.
“I have a personal interest in it because I have family that used to live in Cuba,” Shepherd said. “I’m not of Cuban descent or Hispanic descent, but my relatives owned a sugar plantation and a botanical garden in Cuba, and so I have been there. About 12 years ago, I was able to go on a humanitarian exchange, so I have a personal connection and interest in Cuba and I think the sister city program is really fascinating.”
Shepherd and her staff researched Cuban cuisine and put together a variety of chili concepts. The Cuban Chili is the end result of those experiments, tweaked over time.
Wild Oats puts a dozen or more different homemade soups on its daily menu, and there can be as many as three chilis sometimes. Shepherd thought the Cuban Chili would go away after Cuba Week, but she was wrong.
It’s become a staff and customer favorite.
“Frankly, we were just planning to offer it that week because we thought it was too funky for people – the idea that it’s got almonds and raisins and olives, and the spicing obviously is not your traditional spicing,” Shepherd said. “It’s much more Caribbean. But we just started having people ask for it, so now it’s one of our staples.”
If you like a little bite to your chili, or you’re planning to serve beer, Shepherd suggests going with three tablespoons of chili powder. It will provide some heat, but won’t make you break out in a sweat. If you don’t like spiciness, cut back to two tablespoons.
Shepherd uses dark raisins but says golden raisins would probably work just as well, if that’s all you’ve got on your shelf.
One nice thing about this chili is that it gets better the longer it sits because the flavors have a chance to meld.That means you can make it the day before the Super Bowl and take it easy (or concentrate on making other snacks) on game day.
From Becky Shepherd, owner of Wild Oats Bakery & Cafe, Brunswick
Makes 1 gallon
Sautee together in a large pot, until translucent:
2 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil
1 medium Spanish onion, chopped
1 garlic clove, minced fine or use a garlic press
Add the following and sautee until meat is cooked. Be sure to break up the meat as it’s cooking. If desired, drain excess fat:
1 pound ground pork
1 pound ground beef
Add the below and simmer over medium heat for 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally. This will meld the flavors and reduce liquid.
2 28-ounce cans whole, peeled plum tomatoes, crushed by hand or roughly chopped, plus liquid
2 15-ounce cans black beans (not drained)
1 5.75-ounce jar of Spanish olives with minced pimentos, also called “stuffed manzanilla,” roughly chopped or lightly pulsed in a food processor
1 cup raisins, loosely packed
1 cup sliced, toasted almonds
2-3 tablespoons chili powder (adjust for heat)
2 teaspoons salt
2 teaspoons ground cinnamon
2 teaspoons ground cumin
1 teaspoon ground allspice
3/4 teaspoon ground cloves
Remove from heat.
LISA WEBSTER HAS A WARNING: Once you make chili with lamb, you’ll probably never go back. It’s that different.
“Lamb makes a fantastic chili,” says the owner of North Star Sheep Farm in Windham. “It’s probably one of the best introductions to lamb for people who are hesitant to try it, because you can’t go really wrong if you buy a pound of ground lamb. You put $65 to $70 out for a leg of lamb and try to roast it and it doesn’t go exactly how you think it’s going to, you can make a mistake.”
Webster’s chili includes some cinnamon, a traditional spice used in braising or stewing lamb. Sometimes she adds a little Guinness.
Her secret ingredient? A teaspoon of unsweetened cocoa powder. “For some reason the cocoa just enhances the spice flavors on the lamb,” she said.
Lamb chili is milder and lighter than chili made with ground beef, Webster said. It will be filling, but not as heavy. It has fewer beans and less meat that ground beef chilis, but lots of spiced tomatoes. Webster removed some of the beans from her original recipe because she felt they tended to overpower the dish, and she wanted the tomatoes to be the highlight.
Like the Cuban-style chili, this one gets better after sitting a while.
Webster’s main tip? “Don’t overcook the ground lamb,” she said. “That’s the main thing. Just cook it to barely brown or a heavy pink.… Lamb will dry out very easily.”
While beef chili is often accompanied by things like cheese and sour cream, Webster recommends serving this lamb chili with either plain yogurt and chives, along with some warm pita bread, or with shredded sharp cheddar and some thick-sliced French bread.
QUICK AND SIMPLE LAMB CHILI
From Lisa Webster at North Star Sheep Farm, Windham
Prep 10 minutes, cook 30 minutes
1 medium onion, chopped
1 pound lean ground lamb
2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 teaspoon red pepper flakes
1/2 tablespoon dried basil
1 teaspoon cumin
1/8 teaspoon cinnamon
2 large cloves garlic, minced
3 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
1/2 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon unsweetened cocoa powder
1 teaspoon white sugar
1 bay leaf
Salt and pepper to taste
2 (14.5-ounce) cans diced tomatoes, with juice
3 cups red beans, with liquid
1. In a large pot, cook onions and ground lamb in olive oil over medium heat.
2. When onions are soft and meat browned, season with red pepper flakes, basil, cumin, cinnamon, garlic, chili powder, dried oregano, cocoa powder, sugar and bay leaf, and salt and pepper to taste. Cook for 1 or 2 minutes. Stir in tomatoes and beans. Increase heat to bring soup to a boil. Reduce heat, and simmer for 15 minutes.
MARY PAINE, ONE OF THE FOUNDERS of the Pepperclub in Portland, confesses that although she is known for her vegetarian food, she is only about 85 percent vegetarian.
You could add some meat to her Smoky, Hot and Sweet Three Bean Chili, but why would you want to, her thinking goes. It’s perfectly delicious just the way it is, with three kinds of beans, lots of spices and a little sweetness from molasses or maple syrup.
“On another day, I would put everything in that – hamburger, sausage, whatever,” Paine said. “But vegetarian chilis are awesome too. That’s the part I like about chilis, is the tomato and the beans and the cumin.”
Paine isn’t crazy about adding “fake meats” in a vegetarian chili, either, but if you must, she suggests trying vegan or vegetarian sausages, such as those made by Lightlife.
“If I’m going to make chili,” she says, “I’m not worried about replacing the meat. I’m just worried about making a good chili.”
SMOKY, HOT AND SWEET THREE BEAN CHILI
From Mary Paine at Pepperclub, Portland (NOTE: Pepperclub is now closed)
Serves 4 to 8
2 tablespoons olive oil
2 cups chopped red onion
2 cups mixed red and green pepper, chopped
1 cup carrot, diced
4 cloves garlic
2 jalapenos, finely chopped
2 chipotles, dried, softened in simmering water or canned in adobo sauce, finely chopped
1 habanero (optional)
1 tablespoon oregano
2 tablespoons chili powder
2 tablespoons ground cumin
2 tablespoons ground coriander
1 tablespoon smoked paprika
2 tablespoons wheat free soy or tamari
1 tablespoon salt
1 teaspoon black pepper
2 cans whole or crushed tomato
2 cups fresh or frozen corn
4 cups assorted cooked beans – black bean, kidney bean, white bean
1/4 cup molasses or maple syrup
2 tablespoons lime juice
Salt and pepper to taste
1) Saute onion till tender and slightly browned.
2) Add peppers, carrots and garlic; stir and cook 5 minutes.
3) Add all spices, herbs, jalapenos, chipotles, soy, salt and pepper. Cook 5 minutes.
4) Add all remaining ingredients except lime juice.
5) Slow simmer 45 minutes.
6) Add lime juice and taste for salt and pepper. Serve with your favorite corn bread. Chili loves cornbread.
LIKE MARY PAINE, Chris McClay of Modern Vegan, a local vegan meal delivery service, isn’t crazy about “fake meats” in chilis, but that’s because she has a major sensitivity to gluten, and most of the faux meat products have gluten in them.
“But I think they are fabulous for people who are just transitioning” to a vegan diet, McClay said. “I don’t have any problem with them. You’ll find with me, I’m not radical about anything. It’s sort of like, whatever works for you.”
But the gluten issue might be one to keep in mind if you’re serving a large crowd at your Super Bowl party and don’t know everyone’s particular dietary needs. It might be safer to leave out the meat substitutes.
What to use instead? You could add some textured vegetable protein, a soy product that does not contain gluten and provides a meaty texture, but is highly processed.
“I considered putting that in mine, but I just didn’t,” McClay said. “I really just wanted to keep it whole foods.”
McClay used mushrooms instead, which provide an earthy flavor as well as a meaty texture. She also included an ounce block of unsweetened baking chocolate because it adds “deep, rich flavor, and it goes great with mushrooms.”
“Chocolate gives it depth,” she said. “It’s an undertone, really. I think instead of being so tomato forward, it’s almost like drinking a wine.”
MODERN VEGAN BLACK BEAN CHILI
From Chris McClay at Modern Vegan, Portland
11/2 cups diced onions
1 cup green or red peppers, diced
1 cup cremini (or white button) mushrooms, diced
½ cup carrots, diced
½ cup celery, diced
1 teaspoon garlic, minced
1 teaspoon ginger, minced
1 cup vegetable stock
1 cup tomatoes, diced
2 mild chili peppers (like pasilla), charred, unskinned, and diced*
1 teaspoon chili powder
3/4 teaspoon ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon tamari
½ teaspoon salt (or to taste)
1 cup cooked black beans
1 ounce block unsweetened baking chocolate
Garnish: 2 tablespoons scallions, thin bias cut
Saute the onions, peppers, carrots and celery in a couple tablespoons of water over medium-low heat in a medium skillet for about 10 minutes, or until softened. Add small amounts of water, as needed, to keep vegetables from sticking to the pan. Add the garlic and ginger and saute for another minute. Stir in the stock, then all remaining ingredients except the chocolate. Bring to a boil, then add the chocolate and simmer for 15 minutes, slightly covered. Stir to keep bottom from scorching, and add extra vegetable stock if the chili becomes too thick. Season to taste, and garnish with scallions and cilantro.
*To char peppers, place on top oven shelf under broiler on high, rotating until each side is lightly blackened.
Serve over brown rice.