NOTE - I have refreshed this post for Chilli con Carne with some new images and lots of additional thoughts and suggestions. The recipe remains unchanged.
My daughter reminded me of a story about Chilli con Carne the other day which made me smile. Until she was about 6 years old, she was convinced that she disliked red kidney beans. Her logic was based on the fact that the only time she ever came across them was in a chilli - chilli was spicy, therefore they must be the source of the heat! Cute, really cute and also only slightly flawed powers of deduction. Her big brothers apparently put her straight (on that and probably many other home truths) and everyone lived happily ever after, enjoying chilli for dinner and not picking out all the kidney beans ...
Chilli con Carne has held a solid place at the centre of our family dining, since before I can remember. In the olden days, I always made it with kidney beans, always served it with white rice (heaven forbid) and always adorned it with nothing more than some sour cream and a few jalapeno peppers from a jar. Oh, how my world of chilli has moved on …
What is special about this recipe for Chilli con Carne?
Yes, I know that there are a bazillion Chilli con Carne recipes knocking around, but this one is definitely a keeper. It is tweaked from a BBC Good Food recipe and it is definitely my 'go-to' -
- It's very quick - you'll have it bubbling away in around 30 minutes and it's super easy.
- Its colours are vibrant - no grey mince in sight.
- It's thick and unctuous - nothing sloppy, please.
- It packs a punch with its flavour and has just the right level of heat.
- And I bet you can guess what I'm going to say next … it freezes well, reheats like a dream, even better the next day etc etc. I think you know how I roll by now.
7 things that I've learned about cooking Chilli con Carne
- It's trial and error to get the spice level right - If all chilli powders were equal, this would be a breeze, but they're not. This recipe uses 'hot chilli powder' but brands also vary so it's important to proceed with caution and taste as you go along. I tend to check the spice level when I add the beans and adjust as needed.
- Try not to be too scared of the heat - When you serve your chilli to your adoring fans, it will probably be accompanied by a carb (see below) and lots of toppings (see below again). All of these additions will balance the heat of the dish,so you can afford to go slightly spicier than you think. Otherwise there's a risk that you'll be dining on mince and beans and that's not such a crowdpleaser.
- Make double and freeze it - Your future self will thank you.
- The flavours improve with time - Making your chilli the day before you are going to enjoy it is always a good plan, as it tastes better and you are also ahead of the game.
- Vary the beans - Kidney beans were the only beans for a chilli in the olden days, but now we have choices. I like to mix it up and use black beans, butter beans, cannellini beans or pinto beans. A can of mixed beans also works well, but avoid the type that come in their own sauce.
- Sometimes I add a can of sweetcorn - It looks pretty against the colours of the chilli.
- Chilli con Carne is very popular in a food flask - I've learned that the rice does soak up the liquid in the chilli so I'd suggest going for more chilli and less rice to avoid this (or alternatively, add a bit of extra beef stock or water when you're filling the flask).
And what are the options for the carbs to accompany my Chilli con Carne?
- Rice - I used to be a devotee of white rice with chilli, but, well times they change and with white rice everyone is hungry half an hour later, so nowadays, I want wholegrain rice all the way.
- Flatbreads - I opt for the type that form a pocket when split. In Dubai these are known as Arabic breads; pita bread is the equivalent in the UK. With a flatbread, you can make the best ever chilli con carne sandwich and you will be forever grateful for this suggestion. It does need a bit of rice in the mix to avoid a soggy mess and even then, there is a high risk of 'dribble down the chin' but it's so absolutely worth it.
- Tacos - I am most definitely a fan of a chilli taco and in my world, it is ALWAYS a soft taco. Always.
- Cornbread - In some parts of the world, cornbread is popular with chilli. It's a bit too much like serving cake with chilli for me, but I'm alerting you to the option in case you fancy giving it a whirl.
And then my friends, there are the chilli toppings; a topic about which I have so much to say ...
The toppings are the key way that my chilli experience has changed over the years. Toppings provide the flair and pzazz to transform an ordinary dinner into an extraordinary feast. And 'more is more' in my opinion, so here are my favourites -
- Sliced fresh chillis
- Jalapeno peppers from a jar
- Sliced spring onions
- Pickled Red Onions
- A squeeze of lime from a lime segment
- Avocado - either sliced or made into a guacamole
- Salsa - I always have a jar of this in the fridge but you can also rustle up a quick, fresh homemade version with some finely chopped ripe tomatoes, a little onion, a drizzle of oil and plenty of salt and pepper.
- Halved cherry tomatoes
- A sprinkling of sweetcorn - either from a can or cut from a cob (it's good raw too)
- Grated cheese
- Sour cream - a significant dollop (stirred through if you wish) will calm the heat as well as bringing a contrasting creaminess
- A drizzle of Lea & Perrins Worcestershire Sauce - especially good sprinkled over the rice.
- I will hold my hand up and admit that I also have a weird fondness for an accompanying rocket or spinach salad with my chilli, but I know that's just me being a freaky-salad-obsessed-fruit-loop so please delete this suggestion if it offends.
So, whichever toppings you favour to adorn your Chilli con Carne - give this version a go. I think you'll agree that this recipe is a keeper. And you won't even need to pick out those pesky, 'spicy' kidney beans!
And if you fancy reading about what happened when two teenagers tackled making Chilli con Carne for the family, you can read about it here. Spoiler alert - this post dates back to a time before we had fully embraced all the options for toppings ...