Lest you fear I've completely lost my marbles, I'm aware it's not summer yet. However, here in balmy Charleston, spring is well past her fullest bloom, though still lovely. The official first waves of feels-like-summer-heat will arrive in a few weeks with the arrival of the Spoletians; invariably the two go together year after year.
So, I'm a little ahead of myself seasonally, a sensation that started, ironically when I went to the first Charleston farmers' market of the season a Saturday ago. Sifting through luscious strawberries, long spears of asparagus, and pungent sweet onions, I was giddy with the fruits of spring. Yet, the grass-fed beef and pork sausage I purchased from one of my favorite vendors jump-started my culinary mind to summer. Specifically, peppers, tomatoes, and their culinary bedfellow, chili.
Even in the doggiest days of August heat, I can't resist making the stuff. So utterly wholesome, I load it up with colorful, peppery heat and plenty of grass-fed beef and beans. I usually finish it with some dark chocolate and a dab of local honey for sweetness, and it's utterly delicious and very nutritious.
Though it's a bit early for the season, that's what I found myself doing once again yesterday, and loving every minute of it. The fragrance of making chili is at least half the fun and my dog, Tann Mann, makes a virtual dance out of it the process that makes me smile.
This time, and in keeping with the true spring season, I decided to add some color and fiber in the form of Swiss chard. It's a mild, tender green, and just needs a few minutes of cooking to wilt, soften and heat through at the very end of the cooking process. Think parsley on steroids! Be sure to wash the chard thoroughly, break off and discard the tough stems, and dry well. I cut them into thin strips, or a chiffonade. This is easily done by stacking the leaves, rolling them into a bundle, and cut into thin strips, horizontally across the bundle.
Another nice thing about this recipe, is that you can store it in the refrigerator for a couple days, where the flavors will continue to develop. Re-heat it in the batch sizes you need only, as you want to avoid over-cooking the Swiss chard, which will make it soggy and more grey than green.
To keep the fat content very low and the flavor high, I used sausage, too, but drained it very well after the browning process to remove almost all but a few tablespoons of the fat. This is why it's important to add the majority of the spices after the browning and draining process, otherwise they will end up down your sink or in your garbage disposal, instead of in your chili. Feel free to lighten up on the heat if you have a tender palate. As always, be sure to taste and modify salt and pepper quantities to suit your taste. Happy cooking!
Chunky Spunky Farmers' Market Chili
(Makes 10 - 12 portions)
1 Tbs. Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 lb. grass fed beef (or substitute organic or ground beef)
1 lb. sweet sausage (casings removed if applicable)
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
1 Tbs. roasted ground cumin
1/2 tsp. red chili pepper flakes
generous dash paprika
pinch ground cloves
1 Tbs. Mexican oregano
1 Tbs. thyme leaves
1 medium Bermuda onion, finely chopped (about 2 cups)
2 stalks celery, finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, halved, seeds removed, and finely chopped
1 poblano pepper, halved, seeds removed, and finely chopped
2 habenero chiles, halved, seeds removed, and minced (Note: wear protective gloves if your hands are sensitive to the heat from the chile oil)
1 jalapeno pepper, halved, seeds removed, and finely chopped
3 cloves garlic, smashed and chopped
1 1/2 cups medium bodied, good quality red wine (such as Pinot Noir)
2 cups quartered rainbow Heirloom cherry or grape tomatoes
1 15.5 oz. can black beans
1 15.5 can Great Northern beans
1 1/2 cups beef stock (or water)
1 square (about 1 Tbs, chopped) dark chocolate, at least 70% cacao
1 Tbs. honey
Salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
Garnish: Sour Cream
In a large soup pot or Dutch Oven, heat the olive oil over medium high heat. Add the beef and the sausage, crumbling into small pieces as you're adding. Season lightly with salt and pepper. Stir, occasionally, continuing to break the meat into small, uniform pieces. Cook until browned, about five minutes. Drain off all but 2 tablespoons of the rendered fat, discarding. Return the meat to the pan.
Over medium heat, add the cumin, red chile pepper flakes, paprika, cloves, Mexican oregano, and thyme. Stir to combine. Add the onion, celery, bell pepper, poblano, habenero, jalapeno and garlic. Continue to cook over medium to medium low heat, stirring, until all of the vegetables have just softened, about five minutes.
Increase the heat to high. Add the wine and continue to cook until it has reduced by half. Reduce the heat to medium. Add the tomatoes, black beans, Great Northern beans (both with their liquor - it contains nutrients and fiber), and beef stock. Increase heat and bring up to a low simmer. Stir in the chocolate and the honey. Taste and add salt and pepper lightly as needed.
Cook on a low simmer, uncovered for about 30 minutes. Serve very hot in shallow bowls with a generous dollop of sour cream. (Note: Left-overs can be stored in the refrigerator for up to 3 days. The chili also freezes very well for up to 3 months).