A 'good' Chilli is probably something most of us have been cooking for years, without even looking at a recipe book...
I know I have - probably for the best part of two decades. You know the routine - the Anglo-Texan version, anyway. Fry up chopped garlic and onions (maybe even some chopped up peppers), brown mince (unless you're cooking it vegetarian style - see notes), add ground cumin, paprika and chilli powder (maybe a few other herbs and spices), add tinned tomatoes and cook until it seems like you think chilli con carne should be, throw in a tin of kidney beans, season and serve. Maybe with a whole load of grated cheese on top and/or sour cream (or similar).
Well, I thought it was high time to take this recipe out, give it a dust down and a shake up - a bit of research, and a re-vamp - packing it full of flavour, instead of a tired, student-style stand-by! This amount serves five main portions, at 315 calories each (218 if using Quorn mince, see notes**) for the chilli con carne; plus 18/29 calories per person for fat free/regular Greek yoghurt and fresh coriander topping AND still comes in at under 500 calories quite happily with cauliflower rice, tacos, tortillas, and even grain rice, as per my serving suggestions!
So, having been looking at food from the USA (and Mexico) to cook in a healthier way, this seemed like the perfect contender for a bit of research and re-vamp! There are all kinds of versions, from all over, from the basic original Texan cowboy fayre of cubed meat and re-hydrated dried chillies simmered together (back in the day, the flesh of said chillies would have given it that 'tomato-y' consistency), versions including pork and beef, the rather controversial addition of beans, and finally, our Anglicised version with minced beef, chopped tomatoes and ground paprika/chilli powder etc. not forgetting cubes of dark chocolate, and even the somewhat surprising addition of cups of coffee...!
I decided in the end, that good minced (ground) beef was the way to go (shorter fibres in the mince, means shorter cooking time until tender), I'd leave out chilli powder and paprika (as they can give dishes a'gritty' texture) and go for a mixture of dried, soaked chillies (I used chipotle, for their smoky, fruity flavour) and fresh chillies (I highly recommend giving this a go, if you don't do it!). I kept the (controversial) kidney beans, as many people wouldn't really recognise the dish without beans (although if you don't like kidney beans, adzuki beans are a smaller, softer substitute, which younger children also find more palatable) and (apologies to Texans), I kept the tomatoes too. A mixture of fresh and canned, for texture and flavour. If you want to be more of a purist, you could leave out all tomato-based ingredients and beans, and go for it, hardcore-style! Just keep an eye on the liquid content, and top up with hot water as and when necessary.
We decided to top our chilli con carne with Greek yoghurt (as opposed to sour cream) and coriander - you can take your pick of sour cream or creme fraiche, grated cheese (e.g. a medium to mature cheddar), onions... and serve it on rice or cauliflower rice, in a taco... however you prefer it! It's one of the best chillies I've made to date - the only trouble is I wish I'd made double quantities, as we ate the lot, and I'm pretty sure this would taste even better the next day, too!
Want a low carb / low calorie meal?
Serve on top of 200g cauliflower rice per person (76 calories a serving), or 50g rice per person (raw weight, 176 calories per serving) or serve in a couple of taco shells (e.g. Old El Paso boxed tacos, for 67 calories per taco, check ingredients for GF), or mini-tortillas (87 calories each, for a 28g flour tortilla, not suitable for GF)... or you could even use lettuce leaves to wrap it in - whatever floats your boat! All of these suggestions will bring you in at under 500 calories quite comfortably.
- 500g lean minced (ground) beef* (see Notes below, organic if possible) OR 500g frozen Quorn mince** for vegetarians (see notes below) [915 beef / 525 Quorn]
- 1 tsp neutral oil (e.g. sunflower - you can use a splash more if you're not counting calories) 
- 3 dried chipotle chillies (weight about 9g - this is for medium to hot - just use one if you want it milder. You can use any dried chillies you like, or if you can't get hold of any, leave some or all of the seeds in your fresh red chilli, and add 2 tsp mild/sweet smoked paprika) 
- 1 onion (100g) 
- 2 cloves garlic 
- 1 large, long red chilli 
- 1 bay leaf (preferably fresh)
- 1 tsp ground cumin 
- 1 small cinnamon stick (about 2 inches long)
- 1 tsp dried oregano 
- 1 x 400g tin chopped tomatoes 
- 3 large vine tomatoes (300g - or use a further 3/4 tin chopped tomatoes) 
- 2 tbsp tomato puree 
- 1 tsp sugar (optional) 
- 1/2 tbsp Knorr Touch of Taste Beef Boullion Concentrate (or equivalent - enough to make up 150ml beef stock - use vegetable stock if cooking the vegetarian version) 
- 1 x 400g tin of kidney beans (in water, or 240g cooked kidney beans, or substitute adzuki beans) 
- 3 squares good quality, dark chocolate (10g, optional - I used G & B's 85%) 
- 150ml (2 tbsp each) Greek yoghurt (e.g. Total - fat free/regular) [86/144]
- Handful coriander leaves 
Other optional serving suggestions
- Finely diced or sliced onion (yellow, or red, 41 calories per 100g)
- Grated cheese (e.g. mature cheddar, 416 calories per 100g, not for dairy free)
- Sour cream (195 calories per 100ml, not for dairy free)
- Rice (50g dried weight is 176 calories)
- Cauliflower 'rice' (200g is 76 calories)
- Taco shells (e.g. Old El Paso, boxed, 67 calories each - always check ingredients for gluten free)
- Mini-tortillas (87 calories per 28g wrap - always check ingredients for gluten free even when called 'con tortillas', as they often contain wheat in the UK)
1. First soak the dried chillies in 200ml boiling water for 10-15 minutes (don't throw the water away!), while you prepare the vegetables. (3 dried chipotle chillies will give you a medium to HOT chilli, depending on your palate, so if that makes you nervous, just use one for now - you can always add a shake of cayenne near the end if it's not hot enough!).
2. Skin, core and roughly chop the fresh tomatoes, if using (either on a fork over a gas flame, or with a cross cut in the bottom, and submerged in boiling water for 20 seconds or so, then refreshed under cold water before peeling), and set aside. Peel and dice the onion, and de-seed and finely chop the chilli and garlic (or you can use a garlic crusher) and set aside together.
3. Once the chipotle chillies have soaked, pour off 150ml of the water and mix with your beef (or vegetable) boullion concentrate, leaving the sediment in the bowl. Remove the chillies, chop off and discard the stalky part at the very top, and then roughly chop, including seeds (you could remove them, if you want to, but it's actually the pith which contains a lot of the heat! And chipotle aren't too hot). Combine the chopped chillies with your chilli-water-beef stock mix and blitz them until you have no large pieces of chilli flesh left floating around. Set aside.
4. Time to brown the meat... if you're old hat at this or making the vegetarian version, skip past or brown away (you don't need to cook through, just brown, flip, brown, break up, toss/stir, and set aside with juices), if not, I actually ended up making a separate post for how to get the maximum flavour and best texture from minced meat, in a dish like this, to keep the method shorter - and even if you are old hat, it's not impossible you might pick up a tip or two from this! Here is the link (and I'm grateful to those who humour my little foibles!).
5. Once it's browned, carefully remove with a slotted spoon and set aside with the juices, leaving the residual oils in the pan.
N.B. If using Quorn, you don't need to brown it, as you will add it to the sauce. Heat your pan, add the oil, and continue from below.
6. Turn the heat down to low to medium, and add the onion, garlic, chopped fresh chilli and bay leaf. Gently sautee for about five minutes until softened but "don't burn the garlic, as it will make it taste bitter" (as I am now apparently noted for warning!).
7. Add the ground cumin and cinnamon stick and continue to cook for another 30 seconds or so, until fragrant, and then add the beef (don't add Quorn yet, if using) back to the pan, and the tinned and fresh tomatoes, tomato puree, oregano, sugar, and chilli-water-beef stock (or just beef stock and paprika, if you're not using dried chillies). Turn up the heat briefly, until it starts to bubble, and then turn back down to low, cover the pan (with a lid, or foil if you don't have one!) and simmer for half an hour (15-20 minutes if using Quorn, as it's going to absorb some of the sauce - then add it and skip to the next step, and add the beans at the same time), or until the beef is tender and the sauce has thickened, stirring two or three times (this will depend on your beef - once the chilli has started bubbling, you could even transfer this to a slow cooker for a few hours, or casserole dish and leave in a low oven for an hour and a half or more to cook, if that suits you better - just keep an eye on the moisture levels), and adding hot water, if necessary (unlikely).
8. Add the kidney (or adzuki) beans, if using, and dark chocolate and continue to simmer gently for another 10-12 minutes, so they can take on the flavours of the chilli (and the Quorn is cooked, if using), and add a splash of extra hot water if you think it needs it.
9. Now is the time to have a kettle full of water, some cayenne pepper, chipotle sauce or similar to hand, and salt. Is this a cop-out? HELL no! Everyone is going to use different beef, tomatoes with a different water content, a different pan, and a different level of heat, and have a different level of evaporation, and a different palate as regards salt and heat. Any recipe that doesn't tell you to taste where you're at, and then season to taste etc. is a cop-out! At this very point in time, everyone's chilli is probably going to look and taste quite different.
SO... beef texture is good (or Quorn is cooked!), and beans have absorbed flavour. Firstly, you need to get the liquid levels right (before you add seasoning), so if it's looking a little too dry for your tastes, gradually add some boiling water, a couple of tbsp at a time, and stir in well until you're happy with it (especially when using Quorn, as it seems to be quite absorbant) - if it's too wet (unlikely), continue simmering until it has reduced to your preferred consistency.
10. Once you're happy with the consistency, you need to get the seasoning right. Have a taste. It will most likely taste a bit bland, as you haven't seasoned it yet (unless you don't cook with salt, or you're a 'super-taster'). Maybe go for a 1/2 tsp first, then stir it in, and give it a chance to simmer, disperse and taste again. For my taste, I add around a level teaspoon of fine sea salt in total. Repeat as necessary, although I imagine 1 and 1/2 tsp should be enough for anyone. Then chilli levels - if it's not hot enough, add more chilli (e.g. 1/8 teaspoon cayenne, or hot chilli powder, or 1 tsp chipotle sauce at a time, stirred in and simmered for a minute or two, until you're happy with it). If it's missing something for you, consider adding something acidic, like a teaspoon of (red wine) vinegar or lemon juice, or another teaspoon of sugar - especially if you're cooking with fresh tomatoes, which these days often need a flavour boost.
There you go! Serve on a bed of rice (or cauliflower rice), with a dollop of sour cream, or Greek yoghurt, and a scattering of coriander (cilantro) leaves and enjoy. Personally, I'll be making it this way again, as after nearly two decades of same-ish, thrown-together chillies, this one stood out in terms of the depth of flavour... I hope you enjoy it too!
*Minced beef varies in fat and calorie content enormously, between different varieties and brands. If you're using very lean meat, you may need to cook it longer in order for it to become tender. I used Sainsbury's 'SO' Organic Beef Mince - Lean, which was 183 calories per 100g. General beef mince (not lean) is around 225-255 calories per 100g, and extra-lean minced beef is around 120-125 calories per 100g, so check the packaging if you're counting calories.
**I've included instructions in italics for those cooking with Quorn, which will hopefully make them more visible! The main thing with Quorn is its absorbency, so keep an eye on the liquid levels and have a kettle of hot water to hand, to add more liquid as and when necessary.