This is one of the most straightforward and satisfying meals to serve when you have a full house. However, chilli con carne comes in many different disguises. It is the equivalent of trying to be an expert on bolognese, bourguignon or paella. We are in dangerous recipe territory here. So, maybe let’s agree, it’s slow-cooked beef (ground, chopped or chunky) in a rich chilli sauce. But should it contain beans? What are the sides? Has it grated cheese, onion, yoghurt or guacamole? Tortilla, burrito or nachos? Should it sit on a bed of rice or pasta, or is it tucked inside a taco?
Chilli recipes range from Texas-style chilli (Texas red), Springfield chilli from Illinois, Cincinnati-style, Oklahoma-style, chilli verde, white chilli or vegetarian chilli.
Wow, lots to think about.
I’m basing my recipe on the Cincinnati-style chilli developed in the 1920s by the Kiradjieff brothers, who originated from Bulgaria (Hrupishta (present-day Argos Orestiko, Greece)). Their sauce is made with ground beef and Mediterranean herbs and is paired with spaghetti. Most likely influenced by recipes from back home, such as pastitsio or moussaka.
Cincinnati Chili seems a very appropriate place to start my Chili con Carne recipe journey.
You can use ground or minced beef for the recipe if you prefer. I chose stewing steak with smallish chunks that break down nicely when simmered for a couple of hours. The formula has plenty of chillies, a little Greek oregano and sweet red Florina peppers. I also used date syrup rather than chocolate.
The ingredient list is not too long, but you must take your time to make the chilli. Ideally, make it a day ahead you want to serve it. Leaving the chilli overnight develops the flavours and is twice as good.
Seal the Meat and Prepare the Chilli Sauce
Be sure to sear the meat in a separate pan with plenty of black pepper and a tiny drop of oil. No salt yet. Meanwhile, gently toast the dried chillies to extract their flavour taking care not to burn them. Remove and put them in a small bowl with a dash of hot water to soften them. Roast two sweet red peppers in the oven or your cooking pot. Again don’t burn – soften them on all sides and put them aside to cool. Peel them if you wish – I don’t bother.
Fry the onions in the casserole with olive oil, the remaining sweet pepper and all the spices until soft and translucent.
While the onions are cooking, in a small food mill, add the banana chilli, softened dried chillies, the chopped, softened sweet red pepper, three tablespoons of tomato paste, two chipotles in adobo sauce (plus two teaspoons of the sauce), garlic and a spoonful of the onion mixture. Whizz into a thick paste.
Add the beef to the onions, cook for a few minutes, and add your chilli mixture. Add a dash of water to the food mill, sloosh around so you collect all the chilli sauce and put it aside to add later. Pour the date syrup and red wine vinegar into the chilli, boil, cover with the lid slightly ajar and cook on low heat until the meat is tender. Add a tablespoon of stock at a time to keep the chilli moist. You want to simmer it gently, not boil it in too much liquid.
When the meat is soft, let it cool and store it in the fridge overnight.
How to Serve Beef Chilli (Chilli con Carne)
To serve, reheat slowly – add liquid if necessary and test for seasoning – maybe a little salt or a dash more vinegar. This is a medium hot chilli, so increase or decrease the chillness to your liking. One tip is to make a little more chilli sauce so you can add it at this stage if you want to go hotter🔥🌶️ . The whole heat of the chilli is very personal chilli territory and dependent on your guests🌶️
Traditionally, Cincinnati-style beef chilli is served five ways. With spaghetti, with spaghetti and cheese, with spaghetti, onions and cheese, with spaghetti, beans and cheese or with everything, spaghetti, cheese, onions, and beans!
Since I have used chunks of beef, we tend to serve it with pinto or red kidney beans on the side (simmered with garlic) or directly in the chilli, guacamole, a wedge of lime, fresh coriander, raw onions, yoghurt and rice, tacos or even a baked potato with sour cream. It’s delicious with a big green mixed salad, but we miss out on the spaghetti. It’s also terrific, with feta crumbled on the meat.
However, I leave all the options to you but recommend stretching the meat by serving it with plenty of sides or adding the beans to the stew. Fillers such as pasta and beans are a great way to extend the meat, as it’s too rich on its own.
Chilli con carne is the perfect meal for a big crowd. Everything can be done in advance and if there are late arrivals. Nothing spoils.
I LOVE chilli 😍
Beef Chilli (Chilli con Carne)
- 1 heavy-based casserole with a lid
- 500 g stewing steak or quality minced beef
- 2 large onions
- 3 cloves garlic (roughly chopped)
- 1 tsp cumin
- ½ tsp cinnamon
- small stick cinnamon
- ¼ tsp powdered allspice
- ¼ tsp powdered cloves
- 1 tsp dried oregano
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 small dried red chillies
- 1 large ancho or banana chilli pepper I struggle to find ancho, so I have to substitute ancho for the local banana chilli
- 3 sweet red pepper such as the Florina (80-90g).
- 2 chipotle in adobo sauce plus 2 tsp of the sauce
- 2 tbsp concentrated tomato paste
- 1-2 tbsp red wine vinegar or red wine
- 1 tbsp date syrup or a cube of dark chocolate
- 150-200 ml beef or chicken stock you may not need all of this
- olive oil
- salt and freshly ground black pepper
- 1 400g red kidney or pinto beans (or both) optional
- 1 lime
- 1 handful fresh coriander
- 200 ml yoghurt or sour cream
- beans, rice, tortillas, nachos, burrito or taco …. or spaghetti
- grated cheese if you are using spaghetti
- In a separate pan with plenty of black pepper and a tiny drop of oil, sear the meat on all sides until browned.
- Meanwhile, gently toast the dried chillies (to extract their flavour), taking care not to burn them. Remove and put them in a small bowl with a dash of hot water and leave to soften.
- Roast two sweet red peppers in the oven or your cooking pot. Again don't burn – soften them on all sides and put them aside.
- Finely chop one of the sweet red peppers and saute it in olive oil with the onions. Add all the spices, including the bay leaf and cinnamon stick and cook until the onion is soft and translucent.
- While the onions are cooking, in a small food mill, add the banana chilli, softened dried chillies, softened sweet red pepper (roughly chopped), two tablespoons of tomato paste, chipotle in adobo sauce, plus two teaspoons of the sauce, garlic and a spoonful of the onion mixture. Whizz into a thick paste. Add some stock if it is too thick to whizz.
- Add the beef to the onions, cook for a few minutes, and add your chilli mixture. Add a dash of stock to the food mill, sloosh around, so you collect all the chilli sauce and put it aside to add later. Pour the date syrup and red wine vinegar into the chilli, bring to a boil, cover with the lid slightly ajar and cook on low heat until the meat is tender and the sauce has thickened. Add a tablespoon of stock at a time to keep the chilli moist. You want to simmer it gently, not boil it in lots of liquid. It takes about 1.5/2 hours.
- If using, add the beans after 30 minutes of cooking time.
- Ideally, when the meat is soft, let it cool and store it in the fridge overnight.
- To serve, reheat slowly – add liquid if necessary and test for seasoning – maybe a little salt or a dash more vinegar. This is a medium hot chilli, so increase or decrease the chillness to your liking.
- Serve with your choice of sides – see notes below.