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Chilli con carne, literally ‘chilli with meat’, originated in northern Mexico and the southern United States, specifically Texas, and I think it would be fair to say that it holds a much more significant place in American culture than it does here in Australia. The diversity of different types and recipes now available, some specific to particular dates like ‘game day’, and including vegetarian versions, different meats and chilli types is quite astounding. The variety is such that it gets referred to simply by the generic form ‘chilli’,. which makes some sense to me considering the vegetarian variants.

For a while recently I was receiving the Cooking Channel newsletter and one of the issues had an article about 30 different chilli to try, with links to all the recipes. Since we like chilli I thought it would be a fun idea to work my way through the list, making one a week and finding which ones we particularly liked. I confess this wasn’t entirely in the pursuit of culinary enlightenment – I was also attracted to the idea that it would save me from having to decide on one meal a week for at least six months. In the end I only made about eight or 10 of them, although I did try a fair selection of different types, both with and without meat. As might be expected some were better than others, but to some extent there was a sameness about all of them. Rather than being a reflection on the recipes themselves I think this is more due to the many different varieties of chillies in the ingredients, which without some serious dedication to the task (certainly more than I was prepared to put in) it is just not possible to get here. It’s possible to buy tinned chipotle chillies in adobo sauce at the supermarket, but fresno or ancho or any of the other very large array of chillies are simply not readily available. Anyway, it was a fun thing to do and I got a couple of very good recipes out of it.

chilli4 Brown the onion, mince and garlic.

Back in the mid ‘80s before we knew what Tex-Mex was and email newsletters offering 30 different chilli varieties were still in the future I got this recipe off a tin of ‘Master Foods’ red kidney beans and it remains a favourite, although I’ve adjusted the ingredients to suit my preference. This means it is more spicy than the original, so if hot is not your thing reduce the spices or chilli sauce a bit.

chilli4 Add the beans and remaining ingredients.

Back in those early days I used to make this often, and once when visiting my Mum warned me that recipes on tins are a transient matter and I should write it down, but naturally I was dismissive. Of course then Mum’s prediction came to pass and they took the recipe off the tin, replacing it with a far less satisfactory one. Luckily I had made it often enough to be able to write down the original from memory.

chilli4 Simmer for 20 minutes and up to an hour.

The recipe calls for it to be simmered for an hour, which helps the flavours to develop, but if you’re pushed for time you can reduce the cooking time to as little 20 minutes if you need to. Serve with some simple salad and corn chips, or whatever accompaniments you prefer.

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Cooking: About 1 hour
Serves: 4

  • 1 tablespoon olive oil
  • 1 small onion, chopped
  • 500 g mince
  • 2 gloves garlic, chopped
  • 6 tablespoons tomato sauce
  • 2 tablespoons tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons hot chilli sauce
  • 18 teaspoon cayenne pepper
  • 1 tablespoon Mexican Chilli Powder (or 1 teaspoon each of chilli powder, smoked parika, ground cumin and ground coriander)
  • 1 tin kidney beans, rinsed and drained
  • water as required
  • Corn chips, sour cream, cucumber and grated cheddar cheese, to serve.
  • Heat the oil in a frypan over medium heat. Add the onion and fry gently until softened, then add the garlic and fry for about 30 seconds until fragrant.
  • Add the mince and break it up while frying until it has just browned.
  • Add the remaining ingredients and about 14 cup of water to begin with, bring to a simmer and then simmer gently for 20 minutes and up to an hour, adding more water if needed.
  • Just before it’s finished, taste and add salt if required.
  • Serve with preferred accompaniments