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Jennifer Steinhauer's Just Good Chili

Just good chili

A week ago, I was over at my friend Sharmaine's house, sitting on her comfortable brown couch in her cozy kitchen while our sons played with trains and trucks and cars on the floor, sort of ignoring each other while they played, but sort of stealing sweet little glances at each other every so often, too. We talked about work and life and parenting, the usual stuff, while her husband Thomas pulled a simple chocolate cake from the oven and we all had some, still warm and lovely. Then Hugo had to go crumb-hunting on the big brown couch, of course, and after that the boys ran around without pants on for a while and Sharmaine told me that there was going to be chili at her birthday party a few days later and I said I'd bring cornbread. After that it was time to go home, so we packed up and left after Jackson and Hugo kissed goodbye at the front door and we all went "awww", and then I couldn't stop thinking about making chili for the rest of the week.

So this is a post about chili.

I was well into my third decade of life before I understood that chili wasn't just something served up at potlucks and Mexican restaurants in Germany. I didn't know that there were rules and strictures about what goes into chili and what doesn't go into chili. And I certainly didn't know about the Chili Appreciation Society International. (!)

Now I do. And while the Italian side of me has a profound respect for food rules, I must confess and beg forgiveness for having found a chili that I love that certainly does not abide by the no-bean rule, which - as I understand it - is likely to be Rule Number One about chili. It's just that this chili is simply so good, as its name already suggests, that it pains me to let it pass by. It's so complex and wonderful, sweet and spicy, and you can just about make it with your eyes closed.

The chili boasts beer and cocoa and coffee, ground meat and beans, and a warm sprinkling of spices. It cooks for an hour or longer, turning the sauce a wonderfully rich, deep brown, almost mahogany. We ate our bowls of chili topped with diced avocado, sliced scallions and a few long shreds of grated cheddar, to bring a bit of color and texture and creaminess into play, and felt almost comically satisfied with our dinner, no cornbread required.

Rules are rules for a reason, I'll admit. But I'm so glad this chili exists.


I'm thrilled to announce that I'm going to be teaching a food writing class in Berlin later this month. The class starts May 20 and runs for 7 weeks. There will be reading and writing assignments, snacks by yours truly and it should, I hope, be a whole lot of fun. The stack below is just a sampling of the kinds of texts I think the world needs more of and that we're going to get into. If you're interested in attending, please visit The Reader for more info and to register. And feel free to spread the word!

Food writing class

Jennifer Steinhauer's Just Good Chili
Original recipe here

Serves 4

2 tablespoons olive oil
1/2 pound ground beef
1/2 pound ground pork
1 large onion, finely chopped
1 12-ounce bottle of beer
1 14.5-ounce can diced tomatoes
1/2 cup strong brewed coffee
1 tablespoon tomato paste
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1 tablespoon ancho chile powder
1 tablespoon cocoa powder
Half a serrano or other hot pepper, seeded and finely chopped, or to taste
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
1 teaspoon cayenne pepper, or to taste
1 teaspoon salt, or to taste
2 15-ounce cans kidney beans

1. Place a Dutch oven or other large pot over medium heat. Add the oil and heat until shimmering. Add the meat and sauté until browned, then transfer to a plate.

2. Add the onion to the pot and stir for 1 minute. Take two large sips from the beer, and pour the rest into the pot. Stir in the tomatoes, coffee and tomato paste.

3. Add the brown sugar, chile sauce, cocoa powder, hot pepper, cumin, coriander, cayenne, salt and kidney beans. Return the meat to the pot. Reduce heat to low and simmer, partly covered, for at least 1 hour (Longer cooking improves the flavor.) Adjust salt and cayenne pepper as needed and serve.