A couple of weeks ago, I got a hankering for chili. So I started looking online for chili recipes. Turns out, there’s a lot of them. Everyone and their mother has their own recipe for classic chili.
Then I thought to myself, hang on, didn’t Neil Gaiman once write about a bowl of chili?
I grabbed my copy of American Gods and flipped through the pages until I got to the part where Shadow, the protagonist, had just gotten out of jail and had stopped by a bar for a burger with all the trimmings. The bartender offers him a bowl of chili as well, claiming it’s the best chili in all the state. As Shadow eats his chili, he thinks about the chili his wife used to make.
Laura made a great chili. She used lean-cut meat, dark kidney beans, carrots cut small, a bottle or so of dark beer, and freshly sliced hot peppers. She would let the chili cook for a while, then add red wine, lemon juice, and a pinch of fresh dill, and, finally, measure out and add her chili powders. On more than one occasion, Shadow had tried to get her to show him how she made it: he would watch everything she did, from slicing the onions and dropping them into the olive oil at the bottom of the pot. He had even written down the sequence of events, ingredient by ingredient, and he had once made Laura’s chili for himself on a weekend when she had been out of town. It had tasted okay – it had certainly been edible, and he ate it, but it had not been Laura’s chili.
So when I first read this, I thought, that sounded like a great bowl of chili. Now, I’m no Laura Moon so my chili’s never going to taste like Laura’s chili, but wouldn’t this be a great recipe to try and experiment with?
So on Sunday night, when we were debating what to cook for Monday night dinner and found we had some blade steak, I put my hand up and offered to try making some chili. I didn’t let J know that I was going to try a recipe that I had just pulled out of a fantasy book, rather than a cookbook. I got a little nervous myself. What if I ruined some perfectly good blade steak? Why am I trying a recipe out of a book that’s not a cookbook and, for all I know, hasn’t been tried and tested? Do beer and red wine really go together?
Hell, yeah, they do.
I poured a bottle of Guinness beer into the meat. It immediately started foaming. It foamed for a little while. I thought, Oh my god. Or oh my Wednesday. Should it be doing that? Should I try to scoop out some of that beer and maybe replace it with some beef stock?
Nope. Stay away from the beef stock. Don’t even go there. Let the beer simmer for a while, it will eventually stop foaming. And it will form a great stock that gets even better when you throw in the red wine and the lemon juice. (I may have been a bit lavish with the red wine. I only meant to try a few dashes to begin with when I might have accidentally spilled about half a cup in there, but it still tasted great). Anyway, beer, red wine and lemon juice? It’s the best. Neil Gaiman, I don’t know if you just made up this recipe on the spot for the book or if it’s an actual tried-and-true recipe, but this was pretty damn awesome.
So it’s still not the true-blue authentic Laura Moon chili as I decided to tweak it a little. I added red bell peppers and tomatoes. I don’t know exactly what kind of chili peppers she used, so I decided to grab two red chilis and a green chili from the grocer’s – they were the only one they had anyway. I also took a stab at the chili powders so I chose cayenne and cumin (because everyone online seems to like cumin in their chili) and then for fun, I threw in some paprika and turmeric too. I got excited when I found out that all the flavours really were working together to create something really awesome that I might have thrown in more than just a pinch of dill. And at the end of it, I may not have created Laura’s chili the way Shadow likes it, but it was mighty damn tasty! In fact, I ended up taking the chili with me to work and my workmate liked the smell of it so much, she asked for the recipe! She couldn’t believe I had gotten it from a book!
Laura Moon’s chili.
- Lean-cut beef, chopped into chunks (I ended up using some blade steak that J’s father got us from his farm so I don’t really know how the exact amount, sorry! And the only reason why I know it’s blade steak is because it was labelled so. I’d be terrible on David Letterman’s Know Your Cuts of Meat.)
- Olive oil
- Half a large white onion, chopped up small
- A medium-sized can of dark/red kidney beans
- One large carrot, chopped up small
- One red bell pepper, chopped up small
- Two roma tomatoes, chopped up small
- Two red chilis and one green chili, deseeded and sliced into tiny pieces
- Juice of one lemon
- Fresh dill
- One bottle of dark beer (I used a 375ml bottle of Guinness Extra Stout, in honour of Mad Sweeney. Even though he doesn’t actually drink Guinness.)
- About 1/4 to 1/2 a cup of red wine. (I used a malbec).
- Cayenne chili powder, cumin, paprika and turmeric to taste
Heat olive oil in a large pan or pot. Add onions and cook till fragrant.
Add the beef and sear very quickly on high for less than a minute before turning the heat down to medium-low. Let cook until the meat has browned on the outside, then add your carrots, bell pepper and chilis.
Cook for another minute before adding the beer. Let cook for a couple more minutes before adding the tomatoes and kidney beans.
Turn the heat down to low and let simmer for about 10-15 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Add the red wine, lemon juice, dill and as much of the various spices as you like. Keep simmering on low for another 10-20 minutes or as long as you like to allow flavours to combine, stirring occasionally.
Serve hot over long-grained basmati rice. Enjoy while reading American Gods.