So is it “Chilli” or “Chili” or “Chile”? I was a little confused when writing this post. It turns out that “Chilli” is the British label for this spicy vegetable (genus capsicum, from nightshade family), “Chili” is the American variant in spelling and “Chile” is the Spanish spelling version. In usage however, most people use the label “Chili” for chili con carne, a spicy Mexican beef and bean dish that is flavoured by ground chilli peppers.
The interesting thing about spicy food is that spicy food abounds in tropical zones, probably because chilli peppers grow best in tropical climates, but I’ve always been terribly amused that it seems like the hotter the weather, the hotter the cuisine. I once hosted a couple from Holland who wanted to visit Little India and I hosted them at a North Indian restaurant. This poor couple literally ended the meal with their eyes, tearing, faces flushed and emotionally distressed – and I was taken a little off-guard; after all it was Northern Indian food which is usually less spicy than Southern Indian food! But I should have guessed because this was my friend who in the 2 years where we worked in the same lab, would eat a cheese sandwich for lunch everyday. I don’t think he ate spicy more than a few occasions in his life.
Much to my chagrin my kids have grown up not really liking spicy food, which I blame entirely on their early childhood eating pizza and Mac and cheese. At least kid #1 recently graduated to eating nasi biryani which means in the next 10 years I might be able to mould him to become my curry “kaki” (pal). This ground beef chili dish is relatively mild in the spice index but both kids appear to tolerate the level of heat and this is my secret weapon in training them to be tolerant to capsaicin stimulation. Capsaicin is the chemical in chilli peppers that gives you that sensation of burning when it comes into contact with the mucosa or tongue. There are actually units of “heat” called the Scoville scale which measures capsaicin concentration and the severity of the reaction to the chemical. My hidden agenda is to increase the amount of cayenne pepper powder progressively, increasing the heat index until one day, voila! I can take them to eat banana leaf fish head curry!
On a random note I discovered that birds don’t have the receptors to sense the painful sharp stimulus of capsaicin, which makes them excellent propagators of the plant as the chillis they eat will have the little seeds excreted far away from the original plant. There are, I suppose, some advantages of being a bird brain…
GROUND BEEF AND BEAN CHILI
- 500 g ground beef
- 1 cup of celery, chopped (about 4-5 stalks)
- 1 large onion, chopped
- 1 large carrot, chopped
- 4 cloves of garlic, chopped
- 1 can (400g wet weight) of red kidney beans, drained
- 1 can (400 g) of chopped tomatoes
- 2 tbsp tomato paste
- 1 cup of beef broth
- 2 tsp ground cumin
- 1 tsp sweet paprika
- 1/2 tsp hot cayenne pepper
- 1 tsp sea salt
- 1/2 tsp ground black pepper
- 2 tbsp fresh thyme (or 1 tbsp dried thyme)
- 2 tbsp olive oil
- Sour cream (optional)
- Shredded cheddar cheese (optional)
- In a large pot or Dutch oven, heat up the olive oil over high heat, then add the onions, carrots and celery and sauté for about 5 minutes until lightly caramelized. Add the garlic and sauté for another minute.
- Add ground beef to pot and continue to fry so that the beef browns evenly, about another 5 minutes.
- Add the thyme, tomato paste, chopped tomatoes in their sauce, beef broth and drained kidney beans.
- Add the ground cumin, paprika, cayenne pepper, sea salt and black pepper. Bring to a boil and then gently simmer for another 20 – 30 minutes over medium heat, stirring occasionally.
- Serve hot with a topping of sour cream and shredded cheddar cheese.
Just as a side note: the reason why this is a “somewhat low carb” dish is because of the bean, carrot and onion content. The dish can certainly become lower in carb count by cutting down the amount of these ingredients in the dish.