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Warm Up With This Chili Recipe From Houston's El Real Tex-Mex Cafe

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Plus, a bonus recipe for homemade chili powder.

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Eva Kolenko © 2015

Blizzard or not, it's chili season. Here now is a recipe from one of the best: Chef Bryan Caswell's classic Texas red Chili con Carne from El Real Tex-Mex Cafe in Houston, excerpted from one of our favorite books of 2015The Chili Cookbook by Rob Walsh. There are innumerable recipes for regional American chili, but this is a hearty version we stand by that will serve you through winter. Bonus: Included within is a recipe for chili powder. Tweak it to your liking by adding a pinch more dried ancho or a bit more cumin and then use it with everything from this chili recipe to a dusting of heat on softly scrambled eggs.

El Real's Chili con Carne

This is the way we make chili at El Real Tex-Mex Cafe in Houston. Be sure and use the Homemade Chili Powder for a full-flavored chili. Don't skip the step of dry toasting the cumin seeds; it really improves the flavor.

Serves 6

2 tablespoons cumin seeds
8 ounces bacon, chopped
3 pounds beef chuck, cut into 1⁄4-inch cubes
2 onions, chopped
1⁄4 cup Homemade Chili Powder (see separate recipe)
2 teaspoons sweet paprika
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1⁄2 teaspoon dried thyme
1⁄2 teaspoon salt
4 large cloves garlic, minced
1 3⁄4 cups beef broth
1 (28-ounce) can pureed tomatoes
2 dried ancho chiles, stemmed and seeded

Toast the cumin seeds in a large skillet over medium-high heat until fragrant, about 1 to 2 minutes. Using a smaller frying pan or a metal or wooden tool with a flat surface, crush the seeds coarsely. Set aside.

Cook the bacon in the skillet over medium-high heat until crisp. Remove the bacon and reserve. Over high heat, brown the beef in the bacon drippings left in the skillet and set the meat aside. Over medium heat, sauté the onions in the remaining drippings until lightly browned, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add the toasted cumin, chili powder, paprika, oregano, black pepper, thyme, salt, and garlic to the cooked onions and sauté for 1 minute. Crumble in the bacon, add the beef broth, 1 cup of water, the tomatoes, ancho chiles, and the beef.

Bring to a boil, reduce the heat, cover partially, and simmer until the meat is very tender, about 2 hours, adding water as needed to maintain the desired consistency.

Alternatively, transfer to a slow-cooker set on low and cook for at least 6 hours and up to 8 hours, until the meat is very tender.

Remove the anchos, puree in a blender, and return to the pot. Serve in a bowl with chopped onions and shredded cheese, with saltines, over tamales, rice or potatoes, in a Frito Pie or combined with beans.

Homemade Chili Powder

Toasting chiles and cumin seeds in your own kitchen and grinding them in a spice grinder makes the best chili powder of all. This recipe calls for anchos, but you can use any combination of dried chiles.

Makes 1 ⁄4 Cup

5 whole dried ancho chiles (about 2 ounces)
1 teaspoon cumin seeds
1 teaspoon dried Mexican oregano, or to taste
1 ⁄2 teaspoon garlic powder

Remove the stems and seeds from the anchos and spread the peppers out flat. Reserve the seeds. Place the chiles flat on a comal or cast-iron skillet over medium heat. Being careful not to burn them, lightly toast until they are brittle, then remove and cool. Toast the cumin in the hot comal, stirring and shaking until fragrant. Toast some of the chile seeds, if desired. (The seeds will make the chili powder hotter.)

Cut the chiles into small strips with scissors. In a clean coffee grinder, grind the strips in several batches until powdered. Grind the cumin and chile seeds in the coffee grinder. Combine the powdered chile, ground seeds, Mexican oregano, and garlic powder in a mixing bowl. Grind the coarse powder in batches in the coffee grinder until fine, about 2 minutes. Store in an airtight container until ready to use.

"Reprinted with permission from The Chili Cookbook: A History of the One-Pot Classic, with Cook-Off Worthy Recipes from Three-Bean to Four-Alarm and Con Carne to Vegetarian by Robb Walsh, copyright © 2015. Published by Ten Speed Press, an imprint of Penguin Random House LLC."
Photography credit: Eva Kolenko © 2015

El Real Tex-Mex Cafe

1201 Westheimer Road, Houston, TX 77006

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