There seems to be no limit to the inventiveness of chili cooks. Just when you think every possible nuance of flavor has gone into the pot, a new idea comes along. Today's entry is a palate-blistering creation from the Crocodile Cafe in Pasadena. Unlike rococo chilis that employ scads of spices, unusual combinations of meats and novel additions such as spinach, this one is simple and direct. Hugo Molina, executive chef of the Crocodile Cafe and Parkway Grill, uses black beans and diced sirloin with very few additional seasonings. The fire comes from dried chipotle chiles, which also impart a unique, smoky taste.
There are ancho chiles too, but they are more temperate and serve to round out the flavor.
It is hard to imagine that four small chiles could produce such intense heat, but they do and those who prefer a milder dish should reduce the number of chipotles to one or two.
The chili appears here as the main dish of a menu for Cinco de Mayo, which will be celebrated through the weekend. The first course is a cool avocado soup that A Moveable Feast, a catering firm in the Carmel Valley, designed for San Martin Winery. New Mexico-style blue corn bread goes with the chili, and dinner ends with another cool touch, a velvety smooth, rich, chocolate dessert flavored with Mexican coffee liqueur.
CINCO DE MAYO CELEBRATION
Margaritas Chilled Avocado-Lime Soup Crocodile Cafe's Black Bean Chili With Sirloin Jane Dunn's Blue Cornmeal Bread Mexican Chocolate Velvet CHILLED AVOCADO-LIME SOUP
1/2 cup Chardonnay
1 quart chicken stock
Thin lime slices
Place avocado pulp in bowl, add lime juice and season to taste with salt and white pepper. Turn avocado into food processor or blender. Add Chardonnay and some of chicken stock and blend. Continue adding stock until soup is creamy but easy to pour. Taste and adjust seasonings as needed. Chill soup. Garnish each serving with avocado slices and lime slice. Makes 8 servings.
CROCODILE CAFE'S BLACK BEAN CHILI WITH SIRLOIN
5 dried ancho chiles
4 dried chipotle chiles
5 roma tomatoes
2 cups chicken broth
1 red onion, chopped
1 tablespoon oil
1/2 pound top sirloin steak, diced
4 3/4 cups cooked black beans (about 1 pound dried beans)
1 teaspoon minced garlic
Homemade or prepared salsa
Soak ancho and chipotle chiles in hot water until softened. Drain. Roast tomatoes over direct heat. Combine chiles, tomatoes and chicken broth in blender container and blend until pureed. Strain. Reserve 1/4 red onion for garnish.
Heat oil in Dutch oven or large saucepan. Add steak and saute until lightly browned. Add tomato-chile mixture, beans, garlic and remaining red onion. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Simmer uncovered 25 minutes. Spoon into individual serving bowls and garnish with reserved red onion, avocado slices and spoonful of salsa. Makes 2 quarts or 6 to 8 servings.
JANE DUNN'S BLUE CORNMEAL BREAD
1/4 cup shortening
3 tablespoons sugar
1 cup all purpose flour
1/2 cup blue cornmeal
1/4 cup nonfat dry milk
3 teaspoons baking powder
1 teaspoon salt
3/4 cup water
Cream shortening and sugar. Add eggs and beat well. Stir together flour, cornmeal, dry milk, baking powder and salt. Add half of dry ingredients and half water to egg mixture and beat well. Add remaining dry ingredients and water and beat until blended. Spread mixture in greased, 8-inch square baking pan. Bake at 400 degrees 20 to 25 minutes. Makes 8 servings.
MEXICAN CHOCOLATE VELVET
1/3 cup Mexican coffee liqueur
1/2 teaspoon instant coffee granules
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 (1-ounce) squares unsweetened chocolate
4 (1-ounce) squares semisweet chocolate
5 eggs, separated
1/4 teaspoon cream of tartar
1/3 cup superfine sugar
Semisweet or white chocolate curls
Combine liqueur, coffee granules, vanilla and chocolates in 1-quart saucepan. Heat over very low heat, stirring occasionally, until chocolates melt and mixture is smooth and thick. Beat egg yolks well in medium bowl. Beat in chocolate mixture and cool. In large bowl, beat egg whites with cream of tartar to soft peaks. Gradually beat in sugar to make meringue. Beat half meringue into chocolate mixture until smooth. Fold chocolate mixture into remaining meringue. Turn into 1-quart serving dish. Cover and chill until firm. Decorate with whipped cream and chocolate curls. Makes 8 servings.