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A Super Bowl of Red

February 27, 1992|LESLIE LAND

There are some things about chili I'll never understand: How people can put beans into it, for instance, and conversely, how anybody can get so excited about what's authentic and what's not. I mean, I don't like beans in mine, but I'll defend to the death your right to put beans in yours if you want to.

You can even make chili with hamburger, although I wish you wouldn't. After all, chili is basically a stew, one with hot peppers as the principal vegetable ingredient.

Like all stews it is endlessly adaptable, according to the tastes--and the larder--of the individual maker. If money is tight and meat in short supply, the peppers take center stage. If meat is plentiful, as it was in the parts of the Southwest where chili as we usually think of it was born, then meat will be the dominant ingredient. In my case, a lot of venison has been coming my way lately, and I have become something of a specialist in venison chili, though my recipe works about as well with beef.

I like to make very hot chili, richly flavored with a variety of peppers, not only because I like the flavor but also because it pleases most of the people most of the time. A bland chili can't be spiced up beyond a certain point--too much last-minute crushed pepper or cayenne coarsens the flavor--but a hot chili can always be calmed down. Just add beans. Or, in extreme cases, sour cream.

When I'm feeding a crowd, I set out a pot of Superchili, a pot of beans, a bowl of tortilla chips and an assortment of the usual embellishments. Otherwise, I just enjoy a meal's worth and freeze the excess for future use. It's every bit as much a household staple as spaghetti sauce.

Like a good New Jersey red sauce, the stuff has multiple uses. In fact, it's very good on spaghetti, especially corn pasta (look for corn pasta in health food stores; it was originally invented for those who can't eat wheat).

Sometime you might try rice instead of beans for the starch, and if you're feeling devil-may-care, turn the chili eastward by setting out the nibbly sprinkles normally associated with rijsttaffel : raisins, chutney, toasted coconut, sliced green onions.

Make it into soup by adding an equal volume of broth, with or without some potatoes and carrots. It's even good on pizza; just remove and finely chop the meat, return it to the sauce and proceed more or less as usual, employing lots of mozzarella but no Parmesan.

SUPERCHILI

3 large sweet red peppers, about 1 1/4 pounds

8 dried pasilla chiles or New Mexico chiles, about 4 ounces

3 tablespoons cumin seeds

1 tablespoon plus 2 teaspoons dried oregano

1 1/4 cups almonds, toasted until dark golden

3/4 teaspoon ground cloves

1/3 cup sweet Hungarian paprika

8 large cloves garlic

1 large onion, coarsely chopped

3 1/2 pounds stewing venison (or very lean beef), cut into 1-inch cubes

2 bottles beer

About 1/4 cup melted pork fat, lard or corn oil

2 1/2 pounds medium-lean pork shoulder or butt, cut into 1-inch cubes

1 1/2 pounds meaty beef or venison bones, optional

Fresh long green hot chiles

Salt

Cayenne pepper

Place sweet peppers under hot broiler and roast, turning frequently, until skin is blistered and blackened and flesh is tender. Pile into heat-proof bowl, cover and set aside.

Remove stems from dried chiles. Shake out and reserve seeds. Set small, heavy skillet over medium heat until hot enough to make water droplets dance. Add cumin seeds and stir constantly until color starts to change, about 20 seconds. Add oregano and reserved chile seeds and stir until oregano is fragrant, about 20 seconds longer.

Immediately transfer spices to blender or food processor. Grind about 30 seconds. Add almonds and grind to paste, then add cloves, paprika and garlic and grind again.

Remove skins and seeds from roasted red peppers and add to almond mixture along with onion. Grind to gritty puree. Combine puree with beef cubes in large pot, rinse grinder with bit of beer and stir in, then set pot aside.

Melt generous layer of fat in wide skillet over medium-high heat. Add 1 batch of pork cubes (do not crowd skillet) and fry until well browned. Transfer cooked pork to pot and fry remaining pork cubes, adding more fat as necessary, until all are done. Discard fat. Pour remaining beer into skillet and scrape bottom to loosen browned bits. Pour contents of skillet into pot.

Slice green chiles crosswise into thin rings. Discard cottony bit at stem end. Add chiles to kettle along with 1 cup water and optional bones. Stir well, bring to simmer and cook, stirring occasionally, over very low heat 2 1/2 hours or until meat is very tender.

While meat is cooking, prepare chile puree. Using tongs, hold dried chiles 4 inches above hot burner about 1 minute, turning to expose all surfaces to heat. Chiles should soften and lighten in color. Do not scorch.

Let chiles cool slightly, then tear into pieces, place in heat-proof bowl, cover with 1 1/2 cups boiling water and let soak at least 30 minutes. Puree chili mixture in processor or blender and set aside.

When meat is tender, remove bones and stir in chile puree. Cook about 1/2 hour longer, then taste by scooping up bit with piece of plain bread or tortilla. Season to taste with salt and cayenne pepper. Makes 12 servings.

Each serving contains about:

619 calories; 215 mg sodium; 154 mg cholesterol; 40 grams fat; 15 grams carbohydrates; 48 grams protein; 3 grams fiber; 58% calories from fat.

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