Chances are you live a stone’s throw away from a Thai restaurant in your neighborhood, and you’ve got a go-to local favorite for pad thai. These days I often find myself traveling north of Berkeley, where there’s quite a few wonderful Thai eateries clustered in Albany, El Cerrito and San Pablo locales.
I used to think chili had to have meat in it to be interesting. I figured the slow roasted beef in my recipe provided the stew’s deep and substantial flavors. So I was surprised to find that a vegetarian chili I recently made had its own complex flavors that were just as satisfying. And, unlike meat chili, the vegetarian variety only took an hour to prepare and cost less than $10 to make for a family of four.
I used to think chili was a mishmash of ground meat, powdered spices, and chopped bell peppers. This is, after all, how everyone made it when I was growing up. It wasn’t until I was an adult that I realized chili is really a stew. Historically, it’s more like Beef Bourguignon than a sloppy joe in that it’s made of chunks of meat, vegetables, and a simmering liquid. Sure, the vegetables are chilies, but the core starting point — slowly braised hunks of meat — are what make chile and other stews not only similar, but appealing in the first place.
So how do you make a great pot of meat chili? Let’s break the process down into easy categories.