I am not sure I have ever made chili but maybe once in my life…probably because I really do not like beans and therefore stay away from chili. This weekend, however, I found myself not only making chili but also tasting lots of it after my friend Amy asked me to help with her first ever annual chili cook-off for charity. Her idea was to invite folks who would decide if they wanted to be chili makers or chili tasters, and in addition raise funds for The Greater Chicago Food Depository, a charity that provides thousands of meals to people in the Chicagoland area everyday. Cook-off and charity sounded like a no-brainer at first, but to be honest I was not sure I would be able to participate. Being swamped at work with a variety of agendas I wasn’t sure how I could make another commitment. Beginning to struggle back and forth about whether or not I could commit, I realized something very important which has catapulted a new attitude for me about the year ahead. Sounds heavy, doesn’t it? I mean, I get it. When did chili become so profound? But what this cook-off gave me was the opportunity to choose between stressing over whether or not this would fit into my schedule or embracing the commitment and trusting there would be time because food and event planning are things I love to do — things I want to be doing always and more of — so the decision to do this cook-off wasn’t just about “Could I?” it was about seeing an opportunity and embracing it.
Here is what I mean when I say “an exploration into a richer life” because you never know what may come of something and it can’t be wrong if it is something you truly love. So when the world said, “Here — here is something that you love to do”, I did it, and the reward was amazing. Unfortunately, my pork belly, chickpea chili did not win (I mean, it was pretty awesome and got the praises of the TND crew- so, definite personal win), but regardless the whole day was really brilliant. Everything seemed to flow right. It was a day full of good food, good beer, good people, everyone down to be down. I met some wonderful people at the cook-off and visited with more friends late into the evening over wine, little bites, and fulfilling conversation about art, theatre, food, travel….gah- I love stuff like this. At the end of the night, while looking back at the happy mess of empty glasses among leftover cheese rinds and bits of mustard and relishes left strewn about, I scoffed at the fact that I had even considered not doing the cook-off. I saw how the commitment paid off in evolving friendships and laughter coupled with ideas and stories that went on in my head long after everyone had gone home. I had decided in that moment that this year is going to be a great year. It is going to be my year, and with this post I re-claim my title as food (and sometimes travel) blogger, and am excited about what’s in the works, which includes a visit to Purple Door Ice Cream in Milwaukee and a sit down with my new fave gal pal and outstanding food stylist- Johanna Lowe of Martyn George. In the meantime, here is my pork belly, chickpea chili recipe especially for you my dear Chicago friends. This is sure to unearth you from the cold and warm your bellies and your hearts. Unless you don’t like pork belly, but then you’re probably not reading my blog anyway.
*This recipe is from The New Best Recipe Cookbook from America’s Test Kitchen. This is my go to cookbook for solid, standard recipes. Great if you are not an expert chef, and useful if you need a base from which you can add personal touches. I adapted their Beef Chili with Kidney Beans recipe just a bit by adding more or less spices here and there, and exchanging the beef for ground pork belly and the beans for chickpeas. Make a night or two ahead if you can. Chili is always best when it has had some time to rest.
2tbl veg or corn oil
2 med onions finely chopped
1 red bell pepper, cut into 1/2 in cubes
6 garlic cloves, pressed
1/4 Adobo Chili powder
1 tbl freshly ground cumin
2 tsp freshly ground coriander
1-2 tbl red pepper flakes
1 tsp Herbs de Provence (original recipe calls for dried oregano)
1/2tsp cayenne pepper
2 lbs ground pork belly (ask your butcher to grind the meat for you if you do not have a meat grinder at home)
2 15 oz cans of garbanzo beans (rinsed)
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can tomato puree
lime wedges for serving
Heat the oil in a large dutch oven over medium heat. Add onions, bell peppers, garlic, chili powder, cumin, coriander, pepper flakes, Herbs de Provence, cayenne, and cook — stirring occasionally until the onion and pepper are softened and browning — approx 10 mins. Increase the heat to med-high, add half of the pork belly, cook for 3 or 4 minutes breaking the meat up as you mix, then add the other half of the pork. Stir for 3 to 4 more minutes. Add beans, tomatoes, tomato puree, salt, bring to a boil then bring back down to a simmer and cook covered for one hour. In the second hour, take the lid off but continue to simmer for 6o minutes. Once it has simmered, take off of the heat and adjust seasoning. If making a day or two in advance, let the chili cool to room temp before putting it in the fridge. If serving right away, squeeze in a half to whole lime and mix throughout.