Thrifty Giving: Soup For You

This year, for Christmas, I took a different route for presents than I normally do. As always, short on time and money before the holidays, I decided to give everyone the gift of soup. I make a lot of soup, and I’m pretty good at it. That’s the great thing about soup: if you keep making it long enough, you are bound to improve. Soup seemed like the perfect solution for gifts: I could spend an hour or so whipping up these menu gift cards and wouldn’t have to cash in on time or money until after the holidays, when we have slightly more of both.

I included six options on paper, but the sixth option was a wild card, in case they wanted something particular that wasn’t on the list. I wanted to let them know I could make something special just for them while still keeping the gift one regular letter-sized page. (If you find it difficult to read you can click on the image and enlarge it in my flickr stream.)

Angela created the border for me, but since this was her Christmas present, too, I kindly asked her to forget she saw it.

I ended up giving this present to six or seven people on my friends list, all who appreciate good food and won’t say no to a home cooked meal.

Recipe: Quick-and-Dirty Unglamorous Chili

There are some things you can feasibly brag about with a dish like chili. “I cooked it all from scratch using heirloom organic beans,” or “I fire-roasted my jalapenos over a hot charcoal grill,” or even “I cooked the meat until fork-tender for over eight hours.” You could be proud of a chili like that.

This isn’t that kind of chili.

You aren’t going to be winning the admiration of slow food devotees or the respect from culinary snobs. At the end of the day, when you visit the pantheon of chili, this one will be among the least prestigious. But that doesn’t matter because it’s fucking delicious.

In my mind I tend to refer to this as “pantry chili” but I wanted to give it a different name here to drive home the point that this is quick-and-dirty chili. You don’t have to start with dried beans from your pantry when canned will do. You don’t have to have a ton of fresh vegetables on hand when this requires just a few. It doesn’t take all day to make (though it certainly gets better with time.) You have have the solace of a bowl of warm comfort food in about a half hour. Quick and dirty.

I don’t always make my chili this way, and it is wonderful to make chili from scratch with dried beans and long-simmered meat, no doubt about it, but there are times when quick-and-dirty is essential. I don’t think I would have made it through my second pregnancy without it, as I fed it to the family at least once a week. It didn’t require much in the way of time on my feet or a fully-stocked fridge. I often made this before a trip to the grocery store. When I was pregnant and making this frequently, 30 minutes was the upper limit of what I could stand.What makes this chili special is salsa, and for the best flavor I like to use two: jarred restaurant-style and a fresher, ready-made pico de gallo version that I find at the grocery store. I sometimes fancy it up with roasted poblano peppers that come from the freezer, or bell pepper and green onion from the garden. This chili is endlessly adaptable and builds layers of flavor through the salsas and the fresh ingredients. Sometimes I add frozen corn for sweetness, because Isobel loves that, or I’ll brighten it up with a mist of lime juice. It depends on what I have on hand, which is the whole point. Ground beef, also optional, cooks quickly and ensures dinner is on the table in roughly 30 minutes.

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Strict measuring and precise ingredients are antithetical to the whole premise of Q&D Unglamorous Chili. I’ve made this with a full tub of salsa, a partially used one, some fresh tomato, no fresh bell pepper, mild heat, no heat, and scorching heat. It’s all good. This is not the sort of dish to stress over. Trust, follow the basic outline, adding and deleting as necessary, and trust it will be good, because it so will.

  • one-ish pound ground beef, I don’t like the extra lean, nor do I use the fattiest–shoot for the middle
  • one large onion, diced
  • three cloves of garlic, minced
  • one medium bell pepper, diced
  • three green onions, sliced
  • one can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
  • one can black beans, drained and rinsed
  • one 8oz (or thereabouts) tub of fresh pico de gallo salsa
  • one 8oz (or thereabouts) jar of blended salsa (any kind except fruit)
  • dried spices such as cumin, dried basil, coriander, red pepper flakes, ancho or arbol chili powder, etc
  • olive oil for the pan
  • cheese, if desired
  • sour cream, if desired

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–Spread the oil about the pan, I probably use about two tablespoons’ worth, and turn your heat to medium. When it’s all warmed up, add your onions and cook until they start to soften, about three to five minutes.

–Add the ground beef and brown for five minutes, stirring frequently.

–Add in your bell pepper, garlic, and white and light green parts of the green onions. Sprinkle in your seasonings and cook for another three minutes.

–Add your two types of salsa and your drained and rinsed beans. Add extras such as cooked or uncooked peppers like jalapeno, serrano, or poblano, or frozen corn.

–Simmer for 20-3o minutes and taste to adjust seasoning. Serve with cilantro, queso fresco, and lime, or sour cream, cheddar cheese, and green onion tops–or, really, any combination of the above. Freeze leftovers for even quicker, dirtier chili next time.

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