Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Spring Clean

I'm on a spring kick: I am quite sure that that next few posts will have the word 'spring' in the title (or 'vernal' to switch things up a bit), and will be either about the actual season or about the action. Just thought I'd give you fair warning. Spring cleaning. It is a wee bit early in my corner of the world for an actual spring-dust-up of hearth and home, but my fingers are itching to get going; my eyes keep veering towards the windows to remind my brain that the glass is getting pretty mucky; and my feet are just springing to jump into action.

Sometimes it feels like I spend my entire year spring cleaning: I must empty out my closet and dresser drawers at least every three months, trying to streamline the clutter, attempting to weedle out the unwanted items; to no avail, I still possess way more clothes and shoes than I ever actually wear... Luckily, cleaning out my kitchen cupboards does not cause me as much trouble. In fact, my pantry gets raided and cleaned out on a weekly basis. (HAHA!)


Seriously, I regularly enjoy taking down all the foodstuff from my kitchen shelves, dusting off the old things, and rediscovering the mysterious items I had forgotten about. But most of all I love going through my spice cabinet. In fact, I love going through everybody's spice cabinet: Tara at Tea and Cookie once posted about her newly arranged spice stash, and I thought I was in heaven! Whenever I visit my friend K, I make a point of opening her spice drawer to nose around. I am quite sure she has gotten used to my quirk... She seems to understand my spice fetish.


I go through my spice cabinet not so much so I can throw away old spices, but more generally to take stock of whatever needs topping up, and to see what I have to use up as soon as possible. While it  is generally believed that dried herbs and spices have a limited shelf-life, this is only really true for ground or finely powdered aromatics: whole, or as close to whole as possible, spices will often remain pungent for two years or more; whereas whole herbs can tough out close to a year, as long as they are kept in a dry, dark, and preferably cool place. Anything else should be used within six  to 12 months of purchase. However, if your spices are hanging around the kitchen for that long, it probably means you need to get cooking with spices more often!

If your spice rack/cabinet/ stash is in dire need of a proper airing out, might I suggest you make a batch of chili? True aficionados of authentic Texas chili will most likely frown at the following recipe, and will cringe at my every suggestions on how to make a scrumptious pot of Big Red. I do not pretend that my recipe would ever make the cut in a Texas chili contest, but it's still a mighty fine chili, and will make a good dent in any dusty collection of spice jars. Chili is the ideal 'spring clean' food: the rich mix of spices, veggies, beans and/or meat will absorb just about anything you can throw at it, and the result will be all the more tasty. The recipe lists only what I most often put in my chili pot, but you can add any other spices you happen have on hand (and are at a loss about what to do with): now is the time to use up any left-over garam masala; aging Berbere mix; mysterious ras el hanout; confounding epazote; and any such item that is crowding your spice collection.

While sweet peppers are the vegetable most often thrown in a pot of chili, since the following recipe is for a spring cleaning chili, you can empty out your crisper drawers and freezer, and use up whatever needs to get going. Even if the thought of making this dish vegetarian would make a cowboy turn in his grave, beans are a great addition to the pot: they are a healthy source of protein; are full of fibre; are inexpensive and add lots of bulk to the dish, so you can use less meat -if you choose to do so- and stretch your food budget to boot. Canned beans are convenient to have in the pantry, however, dried beans are less pricey. 


Spring Cleaning Chili
Will feed at least four hungry folks

2 Tbs hot paprika or 2 tsp ground/flaked chile pepper, or adjust to taste
3 Tbs cumin, ground or whole
2 tsp ground cinnamon or cassia
3 Tbs oregano
1 Tbs salt
5 Tbs mild paprika, optional
1 tsp fennel seeds, ground or whole, optional
2 tsp epazote, optional
2 medium onions, finely chopped
2 cups/ 250ml mixed dried beans, soaked overnight and drained
     or 2 cans of your favourite beans, or 1 cup/can of beans and 1cup/ ± 
     200g ground meat
2 cups/ 250ml crushed tomatoes
2 cups/ 250ml mixed chopped vegetables 
5 Tbs oil, for frying

In a large pot, cover the soaked beans with fresh water, and bring up to the boil. Let simmer until the beans are cooked, about 45 minutes. 
In the meantime, heat oil in a separate pot or pan, add the chopped onions, and fry until they become translucent.
If you are adding meat to the chili, fry it up once the onions are cooked through.
Add all the spices and fry for 2 to 3 minutes, or until the spices begin to stick to the bottom of the pot.
Add the vegetables, and cook until soft. You may have to add a few spoonfuls of water to help the cooking process.
When all the vegetables are soft, add the crushed tomatoes, and bring up to a gentle simmer.
Check the seasoning at this point: you want the mix to be a touch saltier, as you will be adding the beans.
When the beans are cooked, drain them (save the cooking water!) and add to the chili.
If the stew is too thick, add the beans' cooking water until you get the right consistency.
Bring the chili up to a gentle simmer, and let cook for at least 25 minutes.

Chili is best served re-heated the next day: this way, the flavours have ample time to meld and mellow out. This stew is usually served with a dollop of sour cream, grated Jack or sharp Cheddar, and a generous sprinkling of cilantro. Like many stews, chili is a great equalizer: no matter what you put in the pot, it will taste scrumptious, making chili a great dish for disappearing left-overs and unliked veggies...



Bon app'!



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