Secret Ingredient Chili

Secret Ingredient Chili, made by Shawna Baker. Photo by Craig Caldwell
Secret Ingredient Chili, made by Shawna Baker. Photo by Craig Caldwell

A few weeks ago my neighborhood held a Chili Cook-Off, with 19 different entries.  They were all really good —I can say it because I sampled all of them!

Several people asked for the recipe for Shawna Baker’s Secret Ingredient Chili, which won the Four Alarm Fiery award. (I’m proud of myself; I figured out the secret ingredient in one bite, without having to ask.) I talked Shawna into letting me post it.

And for any of the other chili makers, I’d love to post your recipe here, too, if you want to share it. Well, except that we won’t need the Nalley Chili entry. “Open can, dump in pot.”

Shawna supplied her basic recipe, but note that she’s never made it the same way twice. So you can tweak it according to your own tastes.

“I play with adding the chili powder, cocoa and sugar to get to the flavor I’m wanting at the time —  which usually means adding more than the amount called for in the recipe,” Shawna  said. “I add all of the reserved liquid, and the chili is still thick and hearty.”

And important tip:  “If adding heat with the cayenne pepper or chipotle peppers, keep in mind that the flavors become more intense as the chili simmers.”

My personal suggestion when making chili or other spicy dishes is that it’s easier to add than subtract. If you don’t like fire-breathing heat, maybe use half of the amount of chili powder specified at first. Let everything cook for awhile, then taste it. If it needs more of a kick, you can always add a bit more chili powder then.

Secret Ingredient Chili
2 lbs ground beef
1 large onion – chopped
2-3 green peppers – chopped
4-5 celery sticks – chopped
2  (15 1/2 oz) cans red kidney beans, drain and reserve the liquid
2  (16 oz) cans diced tomatoes, drain and reserve liquid
1  (6 oz) can tomato paste
2 cloves minced garlic
2-3 T chili powder
3 T cocoa
2-3 T sugar
Salt and pepper to taste

Optional: ground Cayenne pepper or canned chopped chipotle peppers to taste.

Mix ground beef, onion, green peppers and celery in large skillet or pot. Cook until beef is browned and veggies are tender.
Add drained kidney beans and drained diced tomatoes (my family is not fond of tomato chunks so I briefly run my tomatoes through the blender).
Add remaining ingredients and mix well. Cover and simmer on low heat for 1 to 1 1/2 hrs, stirring occasionally.
Add reserved liquid as needed for desired consistency.

—Shawna Baker