Chili – An Obsession

I’ve been cooking for the last eight years or so. When I left home for university, it was never an option to survive on kebabs and beans on toast; I liked food too much. I realised very soon that chilies were my favourite ingredient. For a while, I was a tad too heavy-handed with it; my enthusiasm resulted in some boarder-line inedible food, as it was so spicy. I got carried away with it, as though spiciness was synonymous with flavour and a dish wasn’t tasty unless I was sweating profusely and needed four glasses of water just to finish it. Thankfully, my chilli palette improved overtime and I learned about subtle flavours and varieties of chilies, such as Mexican smoked ancho chilies, with their deep, perfumed smokiness, or the sweet fruitiness of the scotch bonnet. I started to use chilies for their flavour as well as their heat. Below is my recipe for the perfect chilli con carne (ideal for batch-cooking and freezing as it’s even better when it’s heated up).  This recipe is the product of years of successes and failures. I’ve borrowed bits from things I’ve seen and tasted and read. It’s perfect for a cold winter’s night, when you’re in no hurry and just need something to warm your bones and even your spirits.


The Ultimate Chilli Con Carne (Serves 4)

This can be as spicy as you like, so alter the amounts of chilli depending on your tolerance levels. I also don’t bother with accurate amounts, as chilli is one of those things you bubble away in a cauldron and taste and alter as it goes along.


  • Minced Beef (600g)
  • 2-3 large onions sliced thickly
  • Loads of Mushrooms
  • 2 yellow or red peppers (diced into large bits)
  • 1-2 large smoked ancho chilles (the only hard-to-find ingredient. You can get it in a lot of delis and specialist shops. It’s definitely worth the extra effort)
  • Chilli powder
  • Tobasco Sauce
  • 4 large cloves of garlic
  • Trees Can’t dance Chilli sauce (they’re UK-based chilli company with all of their chilies grown in England)
  • 2 tins of Chopped Tomatoes
  • Gravy Granules
  • Cumin seeds
  • White Rice
  • Sweet Potatoes
  • Bottle of Ale or Guinness
  • Lime juice
  • Honey
  • A large handful of fresh coriander
  • Cream Cheese (not authentic, but cheap and lovely)


Step 1 – Brown the mince in oil (use less oil if your mince is fatty) Once it’s almost there, throw in the onions , peppers, mushrooms and garlic and fry until everything is softened.

Step 2 – Pour boiling water into a mug with the dried ancho chilies and leave for a minute then chop into a tasty mush.  At the same time, toast 2 teaspoons (approx) in a dry pan. Once they brown slightly and start to smell delicious, grind them up with a pestle and mortar and set aside for later.

Step 3 – Add the ancho chilies, as much chilli powder as you can handle. A few tablespoons of tobacco, two tablespoons of Trees Can’t Dance Chilli Sauce, a little sprinkling of gravy granules and half a bottle of ale/Guinness (drink the rest). Throw in the toasted cumin seeds from earlier.

Step 4 – Turn up the heat and bubble the ale/Guinness away until all the alcohol has evaporated. Then add the tins of chopped tomatoes and stir. Lower the heat and simmer for an hour and a half.

Step 5 – At this point, taste your chilli and add honey and lime juice to taste. Peel some sweet potatoes and put them in a baking tray with some olive oil, salt and pepper.  Roast for 40 mins at 200. In the last ten minutes, get your rice on so that it’s all ready at the same time.

Step 6 – Taste the chilli one final time before serving and adjust the seasoning,  spice level, acidity (lime juice) and sweetness (honey). Then wash and roughly chop your coriander and stir through the rice before serving hot and steaming with the sweet potatoes and a generous dollop of chilli.

Tip: set some extra Tobasco, Trees Can’t Dance Chilli Sauce, cream cheese and lime wedges on the table; this allows dinners to personalise their own plate of food.

Step 7 – Enjoy responsibly. I’ve been known to overindulge and eat myself into a coma. Keep any leftovers for tomorrow’s lunch. A good tip is to put a little bit in a toasted sandwich with some cheese. It’s zero effort and so tasty.