Some of my biggest culinary obsessions are foods that I point-blank refused to eat as a kid or even through my teens. Shrimp, coconut, Brussels sprouts, deviled eggs, any type of Chinese food, and sushi were not only objectionable, but completely out of the question for my young palate. As a self-proclaimed picky eater, I shunned nearly anything that wasn’t chicken fingers, pasta, or pizza. Thankfully, once I hit my 20s and started cooking for myself, I expanded my horizons by leaps and bounds.
I know what you’re thinking—chili is one of the least offensive foods around, right? Well, wrong. At least in my little world. I refused to touch the stuff until just a few months ago. Most recipes are stuffed so full of beans and chunks of tomato (neither of which have crossed over into adult Jessica-friendly fare just yet) that I could barely stomach looking at them, never mind actually tasting a spoonful.
All that changed with the realization that, if I’m the one doing the cooking, I can control exactly what’s in my bowl. This chili is a super simple, pared down version of those over-the-top chilies out there these days. A simple blend of ground beef, tomato sauce, and spices, it’s thickened at the last minute with a mix of masa and water. Masa is corn flour—what corn tortillas and tamales are made of—that can be found with the rest of the flours in the grocery store. The flavor is subtle here, but it really adds a special something that takes this chili from good to great.
Adapted from The Pioneer Woman Cooks
3 pounds ground beef
4 cloves garlic, minced
28 ounce can tomato sauce
1/2 teaspoon salt
1 1/2 teaspoons dried oregano
1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin
1 1/2 tablespoons chili powder
3 cups water, divided
1/3 cup masa (corn flour) or regular cornmeal
1/2 cup warm water
In a large, heavy bottomed pot (I use a cast iron Dutch oven) over medium high heat, brown the ground beef and garlic. Once the beef is cooked, drain as much fat as possible from the pan.
Add the tomato sauce, salt, and spices. Stir to combine. Add about 2 cups of the water and mix well. Depending on how thick you like your chili, you can add more or less water to achieve your desired consistency. Bring to a simmer over low heat, then cover and cook for 1 hour, stirring occasionally. If the chili ever seems too thick during cooking, add more water, up to 1 cup. (I rarely have to do this.)
After 1 hour, mix the masa with the warm water until it forms a thick paste. Stir into the chili, then cover and cook for another 15 minutes.
Serve with your favorite toppings like cheese, tortilla chips, sour cream, diced onion, or avocado. This chili also freezes extremely well—I usually bag it in 1 cup portions and freeze flat for easy storage.
Jessica Lampe is a foodie, photographer, writer and DIY’er extraordinare from Indianapolis, Indiana, where she lives with her boyfriend and their incessantly adorable German Shepherd. When she isn’t serving up cupcakes to friends and strangers (baked goods don’t discriminate) she loves getting caught up in a good book and playing/coaching volleyball. Jessica has a bachelor’s degree in journalism and English from Bradley University, is obsessed with all things Harry Potter and lives and dies by the St. Louis Cardinals. Find her on Twitter @lampeshade12.