This article was originally featured in The 30 Second Wine Advisor's FoodLetter on Thursday, Sept. 29, 2005.

Midwestern chili

INGREDIENTS: (Serves two to four)

1 pound (about 1/2 kilo) stew beef
1 medium sweet onion
3-4 cloves garlic
3 tablespoons (45g) chili powder
1 teaspoon (5g) ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon black pepper
3-4 tablespoons vegetable oil
14.5 ounce (411g) can whole peeled tomatoes
1 cup water
14.5 ounce can pinto beans
4-8 ounces spaghetti


1. You want a good, flavorful cut of beef for chili, and it doesn't have to be fancy tenderloin. I often use stew beef chunks for convenience, but beef shanks, chuck or shoulder cuts are fine. (NOTES: Ground beef is OK - it's certainly traditional in the Midwestern style of chili - but I like to use freshly chopped meat. Karen blends a mix of ground beef and meat hand-cut into small cubes to get a varied texture. That's too much trouble for me for comfort food, but I approximate the effect by starting the Cuisinart and dropping in cubes of beef, one at a time, so the first cubes get a thorough chopping while the last few are only in the hopper long enough to be whacked into bite-size chunks.) However you do it, put the finished meat in a bowl and set aside.

2. Peel and quarter the onions and peel the garlic cloves. Throw them into the Cuisinart (no need to clean it first) and process until they're chopped fine. If you like green peppers, as Karen does, add a whole chopped bell pepper at this stage.

3. Gently stir the minced onions and garlic into the chopped meat. Stir in the cumin, chile powder, oregano, salt and black pepper. (NOTES: Midwestern chili is usually made with straighforward grocery-store chili powder. Karen likes Gebhardt's, a quality brand that will add a native Texas accent. I bowed in the direction of cowboy country by using a blend of 2 tablespoons ground New Mexico chiles, 1 tablespoon ground pasilla molido chiles, a finely minced fresh jalapeño and about a teaspoon from a can of Mexican chipotle peppers in adobo that I keep in the freezer.)

4. Put the vegetable oil in a large black-iron skillet over medium-high heat, and cook the meat and spice mix until the meat is well browned. (NOTES: If you're using grocery-store ground beef, you probably won't need any oil in the skillet. I wouldn't use grocery-store ground beef. Extra-virgin olive oil in wrong for this dish; standard vegetable oil, corn oil or canola oil is fine. Karen uses three tablespoons of butter instead of oil, a "secret ingredient" that adds richness and flavor.)

5. Stir in the canned tomatoes with all their juice - you can leave the tomatoes whole, chop the tomatoes coarsely or buzz them briefly in the Cuisinart - and the water. (Some recipes call for a little beer; Karen swears by 1/2 cup of red wine.) Bring just to a boil, then turn the heat down very low and simmer, without a cover, for an hour or so, stirring occasionally and adding a little more water if the mixture gets too thick.

6. For the last few minutes, stir in the canned beans just until they're warmed through. Check the seasoning and serve, with added hot sauce on the side for those who want it. For the full Midwestern experience, serve the chili over hot spaghetti. Or skip this stage and serve it with cornbread for a Southern experience or tortillas for a Mexican touch.

Ice-cold beer or iced tea (sweet or unsweet) may be more traditional partners than wine, but lots of wine enthusiasts swear by a big Zinfandel, and I was quite happy with the husky Rabbit Ridge 2002 Paso Robles Westside Zinfandel featured in Monday's 30 Second Wine Advisor. Off-dry Riesling also makes a surprising match with spicy fare, and for something a little more off the wall, try it with bubbly - a modest Prosecco or Spanish Cava, or Dom Perignon if that lights your fire.