Potato chips, waffle cones, and my new favorite chili were all born the same way: by accident. The last isn’t as famous as the rest—yet—but it was discovered just in time for sweater socks, lavender tea, and soup all day, every day. So let me tell you what went wrong:
I was using the last of my field peas—a summer staple at North Carolina farmers’ markets—to make chili. All the usual suspects were there: onion and bell pepper, cumin and garlic, chili paste and chipotles, tomatoes and beer. But it was bland. So I added more chipotles. Still bland. More chipotles, still bland, more chipotles, and my chili was an active volcano and everyone ran for their lives.
I liken this recipe development jam to that time my friend helped me back out of the world’s most crowded parking spot. A little more, she said. A little more, she said. Emma, she said. You have to push the gas pedal. A little—stop! she yelled. Stopstopstop!
With salt and spice, it’s all too easy to go from not enough to way too much. And just like you can’t un-bump a bumper, you can’t take back ingredients. All you can do is troubleshoot.
Adding water or broth wasn’t enough. Dolloping yogurt on top wouldn’t be enough. So I crawled into an internet hole, dug a deep, dark tunnel, and hoped by the time I came out on the other side, my chili would have fixed itself.
Naturally, this tunnel was full of chili recipes and dried chili descriptions and, soon enough, they all started to sound the same. “Fruity-smoky,” says Dianne Kennedy. Like “raisins,” says J. Kenji López-Alt. “Like dried fruit,” says Rick Bayless.
That’s when it hit me: I should put dried fruit in my chili.
I grabbed some prunes, simmered them in water until plump, then pureed them into oblivion. The result was thick and sultry, almost like chili paste or adobo sauce, but sweet and jammy. And just like that, my chili turned into something even more, well, chili-y. Fruity, smoky, and almost as addictive as potato chips.
- 1 ounce dried New Mexico chilies
- 1/2 ounce dried Guajillo chlilies
- 2 cups water
- Canola oil
- 1 yellow onion, finely chopped
- 1 bell peppers, any color, finely chopped
- Kosher salt, to taste
- 3 cloves garlic, minced or Microplaned
- 1 1/2 teaspoons ground cumin
- 2 1/2 tablespoons tomato paste
- 6 ounces dark beer
- 1/2 cup chili paste
- 1 (28-ounce) can whole tomatoes and their juices
- 2 chipotles, minced
- 2 (15.5-ounce) cans mixed beans (think pinto, kidney, black, and garbanzo), drained
- 12 prunes (about 3 ounces), plus more to taste
- 2 tablespoons apple cider vinegar
- 1 1/2 tablespoons soy sauce
- 1 1/2 tablespoons Worcestershire