I've always liked chili with unconventional ingredients, and this combines two of my favorites -- lamb and sweet potatoes. I use a little of the sweet potatoes to thicken the chili rather than using the traditional masa harina thickener. Also, I tend to think that a mix of dried chilies is best, but many people don't have a huge variety of dried chilies available to them. This version makes one that is a bit on the spicy side, but hopefully not overwhelmingly so. If you prefer a spicier chili, add more chiles de arbol and subtract one of the ancho or pasilla chiles. If you want it smokier tasting, add a second (or third) chipotle. If you want it milder, don't use the chiles de arbol at all. —Collin
6-8 . . . or more
lamb shoulder, cut into 1.5 to 2 -inch cubes
peeled sweet potatoes, cut into large (1.5-inch) cubes.
medium onion, cut into rounds
large dried pasilla chiles, stemmed and seeded
large dried ancho chiles
dried chile de arbol
chipotle pepper in adobo (with 1 tsp of the adobo sauce)
freshly ground black pepper
homemade chicken stock
diced epazote (or cilantro if you can't find epazote)
vegetable oil or olive oil
bottle of beer (Negro Modelo is good)
In This Recipe
Toss the sweet potatoes with olive oil and salt and spread them on a baking sheet with the onions and garlic, and place them in the middle of a 450 degree oven for ½ hour. It's okay if the sweet potatoes aren’t done at this point – you mainly want to get some browning, and they'll finish with the rest of the chili later. If the garlic looks like it is turning too brown too fast, it's okay to take it out early. When you take them out, reset your oven for 250 degrees.
Meanwhile, you're going to need to toast the dried chiles on a dry griddle or skillet. You have to slit them up the side, open them out flat and press them down firmly on the skillet. Use a spatula, of course. It only takes a few seconds on each side.
Choose your chili pot. The best is either a 4 or 6 quart cast iron or enameled cast iron dutch oven. Pour two cups of the chicken stock into the pot, toss in the toasted chilis, and weight them down with a plate for 30 minutes.
After the chilis are rehydrated, take off the plate and add the onions and garlic, the chipotle and adobo sauce, the oregano, pepper and cumin . . .and one heaping handful of the sweet potatoes. Bring them to a simmer and let them simmer – covered – until the sweet potatoes are very soft.
Transfer the chilies and everything else in the pot to a blender or food processor and blend it smooth.
Now for the meat. Heat the oil in the chili pot over medium-high heat. When hot, add the lamb chunks and brown them thoroughly — about 8 minutes total.
Add the chile/sweet potato puree to the lamb and stir for a couple of minutes as the mixture comes to a simmer. Add the remainder of the chicken stock, cover the pot, and transfer it to a 250 degree oven. Continue to simmer until lamb is tender, about 2 to 2½ hours.
After two hours, add the epazote (or cilantro) and the remaining sweet potatoes. Use the beer to adjust the consistency of the sauce. If you're lucky, you'll just need to add half a bottle and drink the rest. If not, add the whole bottle and open another for yourself.
Partially cover and return the pot to the oven for another 20-30 minutes, until the sweet potatoes are done but are not falling apart. Ideally, they should have about the same consistency as the lamb.
Taste and season with salt. I like to serve this with condiments like crumbled feta cheese (or goat cheese), sour cream, diced red onion, tortilla strips, and a chopped mix of cilantro and mint, so that each person can doctor the chili how they want.