Greg's Dereel chile
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On 5 March 2008 I was faced with the issue of feeding a large number of people with chile con carne, whatever that means.

Everybody knows that “chile con carne” means “beans with chili”—or do they? Of course, in Spanish it means “chile with meat”, and my research shows that in Texas, where the dish originated, that's exactly what they mean. No beans. There's a famous recipe in this style for Pedernales River Chili by Lady Bird Johnson, US First Lady, Texan and wife of president Lyndon B Johnson.

There's a problem here: I'm looking for a dish with beans. LBJ's recipe is in fact quite boring in appearance: meat, onion, garlic, oregano, cumminseed, tomatoes, chili. If it weren't for the oregano, it would be a poor man's beef curry, not what I'm looking for. In the end I decided on a compromise between the LBJ recipe and the recipe in “The Joy of Cooking”, which does include beans. Out of deference to my Texan friends, who are many, and some are burly, I thought of calling it chile con frijoles, but I discover that that's already in used, apparently a tinned food sold in Mexico, so in deference to the name “Pedernales River Chili” I have decided to call this one “Dereel Chile” after the place where I put it together.

To my surprise, the first time turned out pretty much the way I expected it to be, though I suspect that home-grown oregano is much weaker than commercial dried oregano, and that I should have used more.

Preparing the beans

Traditionally (according to one tradition, anyway), you use kidney beans or frijoles for chile. And they need lots of soaking. Or do they? Certainly, like most dried beans, without some kind of preparation they're difficult to process. And of course I didn't think of soaking them in time. I spent some time looking on the web and found this page, apparently by Matt Farrell. It's not necessarily authoritative, but it presents a plausible overview:

  1. Just boil them. Everybody will hate you.
  2. Soak overnight (at least 8 hours). The soaking initiates germination and releases enzymes that break down 60% of the complex sugars in the beans. It's these complex sugars that are responsible for flatulence.
  3. Boil for two minutes, then leave to cool down for 2 hours. This breaks down 80% of the sugars.

In other words, mash them—not in the sense of mashing potatoes, but mashing malt. I'm not convinced by the arguments and the unsubstantiated figures, and it seems that a better solution could be to keep them at mashing temperatures—after all, the enzymes in question must be amylases. Even so, barley needs to germinate before releasing amylases. Are beans that different?

In any case, I didn't have the choice, so I used the third method. The results didn't cause any significant flatulence.


quantity       ingredient       step
400 g       kidney beans       1
1 kg       beef       2, 4
30 g       beef dripping       3
150 g       onion       3
15 g       garlic       3
      one of:       4
10 g       fresh oregano leaves       5
3 g       dried oregano       5
15 g       cumminseed, powdered       5
10 g       chili powder       5
400 g       diced tomatoes, canned       5
900 ml       water       5
20 g       salt       5

The quantity of chili powder is minimal; you could probably increase it fivefold.


You'll need a frying pan and a stew pot for this dish. You fry the ingredients in the pan, then transfer to the pot for cooking.

  1. Bring 1 litre water to boil. When boiling, add the beans, bring back to the boil and boil for 2 minutes. Turn off the flame and leave to cool for 2 hours.

  2. Chop the beef into 1 cm cubes.

  3. Chop the onion finely and fry slowly in the dripping until glassy. Add pressed garlic and fry for another minute.

  4. Put the onions and garlic into the stew pot, turn up the heat, add the meat and fry until browned.

    You will need a very hot flame to do this correctly. The meat must be kept very hot, or it will “weep”, losing water that will then have to be boiled away:

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    It's better to fry the meat in portions, putting them in the pot when they're brown.

  5. Add the tomatoes, oregano, cumminseed, chili powder, water, salt and kidney beans. Bring to the boil and simmer for one hour.

What do you serve with it? The Americans use “tortilla chips”. We've tried it with wheat flour tortillas, but they don't seem right. Maybe maize tortillas would be better. I suspect crispy white bread could be good, too.

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