On Heartache

It’s an interesting phenomenon – heartache. I’ve been lucky to have been spared a lot of it, but it’s never fun when your friends are experiencing it. Relationships are fickle things, but I am a strong believer that you just have to find one that’s worth suffering for (to paraphase Bob Marley). And when you do, cherish it, nurture it, and constantly work at it – because no relationship should ever be stagnant – well, unless you choose so.


With the Superbowl a scant 2 weekends away, I wanted to share a dish that would be very Superbowl appropriate. I’ve made vegetarian chili before, but today’s dish is a meaty, hearty – and overall healthy – beef chili recipe. Loaded with flavor and tons of veggies, this chili will knock your socks off. It’s not only great for a Superbowl party, but also perfect as a stand alone late night meal, or over a bed of fries, and definitely good with some corn bread.

Beef Chili
Source: Adapted from FoodNetwork’s Chile Con Carne
From the original recipe, I cut back the amount of beef/beans and added more veggies, as well as upped the seasoning. I like my chili bold and flavorful, with strong amounts of cumin, garlic, and definitely some heat. The fish sauce may seem like an odd addition, but it really adds a beautiful brine that salt alone cannot do. The surprising addition of cocoa powder will increase the chili’s complexity, complement the smokiness, deepen the flavors, and impart beautiful body to the chili. Don’t leave it out – trust me. I only use black beans here, but any assortment of other beans will also do.

1-2 tbs rendered bacon fat [olive oil works fine]
1.5 lbs ground beef
3-4 cloves garlic, minced
1 medium onion, diced
1 large green bell pepper, diced
2 zucchini, diced
2 tbs ground cumin
2-3 tsp paprika [Spanish paprika adds a nice smoke too]
1-2 tsp cayenne pepper [to taste really]
2 tsp dried oregano
2 tbs tomato paste
3/4 c bottle beer [Lagunitas Little Sumpin’ Sumpin’ works beautifully]
1-2 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder + 1 tbs of water
1 15 oz can diced tomatoes
1 1/2 c low-sodium beef broth, more if needed
1 15 oz can black beans, drained and rinsed
1 tbs hot sauce [optional]
2 tbs fish sauce [again, I am unabashedly Vietnamese]
salt and pepper, to taste

Optional Toppings & Accompaniments:
Shredded cheddar cheese
Sliced scallions
Sour cream
Bacon pieces
Corn bread

In a large stock pot over medium-high heat, add 1-2 tbs of bacon fat or olive oil. Once hot, add ground beef and all spices (cumin, paprika, cayenne, oregano), breaking up the meat with a wooden spoon, until cooked, 5-8 minutes. This allows the spices to ‘toast’ and also absorb into the meat. To the pot, add garlic, onion, bell pepper and zucchini, cooking until the veggies are soft. Make sure to stir often, as you (1) don’t want anything to burn or stick to the pot, (2) and it allows all the veggies to get even heat. Add the beer and allow to simmer until mostly reduced, about 5 minutes. Take a break, and maybe take a swig or two of that deliciously cold ale. Stir in the tomato paste until it completely dissolves.


Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine the cocoa powder with 1-2 tbs of water, and mix until dissolved. To the pot, add the liquid cocoa powder, the tomatoes, beef broth and black beans. Bring to a boil, then allow to simmer over low heat. Stir occasionally to prevent burning and sticking, until the chili thickens, about 1-2 hours.

To season, add a splash of fish sauce and adjust as needed with additional salt (if too bland), water (if too salty), a tiny splash of lemon juice or tiny bit of tomato paste to balance all the flavors. If the chili is too thick, add a bit of beef broth or water and allow to continue simmering. A longer simmer allows the flavors to really become.. acquainted, and the overall flavor of the chili really improves. Serve with the aforementioned toppings. Enjoy.


I find that good chili needs no adornments, and only a bottle of beer to wash it down, preferably the same one you cooked with. Ahhhh, so good.


I am no expert on heartache or relationships. I do know, however, that there is always light at the end of the tunnel, and that once you’ve surfaced from the fog and darkness, you’ll find that the sun is shining, and shining just for you. You won’t come out unscathed, but at least you learned a lot about yourself in the process, and now you have a blank canvas to start again. In the meantime, cry and cry, reminisce on the good times, try hard to bury the bad, and also take note of the lessons learned. Then laugh and laugh. Time and laughter will heal all heartache.


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One Response to On Heartache

  1. Pingback: Camping 101 | Confessions from the Cookie Jar

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