Growing food in Colorado is a challenging endeavor. Because I come from a fairly balmy Pacific-Northwest climate, I’m used to putting some seeds in the ground and reaping huge rewards with little effort. My plants grew grow massive and lush, and the winters were usually warm enough that I could have a cold frame going year-round for radishes and other cool-weather plants. I also harvested hearty brassicas, such as kale (which actually benefits from light frost), throughout the entire winter.
Then I moved to Colorado, and everything changed. The soil is hard, the summers scorching hot (great for my tomatoes though), and the winters cold and extremely arid. As a plant lover, the hail storms and heavy winds are the bane of my existence. Gardening here is just much more difficult. Though it puts me through occasional hell, I’ve accepted the new reality as part of the life I’ve chosen. We’ve made do with our surroundings, and after tons of experimenting with cold frames and greenhouses over the years, we’ve been able to harvest produce in the off season with relative success.
But this is the first year we’ve been able to harvest fresh peppers in the midst of winter. Though they didn’t develop quite properly—they were misshapen, ugly, and small—and the crop was only big enough for one dish, they still tasted amazing. They were a spicy little gift at a time of year when most of the produce at the store is dismal and flavorless.
Seeing as it’s winter and freezing cold (I’m not one to retain great body heat, so maybe I’m overdramatizing here), I did what countless others do when they’re looking for comforting food in the form of a heat-warming, filling bowl of delicious coziness: I made chili.
But I didn’t want to just make any chili. I wanted to make a chili that highlighted my beautiful-ugly peppers and stood apart from the usual beef, beans, tomatoes combo. I chose ground beef for most of the meatiness, but I added some bold-flavored chorizo for a more unique taste and also to help balance out the poblanos.
The results were outstanding. The chorizo and bacon lent a smokiness to the broth as well as a nice kick of heat. The poblanos also came through in the broth, offering spiciness and an assertive pepper taste. Since I’m not a huge fan of beans, I omitted them altogether. However, they’d also be very welcome if that’s your jam. For this particular recipe, I’d likely go with black beans (or possibly a white bean of some sort) over traditional kidney beans.
Besides being stick-to-your ribs hearty and utterly delicious, chili is a great source of nutrients. The meat is loaded with iron, B vitamins, and minerals such as zinc and magnesium. On top of that, you get and all of the nutritional gifts provided by the onions, garlic, and spices.
There are also the unique nutritional components from the peppers themselves. As with all peppers, poblanos contain an ample dose of vitamin C, which can boost your immune system, help you ward off a nasty cold or flu, and keep you thriving throughout the year. They also offer a reasonable amount of other vitamins and minerals (notably vitamins A and E). More importantly, poblano peppers contain something not found in your everyday bell pepper: capsaicin. This active phytochemical found in hot peppers is known for a slew of healing properties. Though poblano peppers aren’t quite hot enough to burn your nostrils and make your eyes water, they still contain enough capsaicin to provide the benefits of such, especially since they’re often used in more abundant amounts than jalapeños or cayenne pepper.
Highly regarded in health circles as an inflammation-reducer and pain-reliever, capsaicin offers potent antibacterial properties, increases metabolic activity, and eases sinus pressure, congestion, and headaches. It helps with circulation and heart protection, and it’s even thought to be a front-line fighter against certain cancers (with especially promising research around prostate cancer). With the poblano pepper, you get the best of both worlds: the vitamin-packed pepper and the potent power of capsaicin.
Mindful eating is one of the keys to true health and wellness. When you think of foods as not only a delight to the senses but also as healing and nutritive, it makes them that much more enjoyable. I love eating food. But I especially love eating food that I know is giving me more than just a tasty mouthful. With its expansive flavor and huge health benefits, this chili is definitely worth a try on your next “looking-for-something-comforting-and-scrumptious-on-a-cold-winter-day” day. And keep in mind that—just like all chilis and stews—the flavors will benefit from being prepared in advance.
Beef, Chorizo, Bacon, and Poblano Pepper Chili
Makes approximately 4 servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
Cook time: 45 minutes
2 strips uncooked bacon, diced
1 lb. ground beef
½ lb. bulk chorizo sausage
1 large onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, minced
2 large poblano peppers, diced
3 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin
2 teaspoons dried oregano
¼–1 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes (or to taste)
Salt and pepper to taste
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1 (28 oz.) can whole tomatoes, squeezed apart with your hands (or use diced tomatoes)
2–4 cups beef broth, chicken broth, beer, or water (start small, then add more as needed to suit your desired consistency)
Garnishes: sour cream, shredded cheese, avocado, cilantro, chopped tomato, or other toppings of your choice
- In a large pot, brown bacon. Remove with a slotted spoon and let drain on paper towels. Set bacon aside, and pour off all but 1 tablespoon of fat from pot.
- Brown ground beef, chorizo, and onions in bacon fat until meat is cooked through and onions are golden, about 7–8 minutes. Add garlic, peppers, herbs, and spices. Season well with salt and pepper. Cook 2–3 minutes.
- Add tomato paste and stir until combined. Add canned tomatoes and about 2 cups of broth, beer, or water. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer, adding more liquid as necessary (depending on how thick you like your chili). Stir frequently. Simmer until vegetables are nice and tender, about 30 minutes.
- Serve piping hot, topped with sour cream, cheese, and other toppings if desired.
Image from Briana Goodall.