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For Your Health or Just for the Taste of It, a Pair of Hot and Fiery Chilis for Spice Lovers

<i> Greene is a New York-based food columnist</i>

It is probably one of the culinary mysteries of all time, but hot, fiery foods are consumed with most frequency in warm climates.

Which is no surprise to me. For, whenever the temperature ceases to be chilly, I automatically think chili, and heavy on the peppers, too.

My fixation with hot foods during warm weather is also fairly therapeutic. According to food pundit Harold McGee in his book, “On Food and Cooking, the Science and Lore of the Kitchen” (Scribner’s: $29.95): “The pungency of (capsicum) peppers derives from the alkaloid capsaicin. . . . Experimental work still under way indicates that capsaicin has definite (and tonic) effects on the digestive system. It seems that secretion of saliva and gastric juices, and peristaltic movements are increased by the ingestion of red peppers. And there is further evidence that capsaicin has anti-bacterial effects as well.”

This fact is made manifest by me when I suspect a springtime cold coming on. From my experience, a double portion of chili con carne for a few meals in a row will prove just as beneficial as a handful of Vitamin C tablets to keep a case of the sniffles at bay.

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Naturally, I like my chili on the hot side, and while dining companions have sometimes looked askance at my appetite, I find a measure of security on the subject in McGee’s book. “Chile peppers,” he states, “are an example of a constrained risk. Like riding a roller coaster or jumping into Lake Michigan in January, eating hot foods makes our body respond with warning signals. But, because such situations are not genuinely dangerous, we can ignore the meaning of the sensation and savor the shock and burning for (its) own sake. It is also possible,” McGee says, “that the brain secretes endorphins, its own opiate substances, in response to a burning tongue, and these contribute to the pleasurable ‘hangover’ of a fiery meal.”

The recipes that follow are guaranteed to induce the most pleasant “morning afters” ever.

The secret formula in this Southwestern bowl of chili is an unexpected measure of unsweetened cocoa powder. The idea (more Mex than Tex, without a doubt) gives the total amalgam of pepper, tomato and herbs, a richer darker taste than you would imagine.

SECRET FORMULA

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TEX-MEX CHILI

2 slices bacon

1/4 pound salt pork, diced

1 pound lean pork, cut into strips 2 inches long, 1/2-inch thick

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1 pound round or chuck steak, cut into strips 2 inches long, 1/2-inch thick

2 onions, chopped

3 cloves garlic, minced

1 medium jalapeno chile, seeded and minced

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3 tablespoons unsweetened cocoa powder

1 tablespoon unsalted butter, softened

1/2 teaspoon dried oregano

1/4 teaspoon ground cumin

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3 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon black pepper

1 (28-ounce) can imported plum tomatoes with juice

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1/2 cup tomato juice

Navy beans, cooked

Hot cooked rice

Cook bacon strips in large Dutch oven until crisp. Remove and drain on paper towels. Crumble and reserve.

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Add salt pork to Dutch oven and brown until golden. Remove with slotted spoon to plate.

Brown strips of pork and beef in Dutch oven, about 10 at a time, until well browned on both sides. Transfer to plate with salt pork.

Add onions to Dutch oven and cook 1 minute. Stir in garlic and jalapeno chile. Cook over medium heat until golden, about 5 minutes. Return salt pork and meat to Dutch oven. Toss well.

Combine cocoa and softened butter in small bowl. Mash with back of spoon to form smooth paste. Add cocoa paste to Dutch oven. Stir in oregano, cumin, chili powder, salt and pepper. Mix thoroughly. Stir in tomatoes and tomato juice. Heat to boiling on top of stove.

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Transfer to oven and cook, covered, at 350 degrees until meat is tender, about 1 hour and 15 minutes. Remove cover, sprinkle with bacon and cook 10 minutes longer. Serve with beans and rice. Makes 6 servings.

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Norman Singh is the former chef at one of my favorite hamburger places, the Corner Bistro, in New York City. Singh’s chili, no longer on the menu, is dynamite. Yet another secret ingredient, ginger ale, lights the chili’s sparkling fuse.

NORMAN SINGH’S

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GINGER ALE CHILI

2 tablespoons rendered bacon fat

2 large onions, finely chopped

2 small green peppers, finely chopped

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1 clove garlic, minced

3 1/2 tablespoons chili powder

1 1/2 tablespoons ground cumin

1 tablespoon dry mustard

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1/2 teaspoon hot red pepper flakes

1/4 teaspoon curry powder

1/4 teaspoon dried rosemary, crumbled

2 bay leaves

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2 pounds ground beef

1 (28-ounce) can imported plum tomatoes with juice

3/4 cup ginger ale

1/3 cup dry red wine

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2 tablespoons Worcestershire sauce

2 teaspoons salt

Pepper

1/4 cup catsup

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1/4 cup dark rum

2 (20-ounce) cans red kidney beans, drained

Heat bacon fat in large Dutch oven over medium heat until hot. Add onions. Cook until just tender, 2 to 3 minutes. Add chili powder, cumin, dry mustard, pepper flakes, curry powder, rosemary and bay leaves, stirring to combine.

Add ground beef and cook and stir until thoroughly browned, about 5 minutes. Add tomatoes, ginger ale, wine, Worcestershire, salt and pepper to taste. Bring to boil over medium heat. Reduce heat to low. Simmer, covered, 45 minutes. Stir in catsup and rum. Simmer 15 minutes longer. Stir in beans and heat through. Makes 6 to 8 servings.

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