Creative Cooking

It's National Chili Week: Top 5 Unusual Chili Ingredients

Every region has its own rendition of chili. New Mexico has green chili (interesting), Cincinnati has spaghetti with chili (still don't understand) and Texas puts meat in its chili (definitely the best).

I always love classic chili with beef or sirloin (I'm a Texas girl, what can I say?), but sometimes I am up for a twist. Everyone has his own secret ingredients that make his chili something special. So, here's my top five list of unusual ingredients you should consider putting in your chili, in honor of National Chili Week.

5. Soda

A couple of years ago, I tried a chili with Coca-Cola and was surprised by how good the chili tasted. The fizzy drink brings an extra sweet element to the chili. I loved how the syrupy soda worked with the meat, vegetables and beans. Most chili recipes call for brown sugar in the stew, so the addition of a soda worked the same way.

You could also try Root Beer or Dr Pepper as alternate sodas to have the same effect.

4. Chocolate

Chocolate is an ingredient in Mexican mole sauce. I have stumbled upon a few recipes that call for an addition of chocolate to chili, and depending on the amount added, it can be a great secret ingredient. Combine the chocolate with a chipotle or other peppers to create a wonderful spicy-sweet blend.

Be sure not to add too much chocolate, or you will have a strange aftertaste you probably weren't looking forward to. A little bit of dark chocolate, or even unsweetened chocolate, is just enough to give your chili a rich depth of flavor.

3. Red Wine

Red wine is another ingredient in chili that will give it more depth and harmonize all of the other ingredients. I recommend using meat in your chili if you decide to use red wine. De-glaze the pot with red wine after you cook your meat so you can blend the two flavors together. That's a wonderful combination of two ingredients you can never go wrong with.

After you de-glaze the pot, you can use more red wine, usually two cups, to add to the overall liquid portion of the chili.

2. Venison

I absolutely love using wild game in chili. One of my professors makes the best venison chili I have ever had. On the last day of the fall semester last year, he brought his crock pot to cook the chili all day long. So, basically the entire building smelled of rich venison chili ... best day ever.

Venison is full of extra flavors you would never get from regular beef. It's rich, savory and delicious. Make it in a crock pot and you'll be a happy camper.

1. Beer

Adding alcohol to most foods almost always turns out great. You can de-glaze the pan, like with the red wine and you can use it to enhance the overall flavor of the dish, which is what beer does for chili.

Typical chili recipes don't include beer, but if you use a dark beer, like Stout, it will enhance the meat flavors, giving it a more renowned flavor.

Why just have beer with your chili, when you can cook them together?

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Molly Dunn
Contact: Molly Dunn