Slow-Cooker Chili

The secret to chili is how you select and use your chili peppers. If dried ancho and chipotle peppers are not available in your local market, just substitute, bearing these points in mind: dried chiles have a richer, fruitier flavor than fresh; smaller chiles are hotter than larger ones; the seeds and white veins generally contain all the heat but no chili flavor; and finally, if you like great chili flavor but are less enamored with the spice, add one whole chili pepper to the pot, but remove it before serving. The recipe below is for a medium-hot chili.

Serves 6

For the chili:
1 pound dried dark red kidney beans
2 tablespoons fresh lemon juice
1 pound ground beef
2 tablespoons olive oil
1 dried ancho chili pepper, seeds and white membrane removed, chopped
1 dried whole chipotle pepper
1 medium onion, coarsely chopped
1 28-ounce can crushed tomatoes
2 cloves garlic, chopped
2 tablespoons chili powder
1 teaspoon freshly ground cumin
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 teaspoon salt
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

For the Topping:
1 cup shredded Monterey Jack or cheddar cheese
1 cup sour cream

Cover beans with warm water, stir in lemon juice, cover, and soak in a warm place for 18 to 24 hours. Drain, rinse, and place in a slow cooker.

In a skillet over medium-low heat, brown the ground beef in olive oil. Combine the meat and remaining chili ingredients in the slow cooker, and cook on high for 4 to 5 hours or on low for 8 to 10 hours, until the beans are tender. Depending on how your cooker works, you may need to add an extra ½ cup of water during the cooking time to prevent the chili from drying out. Remove the whole chipotle pepper.

Serve the chili topped with shredded cheese and a generous dollop of sour cream.