For many of us who entertain, December is the most important month of the year. Whether you’re cooking for an open house, a caroling party, an end-of-the year office fête, a neighborhood potluck, or a Yankee swap (my daughter-in-law’s favorite), the holidays offer endless opportunities to share food with others. The real challenges are finding tempting, but uncomplicated recipes and the time to prepare them.
The spicy chili baked under a cornmeal crust featured here just might fill your needs. Although the chili is prepared classically with ground beef, beans, and a generous kick of heat from both chipotle and traditional chili powder, it is served in an unusual way. Spread in a casserole dish, it is topped with a cheese-scented cornmeal batter, and then baked. When done, a thin layer of golden cornbread covers the bubbling chili beneath. A sprinkle of cilantro and a bowl of sour cream make simple garnishes.
This dish has other bonuses as well. The chili itself can be prepared up to three days ahead—a gift to holiday chefs—so that all that is necessary at serving time is a quick assembly of the cornmeal batter to spread atop the casserole. And, if you’re expecting a crowd, you can double the ingredients easily.
So, during this season of gatherings, consider serving this spicy chili bake. Add a favorite salad and some holiday cookies, and you’ve got a party menu!
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Chili Baked Under a Cornbread Crust
3 tbsp olive or canola oil, plus more if needed
2 lbs ground beef (85 % lean works well)
2 cups chopped onion
1 tbsp minced garlic
1/4 cup flour
1 1/2 tbsp chili powder
1 1/2 tbsp ground cumin
1 tbsp dried oregano
1 to 1 1/2 tsp chipotle chili powder (depending on how much heat you like)
4 to 5 1/2 cups reduced-sodium beef stock
One 28-oz can diced tomatoes, drained
Two 15.5-oz cans black beans, rinsed and drained
1 large yellow bell pepper, stem, seeds, and membranes removed and cut into 1/4-in dice
3/4 cup yellow cornmeal
1/2 cup flour
1 tsp baking powder
1 tsp salt
1/2 tsp baking soda
l cup buttermilk
1 large egg, beaten
2 tbsp canola or vegetable oil
1 cup grated sharp white cheddar cheese
3 tbsp chopped cilantro
2 tbsp chopped cilantro for serving
1 cup sour cream for serving
1. For Spicy Chili, heat olive oil in a large, deep-sided pot (with a lid) over medium-high heat until hot. Add the ground beef and sauté, stirring often and breaking it up into small pieces with a spoon, until browned, about 6 to 8 minutes. Remove beef with a slotted spoon to drain on paper towels. Pour off all but 2 tbsp of the drippings in the pan and return to medium-high heat. Add onion and sauté, stirring, until softened and lightly browned, 4 to 5 minutes, using more oil if needed. Stir in the garlic and cook 1 minute more. Return the beef to the pan.
2. Combine flour, chili powder, cumin, oregano, chipotle chili powder, and 1 tsp salt in a small bowl. Sprinkle mixture over the beef and onions, and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add 4 cups of the beef broth and tomatoes; bring mixture to a low boil. Cover the pan, lower heat, and simmer for 5 minutes. Remove the lid and cook 15 minutes more. If the liquid seems to be cooking down too quickly, add up to another 1 1/2 cups broth.
3. Add black beans and yellow bell pepper to the chili. Raise heat to high, and cook until liquids have nearly evaporated, 15 to 20 minutes or more. Season to taste with additional salt. (Chili can be prepared 3 days ahead; cool, cover, and refrigerate. Reheat, uncovered, while stirring over medium heat.)
4. Arrange a rack in the middle of the oven and preheat to 425 degrees F. Spoon the chili into a 9-by-13-in or another shallow 3-qt baking dish, and smooth evenly with a spatula.
5. For Cornmeal Crust, mix together cornmeal, flour, baking powder, salt, and baking soda in a medium bowl. In a large bowl, whisk together buttermilk, egg, and canola oil. Gradually whisk the dry ingredients into the buttermilk mixture until blended, then stir in 1/2 cup of the cheese and 3 tbsp cilantro. Pour batter over the chili and spread evenly with a spatula (the batter will be thin). Sprinkle the remaining 1/2 cup cheese over the dish.
6. Bake the casserole until the cornbread topping is set and golden, 20 to 25 minutes. Remove from the oven and cool 5 minutes. Garnish with 2 tbsp cilantro and serve the chili with a bowl of sour cream.
Recipe from Sunday Casseroles (Chronicle Books 2014) by Betty Rosbottom