A few months ago I was invited to join a cooking club. The club is made up of women, mostly expats from different ethnic backgrounds. Each month a different person hosts the club and teaches the rest of the group how to make dishes from her own ethnic background.

Actually there isn’t really that much teaching involved. We just hang out and talk while the food cooks.

Today was my turn to host the cooking club. I decided to serve my favorite Tex-Mex dish: chili.

My inspiration for the meal: a beaded chili pepper from the streets of Melville.

I’ve had a weird relationship with cooking lately. I’m certainly no gourmet chef, but I know how to follow a recipe and became a proficient cook in my early 30s. I used to subscribe to Cooking Light magazine and watch the Food Network.

When I first moved to Joburg, Jon and I loved cooking together. But eventually life got complicated and we found less and less time to cook.

Then Jon died, and I lost all interest in cooking. I knew I had to eat but devoted as little effort to food as possible. For weeks, I subsisted on toasted cheese, scrambled eggs, and the kindness of friends who invited me over for meals.

So I was nervous about hosting the cooking club today. I wasn’t sure I remembered how to cook, or how to entertain. This doesn’t really make sense, but the idea of hosting a bunch of people at my house reminded me of how alone I feel. At 9:30 this morning I was crying in the shower, wondering if I could do it.

I pushed through the anxiety, turned on some music, assembled my ingredients, and started cooking. It felt good. So good, in fact, that I got my camera and took photos as I went along.

Jalapeno peppers from the Lucky 5 Star garden.

Onions and bell peppers, the base of my chili.

My friends arrived. They helped with the preparation and we chatted and laughed. It was easy. And fun.

Baked stuffed jalapenos. They turned out okay but I need to find fatter jalapenos next time.

Ostrich mince chili topped with cheddar cheese, cilantro, sour cream, and a tortilla on the side.

Brownies, made with my mother’s recipe. This is the first time since moving to Joburg that I’ve gotten the brownies to come out right. I’ve finally adjusted to the high altitude and my finicky old oven.

It wasn’t a fancy meal, but everyone seemed to enjoy it. Everyone, that is, except for the Melville Cat. As Smokey said in a recent post, he doesn’t appreciate visitors. A few minutes after my guests arrived, Smokey showed his displeasure by parading past the kitchen door with a dead bird in his mouth. I wasn’t quick enough to get a photo.

I’m still feeling emotional (and full), but all in all it was a successful day. Thanks to everyone who came.

Here is my recipe for chili, adapted over many years from a recipe in a Cooking Light cookbook. In case you’re curious, ostrich mince tastes exactly like ground beef but it’s far healthier. It’s available in most South African supermarkets, but any other ground meat will do.

Tex-Mex Chili (Serves 4-6)

  • 1 lb. (500g) mince (any meat)
  • 2 large onions, chopped
  • 2-3 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 small jalapenos, minced
  • 1 bell pepper, chopped
  • 2 400g (14-oz.) cans black beans or red kidney beans (or one of each)
  • 1200 grams canned tomatoes (3 14-oz. cans)
  • 1 cup salsa (preferred brand)
  • Tomato paste
  • Salt and pepper
  • Chili powder
  • Cayenne pepper
  • Cumin
  • Red chili flakes
  • Other herbs and spices to taste
  • Mrs. H.S. Balls Hot Chutney Sauce (special South African ingredient)

In a large pot, over medium heat and with a splash of oil, soften onions and bell pepper until onion is translucent. Once onions and peppers are soft, add mince and stir until meat is browned. Add minced garlic, chilies, and salt and pepper to taste. Stir for a few minutes.

Drain one can of beans in a colander and mash with a potato masher. Pour the other can of undrained beans into the pot, then add the mashed beans. Add canned tomatoes and salsa to the pot. (If canned tomatoes are not pre-chopped, chop them in the pot with a knife as the mixture heats.) Add a squeeze or two of tomato paste to thicken.

Add one-two teaspoons of chili powder, several good shakes of cumin, a dash of cayenne pepper and chili flakes, and other herbs and spices to taste. Add a couple of tablespoons of H.S. Balls Hot Chutney Sauce. (Adjust spicy ingredients according to your preference.)

Stir well and reduce heat to low. Simmer uncovered for an hour or so, stirring frequently. Serve topped with grated cheese, sour cream, cilantro, and/or guacamole.

And here is the brownie recipe, courtesy of Mom.

Brownies

  • Two sticks butter (1/2 pound, or about 250 grams)
  • 4 one-ounce squares unsweetened chocolate (high-quality cocoa powder can be substituted)
  • 2 cups sugar
  • 4 well beaten eggs
  • 1 cup (non-self-rising) flour
  • 1 teasp. vanilla extract

In a large bowl, melt butter and chocolate together in the microwave. (Melt chocolate a bit first, then add butter.) Stir in sugar to cool the mixture. Make sure it’s completely cool before adding eggs. Add vanilla and eggs. Stir. Add flour and mix by hand until smooth. 

Bake at 300˚F (150˚C) for 45 minutes.

Cut while warm. The inside should be slightly gooey. Roll each brownie in powdered sugar, if desired.

Bon appétit.

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