Sunday August 14, 2016
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 To serve, garnish with slices of avocado and a generous dollop of sour cream. – Pictures by CK Lim To serve, garnish with slices of avocado and a generous dollop of sour cream. – Pictures by CK LimKUALA LUMPUR, Aug 14 — I had my first taste of American-style chilli more than a decade ago when my friend from Chicago made it when we were studying in Munich, Germany. The dinner was part of an inter-cultural night where everyone was encouraged to prepare a dish from their home country.

The German made some käsespätzle (fried dumpling-noodles with cheese), the Greek a horiatiki (country salad with feta cheese and kalamata olives), the Italian a rustic tiramisu drenched in Marsala wine, and I made a fairly decent attempt at nasi lemak (with canned coconut cream rather than fresh santan, unfortunately).

Of the two American students, the New Yorker brought us takeaway from McDonald’s — burgers and French fries — because that’s what they ate back home, he said. (He was probably too lazy to cook or didn’t want his new friends to suffer food poisoning. Very kind of him if the latter.)

His compatriot didn’t deliver any classic Chicago deep-dish pizza but offered something that was eaten everywhere in the States — or so he claimed — except it originated from Mexico: the chilli. The name itself was confusing to me because despite its fiery colour, it wasn’t spicy in the least. Just lots of tomatoes, beans and minced beef in a thick stew. But it was delicious all the same.

Luscious, juicy plum tomatoes form the basis of this Tex-Mex-Malaysian chilli (left). Dark chocolate and crunchy peanut butter add richness and texture to the chilli (right)Luscious, juicy plum tomatoes form the basis of this Tex-Mex-Malaysian chilli (left). Dark chocolate and crunchy peanut butter add richness and texture to the chilli (right)Years later, during another dinner — this time in Taipei — with another American friend, I learned that the chilli I enjoyed wasn’t really Mexican at all. My friend, who was from Kansas, told me the dish was more Tex-Mex or maybe purely Texan.

Also called chili con carne (Spanish for “chilli with meat”), the stew was supposed to be spicy thanks to the addition of peppers. In 1977, chili con carne was designated as the official dish of the US State of Texas. Call it what you like — chilli, Texan chilli, Mexican chilli, chili con carne — but most now accept this as a staple of Tex-Mex cuisine.

I love it, whatever it’s called, and over the years, I’ve added my own tweaks to the dish. Instead of beef, I use pork and marinate it in sesame oil, Shao Xing rice wine and fish sauce; cili padi instead of peppers; turmeric instead of cumin. I’ve even added dark chocolate (a nod to mole poblano, the Mexican chilli-chocolate sauce) and dollops of crunchy peanut butter for a nutty, buttery finish.

A bit too “rojak”, maybe? Oh but it tastes so glorious...

TEX-MEX-MALAYSIAN CHILLI

The use of cili padi (Malay), sesame oil and Shao Xing rice wine (Chinese) and turmeric (Indian) gives this version of the Tex-Mex chilli a subtle but recognisable Malaysian flavour. The addition of nam pla (fish sauce) is Vietnamese-inspired, so you could consider the influence South-east Asian.

This Tex-Mex-Malaysian chilli is a hearty stew with mouthwatering nuggets of meat, tomato, beans and fiery cili padiThis Tex-Mex-Malaysian chilli is a hearty stew with mouthwatering nuggets of meat, tomato, beans and fiery cili padiTherein lies the beauty of certain dishes that lend themselves so well to minor tweaks to incorporate ingredients from other culinary cultures. You could go further: instead of sour cream, why not try Greek yoghurt or raita (Indian yoghurt and cucumber condiment)? Don’t like avocado? Replace it with some grilled halloumi cheese or semi-firm tofu.

You can make this chilli non-spicy by omitting the cili padi altogether or punch it up several levels by using sansho pepper for its mala (tongue-numbing) qualities. Substitute nutty chickpeas for the minced pork to make this meat-free. Basically you can make this chilli every week and have it taste different — deliciously different — each time!

Ingredients for the chilli

1 tablespoon of coconut oil

1 onion, diced

4-5 cloves garlic, minced

3 cili padi, finely sliced

Half teaspoon turmeric powder

200g pork, minced and marinated (see marinade below)

1 can plum tomatoes

1 can borlotti beans

1 dozen cherry tomatoes, halved

1 large sprig of fresh rosemary

2 squares of dark chocolate

2 tablespoons crunchy peanut butter

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Ingredients for the marinade

1 tablespoon nam pla (Vietnamese fish sauce)

Half tablespoon Shao Xing rice wine

1 teaspoon sesame oil

1 pinch mixed herbs

Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

Method

Heat the oil in a large pan or pot. Add onion and garlic. Sauté until translucent, not browned. Add the cili padi and turmeric, and fry for a minute to release spicy oils.

The end result is so pretty, you can’t help but snap a shot to Instagram before you eat!The end result is so pretty, you can’t help but snap a shot to Instagram before you eat!Add the minced pork (marinated for at least half an hour; overnight is better) and let it brown in the pan and caramelise on one side before turning over and crumbling into smaller bits. Once mostly cooked (the pork will continue to cook in the stew), add the cans of tomato and beans, fresh cherry tomatoes and rosemary.

Allow to boil, then bring down to a simmer. After 10 minutes, remove the rosemary and add the dark chocolate and peanut butter. Taste, then correct seasoning with with salt and pepper. Serve in a large bowl and garnish with slices of avocado and a dollop of sour cream.

For more Weekend Kitchen stories and recipes, visit http://devilstales.com

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