February 2011 Archives

Venison chili bowls

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I've been making an effort this year to re-domesticate myself (of which, more later). Part of that effort came in a New Year's Resolution to no longer order take-out if I was too lazy to go to the grocery or cook (which has meant a lot of sandwiches and soup for dinner lately), but I'm really trying to cook more, and better.

I spent some time while I was sick over winter break researching recipes that were easy and fast to cook and required a minimum of ingredients (because I'm working with a student budget and they don't exactly have a provision for artisanal cheeses). If you are interested in a similar project, I would definitely recommend digging through the archives of Cooking Light and Martha Stewart, with some of my very favorite recipes in the world to be found in the latter.

Perhaps most valuable of all, I spoke with my parents, at length. They spent over 20 years feeding a family in a budget- and nutrition-conscious way. They know a surprising amount of tricks for grocery shopping and cooking to take advantage of fresh ingredients without wearing out your energy or wallet.

One of the meals I always enjoy most at my parents' house is venison chili, a simple, warm comfort food that is surprisingly nutritious. Venison is high in protein and absorbable iron, among other nutrients, but it is incredibly lean and has much less saturated fat than beef (more nutritional information here). It's approximately equal to boneless, skinless chicken in terms of fat and calories, but provides the nutrition and flavor of sirloin or similar. It's somewhat difficult for the average American to find venison for purchase, but it's becoming a lot more available at Whole Foods and suchlike. Or I suppose you can make friends with my dad.

The recipe my family uses is cobbled together from Meta Given's (which is amazing), my grandmother, and my father's tweaks. Because my grandmother lived in Hawaii, we have always made chili in bowls, served over rice, with Cheddar cheese (and sometimes sour cream) on top. I was probably 25 when I learned that there was, in fact, any other way to eat chili.

Venison Chili Bowls


  • 1-2 pounds ground venison (approximately a quart-size freezer bagful)
  • a few tsp oil (I like extra virgin olive oil but anything works)
  • 1 medium onion
  • 1 clove garlic, finely chopped, or 1-2 teaspoons jarred, chopped garlic
  • 2 tsp salt
  • 1/2 tsp black pepper
  • 2-3 tsp chili powder
  • 1 15-oz can dark red kidney beans (I like Goya)
  • 1 32-oz can tomato puree
  • 1 pot of rice (4-6 cups)
  • sharp Cheddar or another sharp cheese, shredded
  • dollop sour cream, if desired


1. Start rice in cooker or on a pot in the stove. Please don't ask me how often I forget this step when cooking dishes with rice.

2. In a large skillet, sauté onion and garlic in oil until onions are soft and nearly transparent.

3. Add ground venison and brown, about 10 min. Break meat up into the size pieces you'd like. My father likes his chili chunkier, with bigger pieces of meat, whereas I like mine much smaller and more even. This is a topic of extensive debate in my family, but you can do as you please.

4. Add salt, pepper, and chili powder and mix thoroughly.

5. Rinse kidney beans thoroughly with cold water, to remove all the gooey stuff they come with when they're canned. I cannot emphasize the importance of this step enough - that goo is super nasty.

6. Add kidney beans and tomato puree to meat mixture and mix well. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer, for 30 min or more, stirring often. I find your kitchen stays cleaner if you cover it between stirrings. If chili becomes too thick, you can add hot water. If it is too thin, simmer longer, but for the love of God, don't add any kind of thickener (ask me how I know). While 30 min is the recommended time, your chili is done when it has reached your desired consistency and the beans are tender but not mushy.

7. Layer in a bowl: one scoop of rice, a generous scoop of chili and shredded cheese. Some people like to preserve the strata as they eat, but I am a big fan of stirring everything together. Enjoy!

This recipe makes a lot, at least 6 servings, and it can easily feed a family of four adults who really love their chili. The longer it keeps in the fridge, the more the flavors meld and intensify, so it's a good recipe to make and reheat throughout the week.

As you can see, this is not the fanciest or most elaborate chili recipe in the world. It is, however, incredibly inexpensive if you have access to venison, it's super fast and simple to prepare, and it makes for a truly delicious and satisfying meal. If you are inclined to add a bunch of peppers or spices, by all means, do. This recipe lends itself to tweaking and adjusting (for example, I add ground red pepper for a touch of unobtrusive heat) and can serve as a great base for whatever your chili imagination wishes.

As I continue with my reeducation in food and cooking experiments, I'll probably post recipes that I find particularly successful. If you have any recommendations for foods that are healthy, budget-friendly, or preferably both, please do share!

In the meantime, I think I need to reacquaint myself with the instruction manual to my rice cooker.

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This page is an archive of entries from February 2011 listed from newest to oldest.

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