14 June 2013

Campfire Cast Iron Chili with Wild Leeks

The camping of yesteryear was pretty strictly hot dogs and tonka pies.  And while I still love a good tonka pie, camping as an adult has brought out whole new list of camp foods (feta-stuffed basil burgers, steak topped with bacon, onions and mushrooms).  A little bit of me feels like camping has become very food-centric.  A lot of me is pretty okay with that focus.
And when a friend of mine slow cooked some venison chili over a fire all afternoon...well, let's just say when you're camping and it's rainy, there's no nicer end of the day.  Compound it with some sharp cheese, a good IPA, and of course the company of your favorite friends.  Have I mentioned how much I love summer and camping?

Mushroom season.  It's over for most of you, but here in northern Michigan we've still got a few left.  Not that we found any, but whilst hunting, we did chance upon some wild leeks.  Or ramps.  Whatever.  Those are probably out of season for you too. 
 Best practice:  chop all your veggies ahead of time so camp chili is more of a toss-everything-together-and-simmer-all-afternoon type of deal.  Mediocre practice:  chop and put together when you're ready.  Worst practice:  realize you don't have everything you need, send some fellow campers home to gather more supplies, flip burgers with a machete in the meantime.  What, just us?
Here's where we deviate from normal chili.  You want a fire that's not too hot, and mostly coals.  You want the pot to be more or less right over top of the coals, whether that means moving the coals or moving perhaps a handy tripod that suspends your pot.  And, as always, start by sauteing the onions - 1 large red onion, 6-10 wild leeks.  I know the fire looks dead.  It's not.  It's very hot under there.
I added 3 lbs of ground turkey, 2 cans (shall we say around the 12 - 16 oz range?) of diced tomatoes, 1 chopped bell pepper, 1 large can of chili beans (probably closer to the 22 oz range).  Top it off with variable amounts of chili powder, cumin, salt, pepper, and some oregano.  A pinch of cinnamon, if it sounds good to you.
Bring the whole thing up to a simmer.  That's where you want to keep it.  If it's boiling, your fire is too hot.  If it's flat, your fire isn't hot enough.
It will sound like a lot of effort, but when you're camping, it really isn't as bad as it sounds.  I started the chili around noon and simmered it until dinner time no one could wait any longer.  I probably checked on the chili every 15 minutes or so, and kept an eye on the fire in between.  But I was also playing games, reading, and catching up on my beer quota for the weekend.  And if I was mid-game, there was generally someone else who could give it a stir in my absence.  It's a team effort!
It started out pretty thick, but by the end of the afternoon, the tomatoes had softened up into a nice, juicy chili.  I don't think I've ever described chili as juicy before.  What I mean is that it was the perfect consistency.  And although all the photos have been sans lid, a lid is very VERY helpful for keeping the ashes out.
Simmering for that long really reduces the flavor of the spices, so I did end up adding a pinch more cinnamon at the end, but this was definitely one of the best chilis I've made.  Absolutely worth the effort.
I know this chili isn't exactly a middle-of-August camping treat, but this was Memorial weekend in northern Michigan - nightly lows were hitting freezing temps.  So this chili is exactly what the weather was calling for.  Oh, and check out our new tent!  Pictured in the very cold morning light.

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