Making Skillet Beer Chili Mac from Thug Kitchen 101

I’d been looking forward to making this one ever since I first opened the Thug Kitchen 101 cookbook. ‘Skillet Beer Chili Mac’ on page 87 combines my all-time favourite things: pasta, Mexican, and beer. It also includes something else that’s been my favourite ever since I gave up cheese: nutritional yeast. This is helpfully described in the book as “…some real throwback hippie sh*t… deactivated yeast sold in flakes that makes everything taste kinda cheesy.” So if you don’t know, now you know.

Anyhow, my cooking of this had been delayed a day or so as I felt the need to cook up some salt-free beans to be the ‘3 cups mixed cooked beans’. By the time I made this I’d also soaked and boiled up some chickpeas and kidney beans for another recipe I’ll share in a few days time. So I used a cup each of black beans, chickpeas, and kidney beans. Which is pretty solid variety and befits a chili, in my opinion. To make things way quicker you could just grab a couple different cans of salt-free beans or mixed beans.

Substitution-wise, there’s virtually nothing that needs to be changed for this recipe! The only things I omitted were the tablespoon of olive oil, 1/4 teaspoon of salt, and tablespoon of maple syrup. The first because it sucks and just isn’t needed (just used to sauté the onion, then carrot, bell pepper, and jalapeño), the last just because I couldn’t be bothered buying a whole bottle of maple syrup. I did end up substituting a few things here and there but that was just due to not having the ingredients on hand really.

So again this calls for ‘2 tablespoons’ of mild chili powder, as I’ve warned before, DO NOT do this!  Because I didn’t have the smoked paprika handy, and because I just love any excuse to use chipotle, I used chipotle instead. I decided I’d err on the side of caution and use 1 tablespoon and 1 teaspoon of chipotle and man I’m glad I did! It certainly ended up on the hotter side of life, and I do like heat. Two tablespoons and it would have been too hot to be tasty, remember there’s already a whole jalapeño in there as well.

I used a can of Wattie’s tomato paste (salt free) plus about a half cup of water to cover both the tomato paste and ‘1 can unseasoned tomato sauce’ requirements (see my earlier rant about the American version of tomato sauce – it’s not at all what we call tomato sauce, paste or puree is the closest). I also had enough vegetable stock left from making the Chickpea Biryani to get 2 out of the 3 cups required, and just added water as the last cup (either or is acceptable in the real recipe, but vegetable stock always makes stuff tastier if you have it – see the Chickpea Biryani post for how to make your own).

Happily I had a bottle of low(-ish) alcohol beer sitting in the fridge from ages back, precisely still there because it was low(-ish) alcohol – 3.5%. The 350 SPA from Baylands Brewery. Although of course I didn’t taste it outside of the recipe, it seemed like it did the trick nicely. I suspect it’s probably best to use something that has a bit of taste to it, tempting as it would be to use Corona to keep with the Mexican theme and the fact you’re going to get to add a tablespoon of lime later on.

So all those things were added before throwing in what was meant to be just 3 cups of pasta. I used little shell-shaped white pasta, because I’d learned my lesson from last time and also because I haven’t yet found a wholemeal pasta shape little enough to substitute for macaroni. It’d probably still taste good with Barilla Integrale Penne but I thought that would be better to try next time, given my Chickpea Biryani experience. Of course I put in more than 3 cups. Which then meant I needed to add extra liquid. I just tipped in the rest of the beer which I couldn’t drink anyhow so all good, nothing wrong with a bit of extra beer flavour.

At this point it looked a lot like a minestrone, but then the pasta all cooked nicely and the sauce thickened out. Finally, after taking it off the heat I chucked in the bean mixture, tablespoon of lime juice, and a third cup of nutritional yeast, which I increased from a quarter cup to make up for the extra pasta I’d added. This seemed to give it a bit more of a creamy texture too.

Anyhow, yum! Definitely the most successful recipe I’ve made from TK101. It combined a bunch of interesting flavours, from the malty-ness of the beer, to the zing of the lime, spiciness of the chilis, and the hint of cheesiness or ‘umami’ as I believe it’s called from the nutritional yeast. These all combined together very well. It was also hearty, super-filling, and just perfect for a midwinter’s meal (tomorrow’s the shortest day here, after all!) I was very, very pleased and highly recommend. Although next time I’ll probably turn down the spice a notch and decrease the chipotle by a teaspoon or so. In the photo in the book (pictured next to an old-school Super Nintendo with Street Fighter 2 cartridge, how cool is that?!) they’ve topped it with a bit of chopped avo and some fresh coriander, which I’m sure would only make things even better. As it is, I’m giving it a 9.5 out of 10. Try this recipe!!

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