Kitchen Experiment: Low Carb Pork Belly Chili

It didn’t start out as ‘pork belly chili’. In fact, I had no idea what I was making. There was a nearly 2 pound chunk of pork belly aging in the freezer and I needed to make something low carb for the coming week. The pork belly would be the star – but who would be the supporting characters?

I put the still frozen pork belly in the oven at 300 degrees and shook some of Trader Joe’s 21 Seasoning Salute – a mix of spices that seems to work for anything – on top. I tented the thing with foil and went to Trader Joe’s to figure out what was going to be the supporting characters for our porky star – and hoping the house wouldn’t explode while I was away.

The place was crowded and my first choice – cauliflower – was nowhere to be found. Trader Joe’s is a great store, but produce is not one of their strong suits. Instead I rounded up the following:

  • 2 green peppers
  • 2 eggplants
  • 1 container of organic white button mushrooms

These are all good low carb ingredients, though one might quibble over minor flaws in each of them if you really tried. Eggplant is part of the ‘deadly nightshade’ family, for example.  I didn’t want to play that game of going so extreme to analyze each one to that level of detail. They might have their flaws, but they were ‘good enough’.

At home I added some things from the cupboard and some castaways:

  • 3 onions
  • 3 jalapeno peppers
  • 1 box of cherry tomatoes that had not aged well after being abandoned in the vegetable drawer. I cut away the bad parts and tossed them in.
  • 1 large can of fire-roasted tomatoes

I had let the pork belly cook for 2 hours, then had taken it out to cool. Once I could cut it without getting burns I chopped it into bite-sized pieces and tossed it in to the veggies I cut while it was cooling. The beauty of pork belly is it comes with its own oil, so the vegetables cooked in delicious pork fat.

I peeled the eggplant and diced it into small chunks – going for roughly the size of the pork belly chunks – about the size of a pinky tip.

I had no idea what i was creating until it was done. When I tasted it, it had too much of an eggplant taste. Blech. I then decided to turn it into a chili by adding:

  • chili powder
  • cinnamon
  • cumin

No measuring, just eyeballing. I *do* tend to be heavy-handed on the spices, if that’s any help. Lots of chili powder, half as much cumin, and half of that in cinnamon is the best guidance I can give.

When my carnivore daughter came home her nose caught a whiff of meat, chili powder and cumin. Her eyes widened: “What smells so good?”

“Chili.” I said.

What I haven’t told you is that she is not too fond of pork belly. Bacon she’s good with – in fact, any part of any animal – if prepared well – had better watch out. THIS 16-year-old girl will not be turning Vegan any time soon.

“Is it ready?” She asked.

“Yep”.

She took a bowl and tried some. She gave me the thumbs up sign as she ate. While she has a sophisticated palate for a teenager, she has been exposed to Dad’s low carb cooking for over a decade. While she would rather starve than eat anything sub par – I wish I were the same – she liked this.

I personally find that the eggplant, if diced into small pieces, can bulk up the chili – and eggplant has the wonderful ability to soak up oils which works well with pork belly. The strong flavors of the spices minimized the eggplant flavor notes – which just did not go with pork belly in my estimation – and made the texture more complex.

I’ve done similar recipes – I’ve played with the definition of ‘chili’ enough to create what some people would label ‘abominations’ – but this one got readily eaten by the members of the family who could care less about diets and low carb, so for me – it’s a keeper.

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