Sunday, January 17, 2016

Quick Chili: Mrs. Dash Mix vs Homemade

We all have days when spending a lot of time fixing a meal is just too much. Whether it’s illness, exhaustion, not enough time, or just plain lack of motivation — It happens to the best of us. Especially when you do a lot of “from-scratch” low sodium cooking. That’s why I’m always on the lookout for low sodium products that can help with short cuts in the kitchen.

Mrs. Dash Seasoning Mixes
Mrs. Dash has a slew of seasoning mixes to help the harried low sodium cook. From sloppy Joes to tacos to pot roast and meatloaf. I haven’t used seasoning mixes for years and years, but recently I decided to try the Mrs. Dash Chili seasoning just to find out how it tasted and determine how much time it really saved. (You can find Mrs. Dash seasoning mixes online at Healthy Heart Market and Amazon, and most grocery stores now carry a small assortment.)

The directions are simple enough: Brown 1 lb. ground meat; add seasoning mix; add approximately 16 oz. (2 cups) tomato product (sauce/diced/whole); and add one 15 oz. can of undrained low sodium beans. (I never use undrained beans in anything. I always rinse them first and then add about ¾ cup of broth or water, if necessary.) Bring to a boil, and simmer for 10 minutes. Done!

There’s enough wheat flour and cornstarch in the mix to thicken the chili quickly. So there’s no need to simmer for a long time. In fact, if you go beyond the 10 minutes, you may scorch the chili. (The sugar in the mix and the canned tomatoes are the culprits.) After it has thickened, you can add more liquid and turn the heat on very low, but you’ll need to remember to stir it frequently to avoid burning the chili.

How does it taste? It’s not bad. Strong tomato flavor and very, very mild, almost indiscernible chili flavor. I’ve made it twice now, and each time I added a teaspoon or more of chili powder and ground cumin for a slight improvement. There’s no way to get around it. This is a quick mix, and you’ll never get the complex flavor of long-cooked chili. But it could be useful if you’re really pressed for time and already have canned tomatoes and beans in your pantry, along with ground beef ready to go.

Now comes the 2nd question: How does Mrs. Dash Chili mix compare to homemade quick chili? Well, you’d still need a pound of ground meat, about 3 cups of liquid, and approximately 1½ cups of vegetables (beans, corn, hominy, etc.). You’d also need some chili powder.

Both Penzeys and Spice House carry salt free Chili con Carne seasoning blends. The Chili con Carne blends include chili powder, tomato powder, onion, garlic, and all the spices required to make a tasty (and quick) chili. The Spice House blend also contains arrowroot, a thickener.
Chili in a Bread Bowl
(made with leftover pork roast)

The difference between using the Mrs. Dash seasoning mix and using the Chili con Carne blends is flavor. The blends make chili that tastes like chili is supposed to taste. (Of course, you can use regular salt free chili powder and add a bit of dried onion, garlic, and cumin. The advantage of the blends is that everything is already included.) If you want a stronger tomato presence, then you can add a can of tomato sauce to the chili. If you don’t, you can use all beef broth.

To get the best taste without long cooking, simmer the flavored meat for at least 20 minutes. If desired, thickening can be accomplished by sprinkling a couple of tablespoons of flour over the ground beef and sautéing briefly just before adding the liquid. Or making a cornstarch slurry to add at the end. My favorite thickener is to add a couple of tablespoons of a masa slurry to simmer 5-10 minutes before serving.

CONCLUSION: Mrs. Dash Chili mix is a good product to use when you want to get a quick meal on the table. It cooks up super fast. The downside is that the chili flavor is lacking, it has a very strong tomato flavor, and it thickens so quickly that you have to be careful to avoid scorching it.

Homemade quick chili takes a little bit longer to cook but has a much better flavor. It’s almost just as easy as Mrs. Dash if you use one of the Chili con Carne blends from Penzeys or the Spice House.

My Two Cents: I won't buy another Mrs. Dash chili seasoning mix. I tried it, and it was OK, but, to me, the taste wasn't anything worth fixing again. I'd much rather spend a little more time and end up with a product that has a distinct and more developed chili flavor. Plus I really didn't like the ultra speedy thickening. I felt like I had no control over what was in my pot.

CAVEAT: Quick Chili is NOT to be confused with any long simmered chili. There’s no comparison. Quick Chili is simply something with a distinct chili flavor that can be made lickety split. The labors of love with chunks of beef simmered for hours in a strong chili sauce are for another time.

Want a basic recipe for low sodium Quick Chili? Click HERE!

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