Mixing the spices together before adding them to the chili helps to disburse them evenly. If you like your chili picante, use the larger amounts of the hot ingredients. The small amounts of molasses and balsamic vinegar add some complexity to this otherwise straightforward chili.
Make the chili
In a small bowl, combine the chili powder, cumin, paprika, oregano, and cayenne.
In a deep sauté pan or Dutch oven, heat about 1 Tbs. of the oil. Add the ground beef to the pan, breaking up the chunks of meat, season it with the 1 tsp. of salt, and cook, stirring occasionally until the meat is no longer pink. Drain the meat in a colander placed over a bowl to catch the grease.
Add another 1 Tbs. oil to the pan. Add the onion and chopped jalapeño and season with a pinch of salt. Cook, stirring occasionally, over medium-high heat until just tender, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook, stirring, for about 1 minute. Add another 1 Tbs. oil and the spices and cook, stirring for about 1 minute. Return the meat to the pan. Add the diced tomatoes and their juices and 1/4 cup water. Stir well and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to a simmer, cover, and cook for at least 20 minutes, although longer is fine. Stir in the beans and cook, uncovered, for another 15 to 20 minutes. Stir in the molasses and balsamic vinegar.
Make the nachos
Heat the broiler. Lay the tortilla chips on a small baking sheet. Top each with a few slices of jalapeño. Cover each chip with a small handful of cheese (about 1/8 cup for the large chips); it’s fine if the cheese doesn’t cover the chip completely. Slide the baking sheet under the broiler to melt the cheese and brown the edges of the chips slightly. Remove the nachos from the oven and let cool briefly while you plate the chili.
Divide the chili among four deep bowls. Stand a nacho or two in the chili. Top the chili with a dollop of sour cream and a sprinkling of cilantro leaves.
Photo: Scott Phlilips