A Passion for Chili

There are some fragrances that evoke feelings of comfort and well being in my mind whenever I smell them. Not surprisingly, they all revolve around food:
  • The unmistakeable scent of a long simmered tomato sauce.
  • The "down-to-earthiness" of onions and bacon sautéing for a pan of home fries.
  • The "feel-it-in-your-bones" healing of a pot of home made chicken soup on the back burner.

But I think the one thing that makes me feel that "all is right with the world" is the fragrance of a pot of chili simmering away the afternoon over a low flame. A smell that is redolent of all that is wonderful: cumin, oregano, chile, tomato and a blend of other flavours that marry exceptionally well.

It's really hard to pinpoint the exact moment when chili became a passion for me. They say most things are learned at the mother's knee, but with all due respect and apologies to mom, the closest we ever got to chili at home was dad's bi-weekly can of "Mary Miles Chili con carne". It's funny the things you remember, but I do remember never even being slightly tempted to try it back then.

Whenever it started, I admit to being a die-hard chili-head. The only other food I really feel this strongly about is onion soup. And though in both cases I am firmly entrenched in the belief that no one makes it better than I do, I am constantly compelled to try any other version that I come across. It's almost an obsession, but ooooohhhhhhhhhh, what a tasty obsession!!

It's my considered opinion that anyone who doesn't list chili among his or her favourite dishes, has never tasted good chili. And that is such a sad state of affairs. There IS no other perfect food. There is nothing as comforting and tummy pleasing. And, there's no other food that has engendered such controversy and passion as chili. Few other foods have a society dedicated to their appreciation, newspapers and magazines devoted solely to their preparation and enjoyment. No other food has well known chefs arguing over exact formulations.

A little light research told me the following interesting, little known, chili facts and information:

  • The first chili organization, The Chili Appreciation Society, International (CASI), was founded in the 1950's.
  • In 1966, Frank X Tolbert published a book called A Bowl of Red. In order to promote it, he and some friends organized the first chili "cook off" in Terlingua, Texas. The main attraction was to have been CASI chief cook Wick Fowler going up against well known restaurateur Dave Chasen. When Chasen fell ill, H. Allen Smith, a humourist who had written an article entitled "Nobody Knows More About Chili Than I Do" was enlisted. The competition ended in a tie.
  • In New Mexico, chili is pure. They traditionally serve a red chili puree or green chili stew with chunks of red meat and serve stewed beans on the side. Heavy on chile, light on meat, a New Mexico chili never contains any additional vegetables.
  • In Texas, and almost everywhere else, chili is coarse ground beef, chile, garlic, cumin and onions, sometimes including beans and tomatoes.
  • Two-time world champion C. V. Wood says that his secret is to soak the spices in beer. In fact, he advises simmering the spices in the beer then cooling them in the refrigerator overnight before adding them to your pot.
  • Frank X. Tolbert advises using only beef, onions, garlic, chili and cumin.

And, as varied as are its proponents, so too is the "quintessential" chili recipe. It's a never-ending debate. Do you add beans or not and if so are they red, kidney or pinto beans? Do you add corn flour to beef up the consistency? Do you add other meats or just use beef? Vegetables: some, lots, or none? There's a very dear friend of mine who says of chili: It must have beans . . . it must have beef and pork . . . it must have tomatoes . . . and lots of spices . . . no other vegetables . . . and nothing else . . . Of course, he hasn't tasted mine yet.

Good, bad, or indifferent, everyone has his or her own pet theory, I'm sure you have a favourite recipe as well. Try some or all of the following recipes. I picked some of the best chili minds to come up with them. The first one is my own recipe and I defend it to the death, but I have come up with some very good alternatives from friends, family and even further afield. Have a pot luck chili taste testing (invite several friends to bring their "never fail" version -- recipe included) and find one you absolutely love, or marry some of the best of each to come up with your own signature chili.

Either way you'll have some fun and great eating too!!

Oh . . . and remember something else my friend says: The most wonderful thing about chili . . . it's like sex . . . you don't have to be really good at it to enjoy it and the worst I've ever had was wonderful!!

Roxie's Chili

This makes a humungous pot . . . about 2/3 of my 18lt stock pot. When you make it, call the gang and have a party!! The Meat
  • 4 lbs chuck steak, cubed in about 1" pieces
  • 2 lbs lean pork, coarsely ground
  • 2 lbs lean ground veal
The Vegetables
  • 1 med red onion, diced
  • 1 med Spanish onion, diced
  • 6 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 6 jalapeno peppers, chopped seeds and all
  • 2 (3 or more) chipotle peppers, chopped
  • 1 28oz can diced tomatoes
  • 1 14oz can tomato puree
  • 3 19oz cans pinto beans
The Spices
  • 3 tbsp ground cumin
  • 1 1/2 tbsp ground coriander
  • 3 tsp oregano
  • 3 tsp basil
  • 1 tbsp cayenne pepper
  • 2 tbsp Mexican chili powder
  • 1 tbsp Chinese chili paste (ok ok . . . so sue me!!)
The Secret
  • 2 bottles cerveza (approximately)

In a large heavy pot -- I use an 18lt cast aluminum stockpot -- brown your meat in small batches until nicely browned and set it aside.

Then, in the same pot, sauté the onion, garlic and peppers till softened, add the diced tomatoes and tomato puree and simmer about 20 minutes. Return the meat to the pot and add enough of the beer to just cover everything. Add the spices, bring to a boil and gently simmer for 45 minutes or until the cubes of beef are tender. Taste for seasoning and adjust to your liking, add the beans and a bit more beer or water if necessary and simmer for about 30 minutes more. Taste again to adjust for seasoning -- at this point if I find it needs more spiciness, and this is entirely dependant on who I'm making it for, I add more chili paste or use Sambal Oelek and just allow it to heat through.

Serve with cornbread, soft tortillas and lots of sour cream and shredded cheese.

Grama's Chili

Grama's Chili -- for Lucille Caudle
When I asked "Mizz" (our very own Patty Waage of Home Cookin' fame) to send me her best chili recipe, this is what she said: "hehehe chili, hmm!!" and then she sent me her gramma's recipe . . . she learned from a master she says!!
  • 2-3 lbs. ground beef or venison -- Mizz prefers a mix
  • 2 onions -- chopped
  • 2 beef bouillon cubes
  • 1 can stewed tomatoes - or use your own homemade version
  • 1 can tomato soup or sauce
  • 1 can beans - choose your favourite variety or a mix
  • chilli powder
  • onion powder
  • garlic powder
  • ground pepper

Cover the meat and onions with water and add a couple of bouillon cubes; simmer until the meat is browned. Drain the liquid broth off into a jar or other container and set aside.

Add the stewed tomatoes (we make our own, crushed tomatoes, peppers, celery and onions) and simmer that down. Add some undiluted tomato soup or sauce to thicken. Add beans and continue simmering to thicken and blend the flavors.

Add dashes of chili powder, onion powder, garlic powder and pepper to taste (try to stay away from salt since the canned tomatoes have salt), then slowly add in the reserved broth a little at a time and simmer it down.

You can use additional broth to thin it out if it gets to thick. Mizz likes to use the venison for this "cuz it's not as greasy". You can put the broth in the fridge before returning it to the pot to let the fat solidify so it can be skimmed off before being added to the chili. Sprinkle the chili with shredded Monterey Jack cheese and serve with corn bread, lots of crackers, toast with butter or margarine.

  • Preparation Time: about 2 hours

Chili the Foxxy Way

Those of you who have been reading my efforts for a while will remember my trip to Dallas and my friend Brenda Everroad's contributions to some articles and columns on TexMex and Texas BBQ. So of course you know that I would never do a chili feature without picking her brains. Here's her version.
  • 1 lb ground beef browned and drained
  • 1 onion chopped
  • 4 jalapeno peppers, seeded and chopped
  • 4 tbsp chili powder
  • 1 large can of tomatoes
  • 1 large can of pinto beans
  • 1 large can of tomato sauce
  • 3 cans (kinda like rinse out the cans) of water

Combine the beef, onion, peppers and chilli powder; simmer until tender.

Add the remaining ingredients and bring to a boil and simmer for 2 - 3 hours. Serve with crackers and butter and lots of iced tea!

Sharon's Chili

Sharon Dillingham lives in Florida by way of Missouri through Arkansas, I love listening to her talk!! She's a great cook and a very good friend. This is her signature chili.
  • 2 qts of stewed tomatoes, crushed
  • 1qt of spicy V 8 juice
  • 1 large white onion, chopped (1 cup)
  • 2 cups of chopped celery
  • 2 cans of red kidney beans, drained
  • 2 lbs hamburger meat
  • 3 tsp of chili powder
  • 1 tsp chopped fresh garlic
  • salt and pepper to taste

Into a heavy skillet add a little olive oil, put onion, garlic and celery in and cook till onions are clear. Then add hamburger meat and cook till brown, drain.

Into a deep pot put the tomatoes juice and spices then add your cooked meat mixture. Add beans and simmer for about two hours covered. This works very well using venison too.

Chasen's Restaurant Chili

This was Elizabeth Taylor's favourite chili. Rumour has it that she and Richard Burton used to have it flown to whatever location they happened to be working at.
  • 1/2 cup pinto beans, washed and soaked overnight
  • 5 cups canned tomatoes
  • 1 lb chopped green pepper
  • 1 1/2 tbsp oil
  • 1 1/2 lbs chopped onion
  • 2 cloves garlic, crushed
  • 1/2 cup chopped parsley
  • 1 lb lean ground pork
  • 2 1/2lbs chili grind beef chuck
  • 1/2 cup chili powder
  • 2 tbsp salt
  • 1 1/2 tsp black pepper, cumin seeds and msg (Accent)

Simmer beans in soaking water until tender. Add tomatoes and simmer for five minute. Sauté the green peppers in oil for five minutes. Add onions and cook until tender, stirring often. Add garlic and parsley. Sauté the pork and beef in butter for 15 minutes. Add the meat to the vegetable mixture, stir in the chili powder and cook for ten minutes. Then put in the beans and spices and simmer, covered, for one hour. Uncover the pot and simmer for another 30 minutes. Skim off the grease. That's it!

  • Yields: 8 servings
Chili Combos
  • All over the country chili can be found lending its zing to the humble hot dog (chili dog) and the all American burger (chili burger),
  • Cincinnati Chili is served over spaghetti.
  • In Louisville, KY, they stir in broken tamales.
  • In Kansas City, they serve it over elbow macaroni, sometimes baking them to make the well known school lunch favourite, Chili-Mac.
  • In Dallas, they make a concoction of chili over Fritos, cheese and onions and call it Frito Pie.
Chili Go Withs
  • Complement the flavour of chili with avocado and lime slices, raw celery and carrot sticks, chopped onion, finely chopped jalapeno pepper, dill pickles, tostadas or soft tortillas.
  • Mix some limejuice into sour cream and sprinkle it with fresh chopped coriander.
  • Serve bowls of shredded Monterey Jack or Cheddar cheese and guacamole.
  • Serve it over chunks of corn bread -- my personal favourite!!
Chili Cool Downs
  • A friend tells me that he learned from a Mexican senorita that the best antidote for the "unfortunate" side effects of a bean bearing chili is to drink a carbonated beverage.
  • As an aficionado of anything hot and spicy, I can tell you from experience that the only true way to combat the "fire on your tongue" is to follow it with bread or with a dairy product. Hence the tendency to serve chili with corn breads, soft tortillas, sour cream and the like.
  • Also, when serving chili, always have plenty of beverages on hand. Sangria makes a great accompaniment as does a hearty red wine. Beer makes a great combination with chili, especially a good Mexican cerveza served frosty cold with lime.
  • And, while we're on the subject of salt and lime, let's not forget the Margarita. A refreshing mix of tequila and lime juice, it's the perfect partner for a robust chili.

I look forward to hearing about your chili exploits. March and its blustering weather is the perfect month for experimentation. Let me know which chili is YOUR chili.


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