The changing seasons herald steaming bowls of Chili. The instable weather of the coming Spring and of Autumn’s end are the times to sit down to this gut-warming classic of Capsicum hot peppers.
I love coffee, I love tea
I love the java jive and it loves me
Coffee and tea and the java and me
A cup, a cup, a cup, a cup, a cup
Boston bean (soy beans)
Green bean (cabbage and greens)
I’m not keen about a bean
Unless it is a chili chili bean (boy!)
– “Java Jive”
During the Great Depression of the 1930s, Chili became a life-saving meal for many because it could be made cheaply for hordes of hungry people. This stick-to-the-ribs dish was often served along with a cup of Joe, as this song from that era reflects. Chili, though, is a dish much older than the Great Depression.
In fact, two huge questions loom about Chili: What is it and what are its origins?
For most United Statiens, Chili is a spicy stew of red kidney beans, ground beef, tomatoes and lots of hot chili with other spices with its roots in Texas and the US Southwest – all formerly part of the Mexico.
The International Chili Society response to the query seems to support this. It states, “The mixture of meat, beans, peppers, and herbs was known to the Incas, Aztecs, and Mayan Indians long before Columbus and the conquistadores.”
And indeed, in ole Mexico, you will find beans spiced with lots of Capsicum and some pork fat back thrown in. But if you ask a Mexican about what United Statiens call Chili, you’ll most likely get a blank stare and a fierce denial that the dish has its roots south of the Río Bravo.
North of that river (called the Rio Grande by those Anglos on the other side), Texas claims Chili as its official state dish. According to legend, this Tex-Mex standard was born on the broad Texas plains during cattle drives. It was a dish easy to throw together over the evening campfire. And ask any down-home Texan, and you’ll get the emphatic answer that chili is ONLY meat and hot chili peppers – no beans and no tomatoes.
No matter – here’s my recipe, ideal for the hostel kitchen or on your camp stove. I’m a devoted chili bean aficionada, which makes this dish perfect for vegans, vegetarians – and yes, even carnivores!
Estimated cooking time: 20-30 minutes
For: Vegans, Vegetarians, Carnivores
2 tablespoons of oil
1 pound / ½ kilogram of beef (ground, or cut into 1/2 –inch / 1.5-centimeter chunks) – optional
1 large onion, diced
1 large green pepper, diced
2-3 cloves of garlic, finely minced
3 large tomatoes, diced
1 teaspoon salt
1 can of red or kidney beans
2-3 tablespoons chili powder and/or 1 hot pepper, minced
Heat the oil in a 3-liter pot. Add onion (and beef) and sauté until golden. Add the green pepper and garlic, sautéing until soft. If using fresh chili pepper, toss in and sauté until the aroma rises. Add the tomatoes and salt; sauté until tomatoes begin to juice.
Throw in the can of beans plus one can of water, and the chili powder. Mix well. Turn down the heat and allow the flavors to merge, about 15 to 20 minutes, stirring occasionally.
Serve hot with crackers crumbled in or with cornbread.
- In Mexico and Central America, the chili pepper is properly called chile (pronounced chee-lay). In South America, it is called ají (pronounced ah-hee).
- Chili powder can be difficult to find in some Latin American countries. When you find it, stock up! Note: Avoid ají para seco in Ecuador; this is primarily a coloring for food and has no kick.
- For extra seasonings, you may also add cumin (comino) or oregano (oregano).
- Vegetarians can add gluten, soy or other vegetable protein if they like.
- Some folk like to toss in diced carrot, zucchini, corn or other vegetables.
And for something different ….
- For a one-pot meal: After about 10 minutes, layer the top with cornbread batter. Cook covered for 15 minutes more, until the cornbread springs back when lightly touched. Do not stir the chili!
- You can also mix in ½ cup of quinoa with the beans. Increase water to 2 ½ cans.