I grew up in South Texas, where chili is a staple as revered as the country ham. It’s hearty, warming and spicy, fortifying after a long day for a cold night. There are some bases for ingredients, but again, this is a “to taste” recipe, largely due the different flavors and ingredients used in commercial chili powders.
While in Florida, my best friend Richard cooked a pot of his chili. We are former next-door neighbors and often held “chili battles” during the winter. I was partial to my recipe, but his is great as well. We often had a pot every Sunday during football season. As he is planning a visit for the Super Bowl, I will see if he will let me write about his recipe in February. Our readers can be the judges.
I started my pot by sautéing one large yellow onion and a heaping teaspoon of minced garlic. Brown ground meat as the onions sauté and drain the fat as completely as possible. I worry about cholesterol from time to time, and often use turkey instead of beef. The turkey takes the flavor of the chili well, though purists are welcome to use a better cut for ground beef, such as chuck or round. Season the meat with a little sea salt and fresh cracked pepper.
Once the meat is brown and the onions are translucent, then I went to work. I like a red chili, as it reminds me of a certain Texas brand that was often on our family’s table. To the beef and onions, add 32 oz (four small cans) of tomato sauce, and one small can of tomato paste, again to make the chili thick and hearty. I use canned tomatoes for my chili, adding a 16 oz. can of either whole or diced tomatoes, though two fresh tomatoes would work quite well. Add one green bell pepper, coarsely chopped, and for fun, a couple of sliced fresh jalapenos.
Beans… Everyone has an opinion about beans. Some say chili needs a lot of beans, while others avoid them all together. I like a few beans, just to make it look like chili. The beans absorb some of the flavor of the pot, and are a great source of protein. Vegetarians can skip the meat altogether and add extra beans. My chili takes one 16-oz can of drained red kidney beans. Bean lovers can add two, and I recommend three cans for vegetarians.
Now comes the tricky part- adding the spices. A good base is three tablespoons of commercial chili powder, one and a half teaspoons of cayenne pepper a teaspoon of cumin and about 10 dashes of hot sauce. Stir the pot well and see where you stand heat-wise. Hawkins doesn’t like his chili to be too hot, though my time in Texas gave me a very different idea of heat. My goal is to make it warm, though not painfully so, or to the point where it obscures the other flavors in the pot. If you like four-alarm chili, continue with the cayenne and the hot sauce until you are comfortable. The tomatoes and meat will absorb some of the fire. If you get the chili too hot, add another half can of tomato sauce.
Pretty conventional so far, right? Here’s where we get creative.
For the rest of this column, read this week's Cadiz Record.