Wednesday, May 9, 2012

A Chili State of Mind

“Chili is not so much food as a state of mind. Addictions to it are formed early in life and the victims never recover. On blue days in October, I get this passionate yearning for a bowl of chili, and I nearly lose my mind.” —Margaret Cousins, novelist 

Chili con carne or more commonly known simply as “chili” is a spicy stew containing chili peppers and meat. The only thing certain about the origins of chili is that it did not originate in Mexico. Charles Ramsdell, a writer from San Antonio wrote: “Chili, as we know it in the US, cannot be found in Mexico today except in a few spots which cater to tourists. If chili had come from Mexico, it would still be there. For Mexicans, especially those of Indian ancestry, do not change their culinary customs from one generation, or even from one century, to another.” If there is any doubt about what the Mexicans think about chili, the Diccionario de Mejicanismos, published in 1959, defines chili con carne as “detestable food passing itself off as Mexican, sold in the US from Texas to New York.”

The first documented recipe for chile con carne is dated September 2, 1519. The ingredients were boiled tomatoes, salt, chiles and meat. Bernal Diaz del Castillo, one of Hernan Cortez’s Captains and the source of the recipe, states in his book, that the Cholulan Indians, allied with the Aztecs, were so confident of victory in a battle against the Conquistadors the following day that they had “already prepared cauldrons of tomatoes, salt and chiles” in anticipation of a victory feast. The one missing ingredient, the meat, was to be furnished by the Conquistadors themselves: their own flesh.

For many, thoughts of a bowl of chili generate feelings much like those of Margaret Cousins expressed in the quote above. I count myself among them, and much like Louisiana gumbo, whenever and wherever I see chili listed on a menu the temptation to sample it is strong. Because it is long practiced, when I’m wearing the apron and stirring the pot no recipe is necessary, but one of the best (simple and uncomplicated) comes from The New York Times Cookbook. That’s not to say that other chili recipes are suspect, and I am always willing to give another one a spin, provided it isn’t overly avant-garde or nouvelle in terms of ingredients. Last week I made a gazpacho recipe from a cookbook called Andrew’s Favorite Soups for Wellness and Weight-Loss that turned out to be a tasty variation on the gazpacho standard. That same book has a recipe the writers call Hearty Turkey Chili.

To be clear, chili has traditionally never been compromised by anything less than beef, and the thought that early Texans might have substituted turkey is a crazy idea. But at the same time, early Texans paid little attention to the health hazards of eating a lot of red meat, a factor in many modern recipes. Still, I thought I would give turkey chili a whirl.

What you will need:
4 cups of cooked ground turkey
1 medium red onion chopped
1 cup green pepper chopped 
1 cup red pepper chopped
4 garlic cloves minced
1 package cherry tomatoes
1 can diced tomatoes
1 can kidney beans, rinsed
2 cans black beans, rinsed
2 tablespoons tomato paste
1½ cups chicken broth
2 tablespoons olive oil
2-4 tablespoons chili powder
1 tablespoon cumin (powder or seeds)
1 tablespoon red-hot chili pepper flakes (or ground red pepper)
1 teaspoon dried oregano
1 tablespoon salt
1 pinch ground pepper
6 ounces shredded white cheddar
1 cup fresh cream

In a 4-6 quart soup pot heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the onions and peppers, stirring until golden in color. Add the garlic, cumin, chili powder and red pepper, cooking for an additional 2 minutes. Add the tomatoes (both fresh and canned), tomato paste, chicken broth, rinsed beans, oregano, cooked turkey, salt and pepper and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to low and simmer for an hour. Serve in bowls and if desired, garnish with cheese and cream.

Feeling an hour’s simmer a little short, I allowed the chili to simmer a little longer to give the ingredients a better blend. Like the name says, this is a hearty meal and a small green salad or side dish of guacamole will be enough to round it out perfectly. The flavor of a chili made with turkey just may bring a pleasant surprise. Bon appétit!

1 comment:

  1. Oh, I would imagine those early Texas cowpokes and adventurous Louisiana pioneer folks probably had some sort of chili with any number of things: beef, pork, turkey, maybe even the basic incredients flavored with a squirrel or rabbit or rattlesnake. Can't you see an ad? Rattlesnake Chili Has a Real Bite!


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Oak Hill, Florida, United States
A longtime expat relearning the footwork of life in America