Friday, February 26, 2010


Chili is a spicy meat stew, which originated in the North American southwest, probably in Texas, but possibly in Mexico.  Texas makes claim to chili con carne, literally “peppers with meat,” and their legislature has designated it as the official state dish, so let’s give Texas the credit for inventing it.  Mexico’s claim on chili is supported by the fact that most of the peppers used in chili came from Mexico, but the dish is not part of their culinary tradition, and, therefore, the nod goes to Texas.

Chili is made with chilies, peppers from the nightshade family, and most often from the genus Capsicum, which include a pungent chemical, capsaicin, which gives chilies their heat.  The capsaicin is primarily concentrated in the chilies’ seeds and placenta, the white pithy membrane that bears the seeds.  By removing these seeds and the placenta, the heat of the pepper is greatly diminished.

Chili is one of those dishes that people love to argue about, particularly about what ingredients one uses in their chili.  In Texas, chili is made without any beans or tomatoes, which many people believe to be an intricate part of any good chili.  In Texas the chili may contain no other vegetables besides the peppers and the beef, either cubed or ground, however it also commonly includes onions, garlic, and cumin, and frequently masa, used as a thickening agent.  Outside of Texas, it is not uncommon to find that beans, usually red kidney beans, are added, and most people also associate the inclusion of tomatoes as a staple in any good chili recipe.  By some accounts, beans were added by Cincinnati cooks, and many popular chili recipes now include beans as a standard ingredient.  You might get incarcerated in Texas if you include them, so pick your chili fights carefully.

The meat used in most often beef, however venison is not unusual in rural areas, and turkey and chicken are used in concert with great northern beans for while chili.  Mexicans make a chili verde, a green chili, which includes pork stewed in a chicken broth with tomatillos, garlic and roasted green chilies.  Vegetarian chili may contain such items as tofu or some textured vegetable protein, but corn and beans combine to form a whole protein, so their inclusion is fairly common, although many other vegetables show up, including squash, mushrooms, carrots, beets and/or parsnips. 

Most northern people tend to use chili powder as the seasoning in their chili, although dried chilies are available and enterprising cooks will seek them out for use in chili.  If you choose to do so, or use fresh chilies during their growing season in the summer, protect yourself by using gloves to handle the peppers.  A small amount of capsaicin, which is oily and hard to wash off surfaces, whether your hands, knives or cutting surfaces, left on your fingertips can cause immense irritation if rubbed in the eye, so be careful. 

You can control the heat of your chili when using the peppers by removing the seeds and the placental tissue.  If you like it hotter, leave them in.

Beef & Sausage Chili
20 Servings

¼ Cup Extra Virgin Olive Oil
1 lb. Onions, coarsely chopped
1 lb. Italian sausage, removed from casings
4 lb.  Beef chuck, ground
2 tsp. Pepper, ground
1 12 oz. can Tomato paste
1 ½ Tbl. Garlic, minced
1 ½ oz. Cumin seed
2 oz.  Chili powder
¼ Cup Dijon mustard
2 Tbl.  Basil, dried
2 Tbl.  Oregano, dried
3 lbs.  Canned Italian-style tomatoes, drained
¼ Cup Burgundy wine
1/8 Cup Lemon juice
¼ Cup Fresh dill, chopped
¼ Cup Italian parsley, chopped
1 ½ lb  Red kidney beans, soaked and cooked
5 oz. Black olives, pitted

Heat the oil in a large kettle.  Add the onions and saut√© over low heat for 10 minutes.  Crumble in the sausage meat and ground beef and cook over medium-high heat, stirring often, until the meats are well browned.  Skim off any excess fat.

Lower the heat and add the black pepper, tomato paste, garlic, cumin seed, chili powder, mustard, salt, basil, and oregano.  Add the drained tomatoes, Burgundy wine, lemon juice, dill, parsley and the cooked kidney beans.  Stir well and simmer 15 minutes.

Correct the seasoning and add the olives, simmering 5 more minutes.

Garnish with sour cream, chopped onions and grated cheddar cheese.  Serve with beer.

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