For a hearty and satisfying dish to heat things up, a piping hot bowl of chili crowned with a blanket of melted cheese and a dollop of sour cream, and flanked by a pile of crisp tortilla chips, fits the bill. Chili is requisite winter fare; and if you’re planning a Superbowl party, chili is a must at your halftime buffet.
The Spanish nomenclature of chili con carne translates to chili peppers with meat. All chilies traditionally contained chili peppers, beef, onions and spices. Variations of chili have evolved to include beans and tomatoes, chicken instead of beef or no meat at all. These varied ingredient listings have led to heated controversy, each camp emphatically denouncing the next. Chili’s United States debut transpired in Texas. The Texas-style ‘bowl of red’ contains no beans and only chunks of beef are utilized as ground beef is forbidden. If your tendency is to avoid controversial subjects of conversation such as religion, politics or taxes, either steer clear of big belt buckle, ten-gallon hat and cowboy boot clad individuals or else add chili to that list of taboo topics. If, however, you are one of those brave gluttons for punishment, there are chili cook-off competitions that take place annually throughout the United States, where each participant firmly stands their ground as they boast to making the best “real” chili of all.
I find that such stringent rules of cooking accomplish little more than to stifle creativity and these ingredient police a threat to the inventions of new and exciting variations. Luckily for us epicureans, they are in the minority. Vegetarians now indulge in the spicy stew by omitting the meat and adding more beans and vegetables. Green chili, or chili verde, is a very spicy Mexican version incorporating several varieties of green chilies including jalapenos, poblanos, serranos and even habaneros when an extra kick is desired. Chili verde typically contains pork rather than beef, and no tomatoes. White chili is a nice change of pace, substituting white beans for the usual red kidney and/or pinto beans, and containing chicken instead of beef; once again, no tomatoes.
Chili is usually presented with toppings and accompaniments. Toppings can include cheese such as cheddar or Monterey Jack, sour cream, sliced jalapenos or chopped scallions. Accompaniments usually come in the form of chips for dipping, tortilla chips or corn chips being the most-desired dippers.
I have finally come up with the perfect quick combination for a stellar chili, using two kinds of beans, two cheeses and chipotle chili powder. It is very quick and easy to prepare, and it can stand alone as a one-dish meal washed down with a good beer or margarita.
Chili (6-8 servings)
2 onions, chopped
2 lbs. ground beef
4 cloves garlic, chopped
½ cup orange juice
½ cup tequila
1 cup beer
2 4-ounce cans diced green chilies
2 15-ounce cans chopped tomatoes, undrained
1 15-ounce can red kidney beans, drained and rinsed
1 15-ounce can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
1 6-ounce can tomato paste
1 teaspoon chili powder
1 teaspoon chipotle chili powder
½ teaspoon ground cumin
¼ teaspoon ground cloves
2 cups shredded cheddar cheese
2 cups shredded Monterey jack cheese
Sour cream, for serving
Tortilla chips or corn chips, for serving
Cook onion, garlic and ground beef in a stockpot or Dutch oven over medium-high heat until all of the meat is browned. Add the orange juice, tequila, beer, chilies, tomatoes, beans, tomato paste, and the spices. Stir to combine and then bring to a boil. Reduce heat, cover and simmer for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the two cheeses in a serving bowl.
Ladle chili into soup bowls. Top each serving with cheese. At the table, serve with a dollop of sour cream if desired, and serve chips alongside for dipping.
Chili, like most stews, tastes better the next day. This is a perfect meal to prepare ahead for a busy evening later in the week. Next time it’s blustery outside, start simmering the pot of chili on the stove just before your family is due home. From the first spoonful, the heat as well as the spicy kick will instantly warm up everyone at your dinner table, because nothing chases the chillies away like a bowl of chili!