It’s National Chili Month. That is good news here, because we love chili. And with the southern edge of Los Angeles in the chill grip of a rainy October evening, it’s chili weather. Finding that a Google search returns only 795,000 hits for “chili recipe,” clearly there is a need for one more offering in the cybersphere.
Those of you who have eaten at Rancho Retro, or dined with its chef de cuisine, The Counselor, already have anticipated that this will be a vegetarian chili. Fear not, oh ye carnivores, you can easily wander out to the pen, slaughter a hog, cow, chicken, turkey, goat or whatever other living creature seems appetizing today and toss in a few chunks.
However, meat is not the ne plus ultra of chili; chilis are. One site I checked, http://www.slashfood.com, even informs us that this is also Vegetarian Awareness Month. I was unaware of that fact. Well, we’re not campaigning here, but it is a nice coincidence. For any carnivores unclear on the distinction between chili and barbecue, I’ll clarify. Barbecue IS typically meat-based, and relies upon the application of seasoning and sauce in the preparation and/or cooking/serving of same. It almost always includes cooking either outdoors or at least over an open fire, and usually with wood or charcoal. Chili is a food that relies upon one or more of the fruits of genus capsicum — chili peppers — to provide flavor to a stew-like combination of ingredients that can include just about any combinations of vegetable and/or meat. There are plenty of chilis that include meat, but the distinguishing feature is the use of chili peppers.
On, then, to tonight’s chili. We’re going rather basic, but, really, one of chili’s chief appeals is that it IS basic food that doesn’t need a lot of fancy cooking, unless you really want to do a lot of extra work. And, even though The Counselor provides the primary cooking creativity and expertise at this joint, I do know a bit about the craft, and so I’m not just copying down things from the distaff side, in case you wondered. I’m not much of a baker or preparer of the finer foods, but, chili? In my wheelhouse!
You need a good knife, a big pot, and you are ready.
We call this one Holiday Party Chili.
1-2 TBSP olive or safflower oil. 1 onion (or 2, if you love onions); a few cloves of minced garlic, depending upon your tolerance; 2 Anaheim or other mild green chilis, chopped; 1 jalapeno chili (or 2, depending on your heat Jones), chopped; 1 red pepper, chopped; 14 oz. can of low-sodium diced tomatoes plus 3 fresh tomatoes, diced (drain those if they seem watery); 2 cups of frozen corn kernels; 1 can tomato paste; 1 can black beans (we’re doing black beans tonight: pick your own color; double this if you love beans or have to feed more people); 2 TBSP chili powder (more if you love it; hint: put in 1 TBSP first, cook for a while, then taste before adding all of it); 2 TSP Mexican oregano; 3/4 cup red wine or vegetable broth or just water.
Heat the oil in a big heavy-bottomed pot. Add the onion, garlic, and all the peppers. Cover and cook about 10 minutes until everything’s softened, stirring every minute or so.
Add the tomatoes, corn, wine/broth/water, tomato paste, chili powder, oregano and stir well. Bring it to a boil, lower the heat and simmer until the vegetables are tender, probably 20-30 minutes. Stir it every couple of minutes, or however often you need in order to feel like you’re in charge. Taste it somewhere in here to make certain you have enough spice. If it’s TOO spicy for you, add a teaspoon of sugar. Note that this recipe doesn’t add salt. If you like your chili saltier, it’s up to you. Not responsible for results.
Put those canned beans in at the end, maybe 10 minutes out and stir them in. If you’re using dried beans, you’re on your own. Add water if you find the chili getting too dry. This recipe will give you a delicious chili that will make the house smell good for the next two days but will not burn your mouth or make you perspire unduly. If you WANT to burn your mouth or perspire more, add more chili powder or jalapenos. If you really want to hurt yourself, substitute a habanero chili for the jalapeno or some Tien Tsin chilis from China, but then that is probably a different recipe altogether and Under Western Skies will accept no responsibility for results of amateurs messing around with chilis over 50,000 Scoville units.
We served our chili on top of The Counselor’s homemade polenta (there’s 1/4 cup of Asiago cheese cooked in there), courtesy of her Italian grandfather, Bernard. It’s a great alternative to another wonderful side, corn bread. Also rice, quinoa or couscous make good accompaniments.
We served it garnished with a little parsley.
I went looking to uncover who DECLARED this to be National Chili Month. I have no clue. I found the International Chili Society, which sanctions cookoffs, and lists them on the site. They say that February 25 is National Chili Day. However, they’re kind of stuffy, since they only seem to acknowledge red chili with meat. Their rules SPECIFY that “good chili is never yellow or green.” I say they’re wrong, but they can make their own rules, I guess. I think as long as the flavor of a stew-like concoction comes from genus capsicum, it’s chili.
There’s also CASI, the Chili Appreciation Society International. In addition to, they say, raising money for charity, they’re committed to getting chili recognized as the “Official Food of the United States.” Now there is something to devote your life to. Hmm… according to their site, out of an operating budget of $250,000 for their annual cookoff, they gave $60,000 to charity after expenses. With administrative costs like that, you might as well donate to the United Way. They hold their annual cookoff in Terlingua, Texas.
If you’re looking for an excellent basic guide to vegetarian chili, I recommend The Vegetarian Chili Cookbook, by Robin Robertson. She provides an excellent variety of recipes from basic to ambitious, familiar to exotic, in a straightforward, inexpensive book. Don’t worry, carnivores, you can always add some meat.
To see other Under Western Skies chili posts and recipes, click these links:
Three Fast Sisters Chili (2011)
Vegetarian Cincinnati Chili (2011)