Posted by: Brad Nixon | November 10, 2020

National Chili Month: Post-Election Melting Pot Chili

Here in the United States, it’s time to mark the conclusion of our recent national election. Not all results are in, but — once again — our republic has voted.

Whatever the outcome, there may be no better way to celebrate our heritage of inclusive democracy than with one of our iconic, native dishes: chili.

Celebrating National Chili Month is a years-long tradition here at Under Western Skies, so let us make chili.

A Quick Review

One ingredient defines a dish as chili: It must contain some variety of the plant genus Capsicum — the chile or pepper. There are scores or hundreds of varieties of chiles, grown worldwide. They’re native to the Americas, cultivated here for thousands of years. All other chiles, everywhere, originated here.

With such a general description, chili accommodates all diets, from vegan to carnivore and in between. Debate ranges amongst chili aficionados regarding ingredients. A simple online search for “chili recipe” yields 760 million results.

The Melting Pot

As a native food, preternaturally adaptable, chili seems to be the perfect vehicle with which Americans can celebrate our range of heritages and traditions as we look forward to a continuation of our republic.

Not So Much a Recipe ….

In that spirit, this chili will differ from the dozen or more recipes I’ve featured at UWS over the past 11 years. It’s not so much a recipe as a frame of mind: a way of demonstrating our confidence that the longstanding claim that America’s a “melting pot” still holds true.

Simple, but Eminently Adaptable

I’ll make a basic chili from which you can extemporize.

Select a chile of whatever variety, level of heat or color. There are red, yellow, green, purple, orange and any number of other-colored peppers to choose from.

Tonight’s recipe uses chipotle, which is a smoked jalapeño pepper — common in the American southwest.

I’ll dice up that pepper, sizzle it with some diced onions (your choice: red, white, green, yellow) in a couple of tablespoons of olive oil, along with some other spices that, in this non-recipe-recipe, are entirely up to you and your taste buds.

I dithered between the red and yellow/brown onion we had on hand, and chose the yellow one. Ultimately, it’s simply a matter of taste and preference.

The UWS kitchen is primarily vegetarian. You can add meat, or — dare I suggest — tofu, if you want more protein. They and any veggies go in to cook after the chile, onion and spices have sizzled on low heat for a few minutes.

Here, the world lies before you, as chili demonstrates its almost universal flexibility. If you want your chili to represent a particular cultural, ethnic or geographic perspective, your choice of ingredients can produce Greek, Thai, Spanish, Indian or Scandinavian chili. All-inclusive, welcoming to all, a dish that originated in pre-Columbian prehistory is now not only the American food, but the world’s.

You are, according to your taste and inclination, going to build a multi-colored, multi-flavored chili that reflects the essential nature of the American melting pot. Your chili may include any number of vegetables, whether green, red, yellow, orange or purple (eggplant, anyone?), not to mention the option of tomatoes in a spectrum of colors and flavors.

Potatoes? Some chilis have them, whether (again) white, red, yellow, purple. Another product of the Americas, unknown anywhere else in the pre-Columbian world, potatoes are a native food, and … well, you’re getting the point.

I’m going to add beans. There are those who maintain that beans aren’t an essential chili ingredient. In a vegetarian kitchen, they provide not only flavor and texture, but protein. Most of the beans I commonly use are varieties of Phaseolus, and include kidney, black, garbanzo, navy or others).

Again, the point is that there are white, black, red, yellow … countless colors and flavors of beans.

Perhaps you see a pattern taking shape.

Simmer everything together for 10, 20, 30 minutes. Simmering is good. Don’t let them burn. Maybe the only rule that applies here.

Serve your chili with rice, lentils (endless colors available), polenta, cornbread, fresh-baked or bakery bread, tortillas or just with a simple salad from any corner of the globe.

What made it to the table here at Rancho Retro was the most basic of chilis, accompanied by a crisp green salad (although, to belabor a point, salads can be of almost any color) and a wedge of toasted pita bread.

You’re a sophisticated audience. I don’t have to draw you a chart or tell you how to compose your chili. You get the point I’m making.

Chiles, vegetables, spices may be red, white, orange, black, brown, purple, yellow or any shade in between. So are we.

However you accomplish it, in whatever combination of ingredients, flavors, colors, textures, seasoned with chile peppers, you’ve made one of probably one billion possible chilis, with more to be discovered.

Let us eat chili. Let’s celebrate the renewal of the republic, the world’s melting pot. We, like chili, come in all colors, but at least we have things in common.

For more Under Western Skies chili recipes, click on “Food” in the “Categories” column in the right-hand navigation bar. Happy cooking.

© Brad Nixon 2020


  1. English acquired the word chili from Spanish, which had taken it from Nahuatl (i.e. Aztec) chīlli. While the Spanish and sometimes English spelling is chile, the word therefore is unrelated to the name of the South American country Chile.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Steve: You know, I’d have to look back through a scad of pieces, but I don’t think I’ve ever written about the etymology of “chili/chile.” Now, that’s odd — one of those moments when I realize I simply haven’t been thinking critically. You’ve just saved me the effort and informed my group of readers, so thanks.


  2. A very creative post, but… I’d have a hard time recognizing tofu served over lentils as chili! It might be tasty, but I don’t think it would fly at Czhilispiel or rate a Viva! at Terlingua. Loving history as you do, you might enjoy this article. I was amazed to learn that one of my heros, Hallie Stillwell, was a judge at the first contest.

    Liked by 1 person

    • Yeh howdy, there’s nothing not to like about that link. Thanks. I knew OF the Terlingua event, but none of the details. H. Allen Smith? What a character. I’ve just looked at his bio, and I’m darned if I can remember which of his books I read, decades ago, and which not. All to do over again.
      While I’m perfectly capable of making a bowl of red that’ll sear your taste buds for months to come (and once did, with some habanero peppers we grew right here, and will never do THAT again), emphasis here is on subtlety. I do get the heat thing, though, and it must be quite a scene there in Terlingua. Happy eating. Try the tofu thing. Just don’t tell any fellow Texans. They need not know.


    • Linda, I’ve just gotten a note from Dad, reminding me that he and Mom met Hallie when they were traveling in Texas in ’93. She died in ’97, 2 days short of her 100th birthday. An absolute living legend, and big enough even for Texas, where everything’s big. Epithets in her obituary include “sharp-shooting ranch wife on horseback.”
      Drove a conestoga wagon into Alpine at 13, did a stint as teacher, newspaper columnist, justice of the peace, rode the range with a .45 on her hip and … well, you know the story.
      Sorry I didn’t meet her, myself.


  3. A very appropriate dish for a hotly contested election. Thanks.


  4. Great post. Yet for many of us there really is just one chili that matters. At least those of us weened on it at very young age.

    Liked by 1 person

  5. We love experimenting with chili at Chez Froggy! Loved this post as usual and I learned what chipotle peppers are! Love chipotles, just never knew what I was eating!

    Liked by 1 person

    • With all the chiles in the world, I’m certainly no expert! Glad you enjoyed it. Carry on, friend.

      Liked by 1 person

  6. By coincidence I made chili this week – just beans, no meat – but I’m the only one in my household that likes it!

    Liked by 1 person

    • The mind reels. Maybe they’ll come around. Have ’em try putting cheese on it. Sometimes that helps. Thanks for visiting.

      Liked by 1 person

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