Although Texans live next door, we are miles apart when it comes to cooking. Two ingredients bring us together, however, and they are beans and peppers, usually prepared very differently except for one big dish – chili.
With some cooks, even chili has its differences. Louisiana folks love their beans and usually tuck some kidney or pinto beans into theirs, while a lot of Texans say beans have no place in the dish.
Personally, I like the beans along with meat, peppers and tomatoes cooked slowly together with a few spices and fresh peppers. Known in Texas as a bowl of red, chili matches well with cornbread or crackers on the side and can be topped with cilantro, grated cheese and/or avocado chunks. Warm tortillas add a Tex-Mex touch.
A pot of chili helps take the chill out of winter, serves a multitude of Bowl game watchers and is a good standby for crowds. There are legends about its origin, but most agree it was invented in Texas, not Mexico, hundreds of years ago as an inexpensive way to stew together a little meat with a lot of peppers.
When you’re looking for snacks or feeding a family, don’t stop at the chili bowl. The many ways to serve chili include chili mac, which means spooning chili over macaroni or other pasta; topping hot dogs or hamburgers; adding it to a bag of Fritos, still in the bag; blanketing French fries; saucing enchiladas, or serving inside and over an omelet. My husband invented his own dish – chili and eggs – and served many a late night crowd with soft scrambled eggs alongside a bowl of chili. Not bad.
Some cooks make chili with bison, venison or chicken. Some versions are so hot, they have names like Leatherthroat Chili. Myths surround the dish, contests abound, and there are those who say eating chili makes you sleep better. The only thing I know for sure is that having a having a large zip-lock of chili in your freezer sure can come in handy.
CHILI CON CARNE WITH BEANS
2 pounds beef chuck or seven steaks or other ribboned beef
4 thick slices bacon
Oil, if needed
1 large onion, chopped
1 bunch green onions
1 bell pepper, chopped
½ jalapeno pepper or more, if desired, chopped
1 each poblano and Anaheim peppers, chopped
6 cloves garlic, minced
2 14.5-ounce cans whole plum tomatoes with liquid
3 cups beef stock, homemade, canned or made from roasted beef base
2 15.5-ounce cans pinto beans, preferably Trappey’s*
1 cup Abita amber beer
Sea salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste
2 teaspoons cumin
1 teaspoon paprika
1 tablespoon chili powder
2 tablespoons masa harina, corn flour or cornmeal for thickening, if desired
Optional garnishes: Avocado in chunks, sour cream, shredded cheese, chopped green onions, cilantro, sliced red or yellow pepper.
1. Cut beef into ½-inch cubes and sprinkle with salt and pepper. In a large, heavy pot, fry bacon until crisp, remove from pot and place on paper towels. In grease left from bacon, brown beef cubes on all sides and remove from pot.
2. If more oil is needed, add a tablespoon or two. Add onions and peppers to pot and saute until wilted, stirring occasionally. Add garlic and saute another minute. Add liquid from tomatoes, and chop tomatoes before adding. Add stock and return meat and bacon to the pot. Add beans, beer and seasonings and mix well. Cover and simmer over low heat for 2 hours, stirring occasionally. Taste and adjust seasonings. Toward the end of cooking, add thickening agent, if desired. Skim any excess fat from surface and discard.
3. Serve with optional toppings and cornbread, crackers or tortillas. Serves 6 to 8.
*Trappey’s liquid is thickened. Drain first if using a brand of beans in water.
A Crock-Pot is the best tool for serving hot dishes at winter parties. Use a large one for gumbo, chili, red beans or jambalaya. A hot dip such as crab, spicy cheese, artichoke or spinach stays warm in a small one.