- The Washington Times - Tuesday, February 13, 2007

I love making chili, and I have made more than my share.

During the past decade I’ve created chili recipes, competed in a chili cook-off and even opened a chili parlor in Denver called the Squad Car Cafe & Chili Parlor: Chili so good, it’s a crime.

I’m not alone in my passion. Chili is an all-American dish in all its variations. In many ways, chili could be regarded as America’s stew.

Food historians say that chili was invented in the mid-1800s in San Antonio. In the late 1800s, it fostered a cottage industry of sorts with the advent of chili queens. Women with small carts would set up tables and sell chili late into the evening in the city’s mercado, an outdoor marketplace that had few rules and lots of rule-breakers. The chili queens toiled until 1943, when health regulations forced them to close down.

Some early chilies were a blend of dried beef, beef fat, chili powder, spices and salt compressed into blocks. The salt acted as a preservative, and prospectors carried the dried blocks as far as California, then reconstituted the chili with water and ate it months after it originally was made.

Today, chili is the official dish of Texas, but it has moved far beyond the state’s borders. In “Chili Nation” (Broadway Books), Jane and Michael Stern offer recipes from all 50 states. Those are just a drop in the bucket. There are countless versions of chili, along with perhaps thousands of chili cook-offs, where cooks compete for money or bragging rights.

Generally, today’s chili is a thick, gravy-based stew containing meat, onions, tomatoes and spices. Many versions feature beans, although chili purists abhor their inclusion. I like chili either way.

America’s stew is similar to most stews of the world. It has a foundation to which varied ingredients are combined with gentle and deliberate simmering. Like most great stews, chili is better the next day and even better the day after that.

Some like it hot, others not. From bells to jalapenos, Anaheims to habaneros, chili peppers are a common ingredient.

I believe chili is about overall flavor, not the intensity of the peppers. That’s not to say I like bland chili. Indeed, I insist on some heat, a bit of sweat on the brow. You won’t find me adding hot sauce to a bowl of commercially prepared chili, but a dash of crushed red pepper can throttle it up.

With winter upon us, remember that when it is chilly, it’s easy to warm up to a bowl of chili.

Bison (buffalo) red chili

2 pounds ground bison

½ cup chopped onion

½ cup chopped green bell pepper

1/4 cup olive oil

½ cup sherry

1 15-ounce can chili beans

1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained

1/3 cup dried black beans, cooked, or 1 15-ounce can black beans, rinsed and drained

1 15-ounce can crushed tomatoes

1 6-ounce can tomato paste

1/4 cup chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

½ teaspoon kosher salt

3 cloves garlic, minced

½ teaspoon smoked paprika

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

Hot sauce

In a large pot, saute bison, onion and bell pepper in olive oil over medium-high heat until onion is translucent and meat is cooked through. Drain off any fat. Add sherry and simmer about 5 minutes, or until half of sherry evaporates.

Stir in chili beans and their liquid, kidney beans, black beans, tomatoes and their juice, tomato paste, chili powder, cumin, salt, garlic, paprika and cayenne pepper. Simmer for 1 hour. Just before serving, add hot sauce to taste.

Makes 8 servings.

Black and white turkey chili

1 jalapeno chili

Nonstick cooking spray, optional

1/3 cup olive oil

1 large onion, diced

2 tablespoons chopped garlic

1 pound boneless, skinless turkey breast, cut in 1/4-inch cubes

1/4 cup masa harina (see note)

1 8-ounce can diced green chilies

½ cup flour

1 tablespoon ground cumin

1 tablespoon dried oregano

½ teaspoon cayenne pepper

4 cups fat-free, reduced-sodium chicken broth

½ pound dry black beans, cooked and drained or 1 15-ounce can, cooked and drained

½ pound dry navy beans, cooked and drained or 1 15-ounce can, cooked and drained

½ cup chopped fresh cilantro

If desired, roast the jalapeno. To do so: preheat oven to 450 degrees. Place jalapeno on a wire rack coated with nonstick spray and roast for 10 to 20 minutes, or until blistered and partially blackened. Place in a paper bag for 10 minutes. Then, wearing rubber gloves, peel and remove stem and seeds and chop the chili.

If not roasting the jalapeno, remove stem and seeds; chop. (For extra heat, don’t remove the seeds before chopping the pepper.) Set chopped jalapeno aside.

Heat oil in a large pot over medium-high heat, add onion and saute for 3 minutes. Add garlic and saute for 2 minutes. Dredge (lightly coat) turkey in masa harina. Reduce heat to medium; add turkey and any remaining masa harina to the pot. Cook, stirring, 5 to 7 minutes.

Stir in canned chilies and jalapeno. Sprinkle with flour, cumin, oregano and cayenne pepper and stir to combine. Slowly stir in broth. Bring to a boil, then reduce to a simmer and cook for 40 minutes, stirring occasionally. Stir in beans and cilantro; cook 5 minutes. Makes 4 to 6 servings.

Note: Masa harina is a type of corn flour sold at Hispanic markets and some supermarkets.

Mexican green chili

2 pounds fresh poblano chilies

2 jalapeno chilies

Water

½ cup olive oil

2 pounds onions, chopped

2 pounds pork loin, cut in 3/4-inch cubes

3 tablespoons finely chopped garlic

3/4 cup masa harina (see note)

½ cup flour, divided

8 cups chicken broth

2 15-ounce cans diced tomatoes

2 tablespoons Aleppo chili flakes (see note)

1 tablespoon ground dried oregano

2 teaspoons ground cumin

Salt

Freshly ground black pepper

1 ½ cups cooked black beans or 1 15-ounce can, rinsed and drained, optional

Place poblano and jalapeno chilies on oven rack in preheated 450-degree oven and roast until they blister, about 20 to 30 minutes. Transfer to a paper bag or airtight container; let sit for 30 minutes. Wearing rubber gloves, remove and discard pepper skins and stems. For a less spicy chili, remove and discard seeds. Place peppers in food processor. Add 1/4 cup water and process until pureed.

Heat oil over medium-high heat. Add onion, pork and garlic and saute until onions are translucent. Reduce heat to medium-low.

Stir in masa harina and 1/4 cup all-purpose flour. Mixture should resemble wet sand; if not, add more flour or olive oil. Pour in chicken broth and pepper puree. Stir in tomatoes and their juice, Aleppo pepper, oregano, cumin, and salt and pepper to taste. Simmer for 1 hour, stirring frequently, until pork is tender but not mushy. Just before chili is done, stir in beans and heat.

Makes about 12 servings.

Note: Masa harina is a type of corn flour sold at Hispanic markets and some supermarkets. Crushed Aleppo chili flakes are from a fruity and only moderately hot pepper available in Middle Eastern markets and some supermarkets. Do not substitute hot red pepper flakes.

Vegetarian chili

1 tablespoon vegetable oil

1 onion, chopped

1 red bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 green bell pepper, seeded and chopped

1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and chopped

2 jalapeno chilies, seeded and minced

1 28-ounce can chopped tomatoes

1 15-ounce can kidney beans, rinsed and drained, or 1½ cups cooked dried beans

1 15-ounce can pinto beans, rinsed and drained, or 1½ cups cooked dried beans

2 carrots, peeled and chopped

1 ancho chili, soaked in water until soft, seeded and minced

1 6-ounce can tomato paste

6 tablespoons chili powder

1 teaspoon ground cumin

2 teaspoons ground oregano

1 cup diced red onion, divided

1 cup shredded cheddar cheese, divided

In a heavy, large pot, heat oil over medium-high heat.

Add onion, bell peppers and jalapenos and cook, stirring constantly, until soft, about 5 minutes, then cook for 1 more minute, stirring often.

Add tomatoes and their juice, beans, carrots, ancho chili, tomato paste, chili powder, cumin and oregano.

Reduce heat; simmer, uncovered, for about 40 minutes or until thickened, adding up to 1 cup water if the chili is too thick.

Ladle into bowls; garnish each serving with 2 tablespoons diced red onion and 2 tablespoons shredded cheese.

Makes 8 servings.

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