Hot chili for chilly days

Americans are crazy about chili, the meaty stew that’s perfect for the palates of Israelis. Recipes for Chili-topped Spaghetti and That Fiery Beef Bowl of Red.

Americans are crazy about chili, the meaty stew that’s perfect for the palates of Israelis. It’s flavored with cumin, oregano, sauteed onions, garlic, often tomatoes and of course, chilies, Spanish for hot peppers, which give the dish its name.
Even small American communities have chili cook-offs, recipe contests in which home cooks and professional chefs compete for the honor of having their chili declared the best. A staple of home cooking as well as restaurant fare, chili is hearty, warming and easy to make. A favorite for parties, it’s practical for weekday meals too. Chili cooks quickly because it is usually made with ground meat.
There are many theories as to how chili came about. Because its flavors are characteristic of Mexican cooking, many think of chili as a Mexican dish. Food historian Jean Anderson disputes this: “Chili originated in Texas and... Mexicans reject all claims to it.” According to Anderson, chili was developed by poor families in San Antonio, Texas, who stretched a bit of meat to feed many people by hashing it with chili peppers. In fact, the full name of the dish is “chili con carne” which means chili peppers with meat.
Opinions vary widely as to what should go into a pot of chili.
Although classic chili calls for beef, some substitute chicken. In New Mexico and Arizona, green chili, which is descended from Indian stews, is more popular than red, wrote Michael McLaughlin, author of The Manhattan Chili Co. Southwest American Cookbook. For green chili, the preferred meats are pork, lamb or venison, cooked with hot green peppers and often with carrots, potatoes or hominy (dried corn).
In her book Falling off the Bone, Anderson has several versions of chili.
One, called “That Fiery Beef Bowl of Red,” which some historians consider the original chili, is basically ground beef browned in fat, simmered in water with plenty of spice and thickened with cornmeal. To make Texas beef with beans, she adds red kidney beans, onions, tomatoes, bay leaves and ground hot red chili peppers to the basic beef chili.
Cherie Mercer Twohy, author of The I Love Trader Joe’s Around the World Cookbook, makes extra-hearty chili from two kinds of meat – ground beef and thinly sliced sirloin steak – and cooks them with onions sauteed in beer. To make preparation easy, she uses frozen garlic cubes, canned kidney beans, canned tomatoes and canned hot green peppers.
A key seasoning for this dish is chili powder, a blend that Americans generally buy at the supermarket but that is easy to make at home from common pantry spices. The basic components are powdered semi-hot peppers or paprika, cumin, oregano, garlic, salt and cayenne pepper.
PEOPLE THINK of chili as a quintessentially meat dish, but vegetarians have come up with great chili recipes too. My friend Nancy Eisman welcomed guests to her winter party with steaming cups of hot chili. She made her flavorful stew from black-eyed peas and several kinds of beans, tomatoes, corn, brown rice and a moderately spicy chili sauce with cumin and oregano; then she topped each cup with a cube of cornbread studded with grilled green chilies. It was tasty and satisfying, ideal for that very cold day.
A meatless chili is also the choice of Jonny Bowden and Jeannette Bessinger, authors of The 150 Healthiest Comfort Foods on Earth. They include quinoa, kidney beans and pinto beans for protein and fiber, as well as onions sauteed with spices in olive oil, sweet red peppers, tomatoes and tomato paste in their chili. To flavor their stew, they use a puree of a hot smoked chili called chipotle, as well as chili powder, cumin and ground coriander. They make a wholesome topping for the chili from Greek yogurt, which resembles labaneh, flavored with fresh coriander and lime juice.
How chili is served makes a big difference in how much it’s enjoyed.
For my taste, chili is so rich that it’s like a sauce and so I prefer it with pasta, rice or hearty bread. A popular way to eat chili, according to McLaughlin, is as a “chili mac” – spooned over hot cooked macaroni, topped with grated cheese, baked until bubbly and then sprinkled with chopped onions.
Chili over fluffy white rice is another traditional entree, as is a dish called “wet shoes”– chili spooned over French fried potatoes, which McLaughlin characterized as a “pairing made in chili-parlor heaven.”
Some like chili as a topping for hot, split baked potatoes or for pizza, as a filling for omelets or as a bed for fried eggs.
For those who like meat on top of their meat, there are chili dogs and chili burgers – chili spooned over frankfurters or hamburgers.
“Like many of the world’s great dishes... – cassoulet, for example, or paella or pesto – chili inspires poetry, disagreement and fanatical dedication,” wrote McLaughlin. “Unlike virtually all of the other truly great dishes that come to mind, chili is an American original.”
Faye Levy is the author of Sensational Pasta and of Classic Cooking Techniques.
Make this dish with beef or, for vegetarian chili, use soy ground meat or double the amount of beans. If you’re making your chili meatless, you might like to serve it with grated cheddar cheese.
For a medium-spicy version I use two jalapeno peppers but if you like your chili really hot, use four. Leave the seeds in the hot peppers for maximum pungency.
You can keep the chili in a covered container up to two days in the refrigerator, or you can freeze it.
Makes 6 servings.
3 Tbsp. olive oil or vegetable oil
1 large onion, chopped
350 to 450 gr. (3⁄4 to 1 pound) lean ground beef or soy ground meat
6 large garlic cloves, minced
2 to 4 fresh jalapeno peppers or other hot peppers, chopped (optional)
2 Tbsp. ground cumin, preferably fresh
1 Tbsp. dried leaf oregano, crumbled
3 Tbsp. chili powder (see Note below)
1⁄2 tsp. hot red pepper flakes or 1⁄4 tsp. cayenne pepper or to taste (optional)
An 800-gr. (28-ounce) can tomatoes, undrained
Salt and pepper to taste
1⁄2 cup water
11⁄2 cups cooked pinto or other beans or a 400-gr. (15-ounce) can, drained (optional)
450 gr. (1 pound) spaghetti or macaroni
2 or 3 Tbsp. chopped fresh coriander (optional)
Heat oil in a large saucepan or stew pan. Add onion and cook over medium heat, stirring often, about 10 to 15 minutes or until very tender. Transfer to a bowl.
Add beef to pan and cook, stirring often, until it changes color, about 10 minutes. Return onions to pan and add garlic, jalapeno peppers, cumin, oregano, 2 tablespoons chili powder and hot pepper flakes. Cook over low heat, stirring, about 3 minutes to coat meat with spices.
Add tomatoes, salt and pepper and bring to a boil, stirring and crushing tomatoes. Add water and return to a boil. Cook uncovered over low heat for 45 minutes.
Add beans and cook for 15 minutes or until thick.
Taste and adjust seasoning, adding salt, pepper, chili powder and/or cayenne; the chili should be seasoned enough to flavor the pasta.
Cook pasta uncovered in a large pot of boiling salted water over high heat, stirring occasionally, according to package directions or until tender but firm to the bite.
Meanwhile, reheat chili over medium heat, stirring.
Reserve 1 cup chili. Transfer pasta to a heated serving bowl and toss with remaining chili and with 2 tablespoons chopped coriander. Serve remaining chili on top, sprinkled with remaining coriander.
Note: To make your own chili powder, mix 4 tsp. paprika, 2 tsp. ground cumin, 2 tsp. oregano and 1 or 2 tsp. cayenne or ground hot red pepper, to taste.
Makes about 3 tablespoons. To make 1⁄3 to 1⁄2 cup to use in recipe below, multiply the ingredients by 2 or 3.
This recipe, from Falling off the Bone, is an entree for meat lovers. Author Jean Anderson notes that historians called it a “campfire stew concocted by Texas cowboys who carried, as a sort of K-ration, a beefand- chili pemmican that could be boiled in a bucket of water. No beans in their bowl of red, no tomatoes or onions, just... beef coarsely chopped... garlic whenever available, oregano, cumin and enough chilies to blow a safe.”
At home Anderson advises adding the chili powder and cayenne in small increments, tasting as you go.
She recommends using coarsely ground beef chuck (shoulder) trimmed and ground to order by the butcher, or meat that you trim yourself, cut into 2.5-cm (1- inch) cubes. Freeze the meat for 45 minutes to firm it and grind it in batches in the food processor to the size of small peas.
Anderson serves this chili with good yeasty country bread or fresh-baked corn bread.
Makes 6 servings.
2 Tbsp. melted beef fat (suet) or vegetable oil
1 to 1.2 kg (21⁄2 pounds) coarsely chopped or ground beef chuck (shoulder)
1⁄3 to 1⁄2 cup chili powder, depending on how “hot’” you like things (to make your own chili powder, see Note following previous recipe)
3 large garlic cloves, finely chopped
1 Tbsp. dried leaf oregano, crumbled
2 tsp. ground cumin
6 cups water (approximately)
2 Tbsp. cornmeal (preferably stone-ground)
11⁄2 tsp. salt or to taste
1⁄2 to 1 tsp. ground hot red pepper (cayenne), or to taste
Heat suet in small heavy stew pan over moderately high heat until ripples appear on pan bottom – 11⁄2 to 2 minutes. Add beef, 1⁄3 cup chili powder, garlic, oregano and cumin and cook, stirring often, until beef is no longer red – about 5 minutes; do not brown.
Add water and bring to a boil. Adjust heat so chili bubbles lazily, and simmer uncovered – very slowly– for 1 hour, stirring now and then. Note: If at any time the chili threatens to scorch, mix in a little more water and slide a diffuser underneath the pot.
Mix in cornmeal, salt and 1⁄2 teaspoon cayenne.
Cover and simmer slowly 30 minutes. Adjust chili powder, salt and cayenne to taste.
Cook and stir 5 minutes more, then ladle into heated large soup bowls and serve with good bread.