What Color is Your Chili?

Mar 26, 2018

As California restaurant critic Merrill Shindler observes, "Like politics and religion, nobody agrees about the one true chili." It's a dish that's easy to get into an argument over. For example, some people vehemently claim that real chili does not contain beans while others claim just as vehemently that it does and, what is more, they'll specify the particular type of bean which must be used. Some contend that pork, chicken, and even lamb can be used while others insist that true chili contains only beef. And among those there will likely be arguments about whether the beef should be ground or chopped into chunks.

Even the color of "real" chili is not above controversy. While the International Chili Society recognizes only red chili, green chili abounds in the Southwest, particularly in New Mexico where someone has facetiously suggested that the official state question should be "Green or red?" because that's what they'll ask you if you order a bowl of chili there. Surely cookbook author John Thorne was not exaggerating when he observed "There is no way of making chili, no food or flavor, not even a cooking implement, that can be named as essential to the dish that won't provoke an argument. . . ."

Even the origins of the dish are the subject of some dispute. Chili con carne probably was invented in Texas. At least that was the site, before the turn of the century, of the first chili parlor (irreverently defined by one cooking dictionary as "a fistfight at which cooked beef is served"). According to one theory the dish originated in Texas prisons as a way to make inexpensive meat palatable. Another theory maintains that it was first prepared in San Antonio prior to the Civil War. And another contends that it was first envisioned by a 17th century Texas nun as she came out of a trance.

+++++Barbara Bauerle's Chili+++++

Many years ago I had the good fortune to take a culinary course taught by the late Barbara Bauerle, an exuberant cook who passed this recipe along to the class. It has been my favorite chili recipe ever since. In classical Mexican fashion, it calls for unsweetened chocolate to add depth to the dish.

Ingredients:

  • 1 pound ground beef
  • 1 green pepper, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 cans (1 lb. each) stewed tomatoes
  • 1 small can tomato paste
  • 2 teaspoons chili powder
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt
  • 1 and 1/2 teaspoons ground coriander
  • 1 teaspoon ground cumin
  • 1/2 teaspoon thyme
  • 1 teaspoon dried oregano leaves
  • 2 teaspoons wine vinegar
  • 1/2 ounce unsweetened chocolate
  • 1 clove garlic, minced
  • 1 can (1 lb.) red kidney beans, drained

Directions:

In a large kettle cook beef over medium heat until crumbly. Add onion and green pepper and sautee until onion is limp. Stir and add next 11 ingredients and 1 and 1/2 cups water. Bring to a boil and simmer, stirring occasionally, for 1 and 3/4 hours. Add beans and cook 1/4 hour longer.