Chili: Twists on an Old Tradition
Caution: before you start bragging about your absolutely amazing chili at the next dockside gathering, pause a moment to consider the fact that you may be fueling a serious competition between you and your cruising buddies. Think about it—the ritual is well established. Every year, from coast to coast, otherwise sane chili-lovers gather for big-time cook-off contests. Many of these events follow the protocols established by the International Chili Society (ICS) whose sole purpose is to “promote, develop and improve the preparation and appreciation of true chili and to determine each year the World’s Champion Chili through officially sanctioned and regulated competitive cook-offs.” Armed with select cuts of meat, carefully chosen chili peppers, a range of spices, and top-secret ingredients, cook-off participants take their chili seriously.
The International Chili Society has been around for more than five decades but according to ICS lore, competitions go way back: “From the time the second person on earth mixed some chile peppers with meat and cooked them, the great chili debate was
on; more of a war, in fact. The desire to brew up the best bowl of chili in the world is exactly that old.”
But the debate is not limited to whose chili is best. For centuries heated arguments have also raged about where the first batch was made and who created it. Estimates range from the very imprecise “somewhere west of Laramie,” to a recipe that dates back to the 1850s. In that recipe, dried beef, suet, dried chili peppers, and salt were pounded together, formed into bricks and dried. On the trail cowboys threw a chili brick into the pot, added some water and boiled up a tasty meal.
Nowadays just about every state lays claim to the best chili title, and to top that just about every Texan believes that the title rests in the Lone Star State. Given this history, I’m not about to lay claim to a “true” chili recipe (where, according to the ICS, no beans are allowed) but I am going to introduce some new ingredients that will bring a healthy twist and new flavors to this easy, one-pot, always popular meal.
FLAVOR-PACKED TURKEY CHILI
Serves: 6 No question, spinach is an unusual addition to the chili pot but do give it a try. Spinach adds another subtle layer of flavor, increases the nutritional value and adds a welcome burst of color to the chili bowl. And because this lean, protein-packed chili is mildly seasoned feel free to kick up the flavor by adding more chili powder, a pinch of cayenne or some of your favorite hot sauce. If you skip the spinach, this chili still tastes great. 2 1 1 largered cloves pounds tablespoonspepper, onion, garlic, ground diced diced mincedolive turkeyoil 4 2 1½ tablespoonsteaspoons cuminchili powder 2 2 teaspoons coriander 1 teaspoon dried oregano Salt to taste 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes 3 cans pinto beans (cannellini, kidney, black, or a combo), rinsed and drained 3 cups chicken broth 4 cups baby spinach (optional) In a large Dutch oven heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, red pepper and garlic and sauté until the vegetables are just beginning to soften, about 6-8 minutes. Stir in the turkey and break it up with a spoon. Continue to sauté, stirring occasionally, until the turkey is browned, about 15-20 minutes. Stir in the chili powder, cumin, coriander, oregano, and salt and then cook for 2 additional minutes. Stir in the tomatoes, beans, and chicken broth. Simmer, stirring occasionally, for 15 minutes. Add the spinach and cook until it wilts. Spoon into warmed bowls and add your favorite toppings.
VEGAN CHILI: BETTER WITH BEER
Serves: 6 If you’ve never cooked with beer you’re in for a treat. The complex flavors in the dark Mexican beer used in this recipe bring instant depth to the basic flavors, saving you hours of stovetop simmering. And don’t worry about a beverage: Be sure to have plenty of cold ones ready to serve with dinner. Ingredients2 1 1 4 largered cloves tablespoonspepper,(per onion, garlic, person diced diced mincedolive served):oil Salt2 and tablespoonspepper to taste chili powder 2 teaspoons oregano 1 12-ounce bottle dark Mexican lager (like Negra Modelo) 1 28-ounce can diced tomatoes 1 15-ounce can red kidney beans, rinsed and drained 1 15-ounce can pinto beans, rinsed and drained In a large Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over medium-high heat. Add the onion, red pepper, garlic, salt, and pepper. Cook, stirring often, until vegetables are just beginning to soften, about 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the chili powder and oregano and cook for 2 minutes. Pour in the beer and cook until reduced by half—about 6 to 8 minutes. Stir in the tomatoes and beans and bring to a simmer. Cook until thickened—about 25 to 30 minutes. Cook’s Notes: If you prefer a meatier version stir in 1½ pounds of lean ground beef (or turkey) after the vegetables have softened and sauté until the meat begins to brown, about 15-20 minutes. n Karen Evenden has cooked aboard boats from the U.S. to Europe. She and her husband now cruise the West Coast aboard a Kadey-Krogen. She has self-published A Taste of Croatia and Ojai’s Table, both available at Amazon.com.