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Friday, February 3, 2017

Chili Without Borders - And Super Bowl Fever

Super Bowl Sunday is right around the corner and that has me in the mood for Chili!

I’m totally kidding, I don’t watch sportsball. I’ll be over here checking twitter for reactions to Gaga and googling the best ads at work on Monday…

That being said, it IS chili season. The depths of winter is the best (and really the only appropriate) time for this cold weather comfort food. The first months of the year bring the depressing gray skies and camouflaging layers of clothing that both make chili so appealing and wardrobe friendly.

According to (yes, that's a thing and it's coming up on February 23rd) the origins of chili are shrouded in myth and mystery. There are theories that a Spanish nun, alive in the 1600’s, had a transatlantic spiritual experience with Native Americans, after which she recorded a recipe for a venison based version of the dish. Mexico is often credited with its invention, but any Mexican will adamantly deny any association with “chiles con carne” (peppers with meat). There is some consensus, however, that the first written and recorded recipe came from J.C. Clopper , a historian of sorts, hailing from the Houston area, who, while never using the word ‘chili’ describes a traditional peasant dish with stewed meat and peppers in an article describing life in 19th century San Antonio, Texas. In the 1880’s “chili queens” were selling bowls of meat and vegetable hash in market stalls in the city, and by 1898 the name “San Antonio Chili Stand” was featured at the Chicago World’s Fair. The humble dish is often credited for keeping starvation at bay throughout the Great Depression due to the inexpensive yet nourishing  nature of the ingredients, but by the 1960’s it had been elevated to executive levels. President Lyndon B Johnson was famously a chili lover, so much so his wife, First Lady Ladybird Johnson was said to have had cards bearing his favorite ‘Pedernales Chili’ recipe mailed to thousands from the White House.

Chili is arguably as American as apple pie, no matter where it came from. It’s an amalgamation of ingredients, that likely arose out of necessity  for economy with available food, flavored by inputs from varied cultural traditions and changing times, and is now beloved nationwide. Despite its ubiquity and national proliferation, there are decidedly diverse regional schools of thought on the proper ingredients for chili. Divisions so stark and opinions so strong (beans vs no beans for example) they have sparked many a heated dinner table argument on the “rules” of chili from place to place.  But really I can’t be bothered with the debate…

Let’s be honest people, you throw a bunch of different things in a pot, mix it together, heat it up, and let it simmer until all the flavors combine to complement and elevate each other. It’s the way the ingredients balance each  other and work together that makes it so good….It doesn’t take a genius to see the obvious “American Melting pot” metaphor, but these days, it’s clear some people just don’t get it… When we respect, honor, and elevate each other, we improve ourselves and the condition of everyone. That’s why for my latest chili-potluck at work I decided to put an even more inclusive, global spin on my submission and created the recipe for “Chili Without Borders”. I used garbanzo beans from the traditions of the middle east, curry squash from south asia, roasted chiles from latin America (sorry Mexico, I had to), and spice combinations drawing inspiration cuisine from all across the globe, achieving, in the end a depth and complexity of flavor that even I didn’t know was possible for humble chili.

I’m aware that chili as protest piece and crock pot as soap box is eye roll worthy to some, but it’s my simple way to demonstrate that diversity truly does make things better (and more delicious).

Chili Without Borders

  • 1 medium butternut squash – peeled, cleaned  and cut into 1.5” cubes
  • 3lbs ground beef
  • 1 can pinto beans – drained
  • 1 can garbanzo beans – drained
  • 1 can black beans - drained
  • 1 large yellow onion – chopped
  • 3 cloves garlic – minced
  • 2 cans tomato paste
  • 1/2 cup roasted poblano chili peppers - diced
  • 2 tablespoons Wood Smoked Paprika + more to taste
    • This is a critical piece, you must have a nice smoky paprika for depth
  • 2 tablespoons garlic powder
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon evoo
  • 2 tablespoons curry powder (I like a sweet and spicy variety)
  • 1 tablespoon ground cumin
  • 1 tablespoon ground coriander
  • 1 tablespoon ground mustard or Chinese mustard (prepared)
  • 1 tablespoon cayenne pepper + more to heat preference
  • 2 tablespoons + 1 tablespoon evoo
  • Salt, pepper and red chili flakes to taste
  • 4 oz sharp cheddar cheese (optional) – grated


****This recipe is meant to be malleable and adapted to your taste or current mood and serves 8-10  depending on your appetite and portion control capabilities****

Preheat oven to 450 ° F. Line a baking tray with foil. Toss cubed squash with garlic powder, curry  and evoo in a large mixing bowl until well coated. Spread evenly on foil. Bake for 30-35 minutes, check with a fork around 20 to make sure they are not getting too mushy, but brown/crispy parts are encouraged (hence the high temp).

While squash roasts, heat evoo in a medium sauté pan over medium heat. Add onions and garlic and cook until the onions are translucent. Add ground beef and break into small pieces with a utensil. Brown the meat, but watch the heat to ensure it does not burn. Once there is no more pink visible, you can take a moment to drain the excess fat depending on the fat ratio of the ground beef you used. Turn the heat to low, and add your tomato paste, all the spices, and the beans. Mix well and cook, on very low heat, until squash is done roasting. Add roasted squash and incorporate all ingredients, taste at this point. Add additional salt, pepper or spices to your preferred savory or spice level. At this point you can put on a very low burner (like a simmer option) or put in a crock pot on low and allow to cook and let th flavors marry for at least an hour. Serve hot with the grated cheese on top, and preferably some sour cream and corn bread.

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