February 2, 2011 11:39:00 AM
Chili. Some consider it the ultimate cold-weather fare. And in spite a recent spring teaser, Mother Nature has more winter in store, including Super Bowl Sunday, when Golden Triangle temperatures are expected to dip into the 30s by night.
Hearty and satisfying, chili is a popular choice for feeding football fans. Its mouth-watering marriage of sweet and spicy flavors partner well with the "Right Bites" party starters featured on The Dispatch's Jan. 26 food page and available online at cdispatch.com through the lifestyles link.
Good chili is more than just tasty; it can also be a healthy comfort food, thanks to a combination of fiber and protein from beans and meat, plus the low calorie count and high vitamin levels in tomatoes and other veggies. (All bets are off if you smother it with cheese. But then, who can resist?)
Either way, chili is a great one-pot meal that makes for easy self-serve. Pair it with cornbread, taco chips or even rice. Get your guests in the game with a chili bar, with a heaping pot of hot chili, bowls, and toppings like onion, shredded cheese and sour cream. If you have a large crowd, think about making two batches, one with meat, one without.
Because it can be made the day before, chili is particularly Game Day-friendly. In fact, many contend it's is actually best if refrigerated for a day, allowing the flavors to blend, then reheated.
"Great chili is all about harmony and balance," says food writer John D. Lee for hubpages.com. "The secret is using the right ingredients and taking your time. You've got to let that chili bubble away for several hours to get the real chili experience."
Lee says an often-overlooked secret to great chili is homemade powder. "Store-bought chili powder is too aggressive; make your own by combining three spices and see how much better your chili tastes!" His simple powder recipe calls for two tablespoons each of dried oregano, ground cumin seed and hot chile powder or flakes.
"That's it. Just mix it up and you've got a great homemade powder that's going to make a big difference in your next batch of chili," he promises.
Beans or no beans?
While chili connoisseurs accept an assortment of meats, including beef, sausage, deer and the like, many will argue to the wall over the issue of beans.
Legend has it that in some parts of Texas, serving chili with beans in it is considered a near hanging offense, but the fact is adding them (especially black beans) can make chili healthier, not to mention less expensive.
The International Chili Society (ICS) even defines traditional red chili as any kind of meat or combination of meats, cooked with red chile peppers, various spices and other ingredients, "with the exception of beans and pasta, which are strictly forbidden."
John Raven, at texascooking.com, is more flexible ... to a point.
"It is just fine with me if you want to put beans in your chili," he says, "as long as they're not white beans. White beans do not belong in chili. That was written on the back of one of the stone slabs Moses brought down off the mountain."
So where did the "beans or no beans" controversy get started? According to the ICS, the exact origin of chili is unknown, although many feel it's a product of the Southwest.
The earliest chili seems to be attributed to a trail drive cook who collected wild chiles and garlic along the cattle trail, to cook up with whatever meat was available at night. The "original" recipe can be traced to the early 19th century; it contained meat, onions, garlic, oregano and salt. No beans. Chili with beans could have evolved during the Great Depression as an inexpensive way to stretch the dish.
Chili is even credited with a role in Wild West lore. It's said Frank and Jesse James favored a little chili parlor in Fort Worth, vowing never to rob their bank because "anyplace that has a chili joint like this just oughta be treated better," according to chilicookoff.com.
Fact is, there are as many chili recipes (and chili stories) as there are Texans. But true buffs are always on the quest for that perfect union of flavors that delivers on all fronts -- aroma, consistency, color, taste and aftertaste.
Several fairly simple recipes are included today, like favorites from Alton Brown and Paula Deen's son, Jamie Deen. Many more --including some cook-off winning classics -- can be found at the websites highlighted. Check them out. Chili just may be the game-winning solution your Super Bowl menu has been scouting for.
Makes five (1 cup) servings
Prep time: Five minutes
Cook time: 20 minutes
1 pound lean ground beef
1 cup chopped onion
One package McCormick Chili Seasoning Mix, Original (or 30 percent Less Sodium Mix)
One can (15 ounces) kidney beans, drained
One can (14 1/2 ounces) diced tomatoes, undrained
One can (8 ounces) tomato sauce
For chili cups:
For chili pizza:
CHILI WITH CORNBREAD TOPPING
Makes two servings
Prep time: 20 minutes
Bake time: 15 minutes
1/3 pound lean ground beef (90 percent lean)
1/4 cup chopped onion
One can (15 ounces) chili with beans
1/2 cup water
3/4 cup cornbread/muffin mix
3 tablespoons 2 percent milk
2 tablespoons beaten egg
1/3 cup shredded cheddar cheese
1/4 cup frozen corn, thawed
Prep time: 10 minutes
Cook time: Four hours, 20 minutes
Shredded cheddar cheese
Chopped green onions, for garnish
One (14-1/2 ounce) can kidney beans, drained and rinsed
One (14 1/2 ounce) can black beans, drained and rinsed
One (14/1/2 ounce) can pinto beans, drained and rinsed
One (28-ounce) can whole, peeled tomatoes
2 cups chopped celery
One package chili seasoning mix
One small can tomato paste
One can chili beans
Two (28-ounce) cans diced tomatoes
One green bell pepper, diced
One medium onion, diced
1 pound mixed ground beef and sausage, browned and drained
Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.